Upholstery fabrics are fabrics used to cushion and cover furniture. There are many different upholstery fabrics available. They fall into two broad categories: natural or synthetic. Obviously, when you are choosing new fabrics for your sofas or chairs, you look for patterns and colours that you like, or what it feels like to sit on. There are many other factors worth considering, such as price, durability, how easy the fabric is to clean, or how fast it will fade in the sun.
For example, in both natural and synthetic upholstery fabrics, woven patterns last for longer than printed ones, as do higher thread counts and tight weaves. Look for the Martindale rub test, as this will indicate how durable a fabric is. The higher the Martindale the more durable a fabric will be.
Natural upholstery fabrics are softer than synthetics; however, their colour can fade in sunlight and can be susceptible to pilling. Some examples are:
- Linen: Linen is made from the flax plant. It soils and wrinkles easily, and it won’t withstand heavy wear. However, linen does resist pilling and fading. Soiled linen upholstery must be professionally cleaned to avoid shrinkage.
- Cotton: It is made from the cotton plant. It has good resistance to wear, fading, and pilling. It wrinkles more when compared to heavier fabrics such as linen. Its durability and use can vary: damask weaves are formal, while canvas is far more casual and durable. It can also come in various cotton blends, which are nice and sturdy.
- Silk: An elegant, expensive, fairly lightweight fabric. Silk is not suitable for areas and furniture which will be experiencing heavy wear, such as kitchens or children’s bedrooms, since it must be professionally cleaned if soiled. It is most often used for expensive furnishings as a status or sensory high point in a room, and is obviously unsuitable for rooms with pets or small children.
Synthetic fibres are manmade, using chemicals. They are more durable and usually more resistant to staining and fading than natural fibres. Most of the synthetic fabrics were developed as improved versions of specific natural fabrics. For example:
- Acetate: Acetate was developed as an alternative to silk. It is less expensive than silk and can be washed, although only by hand and with extreme care. It is resistant to mildew, pilling and shrinking, but still shows dirt easily and tends to wear, wrinkle, and fade in the sun. It’s not a good choice for furniture that will get tough everyday use.
- Acrylic: This was developed as imitation wool. It resists wear, wrinkling, soiling, and fading. Low-quality acrylic may pill to an unwanted degree in areas that receive high degrees of contact – chair arms for example – though the level of pilling does depend on the quality.
- Rayon: This was developed as an alternative to silk, linen, and cotton, and is closely related to acetate. Rayon is durable, however it does wrinkle.
- Vinyl: This is a type of plastic, and can be used as a synthetic version of leather. It is easier to clean and far less expensive than leather, making vinyl fabric ideal for busy family living and dining rooms.
Check out our Explore menu for some examples of beautiful cotton and silk fabrics, and our Gallery to see some suggestions for how they could be used.