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How to Choose Upholstery Fabric


When it comes to upholstered furniture, nothing is more important than the type of fabric that is chosen to cover it. The fabric provides an immediate indication of quality and taste, and it also exhibits the most wear and stains. In short, upholstery fabric makes a direct statement about a home and its owners in the way few other decorating choices can. The decisions that enter into choosing a fabric with the right style, durability and feel can be overwhelming, but it helps to know what questions to ask in order to ease the process. With so many fabric types to choose from including cloth, leather and high-end synthetics, along with patterns, solids and prints, customers should consider basic decorating and shopping questions, followed by the differences between the many fabric types.

When considering what kind of fabric to select, a basic question involves what type of furniture piece is being covered and its character and sensibility. Traditional furniture frames generally look best with traditional styles of fabric. Second, make sure the scale of the pattern appears appropriate to the size of the room, where larger, repeating patterns look better in larger rooms. Determine whether the color is warm or cool, and make sure it fits the mood of the room, whether that’s formal, relaxing or fun. Color drives the choice most people make for upholstery, but not all colors offer the same levels of durability and stain resistance. For example, homes with small children, many guests and pets may want to consider darker colored fabrics that do not show dirt as easily.

Furniture in heavily trafficked areas of the home requires fabric with high durability. Choose tough, tightly woven fabrics for pieces subject to heavy wear and tear every day. In those cases, fabrics that have their patterns woven in will perform better than printed fabrics. High thread counts indicate more tightly woven fabrics, which is a sign of better ability to sustain wear and tear. Thread count measures the number of threads per square inch of fabric. Remember also to choose fabrics that offer stain resistance if furniture will be exposed to constant direct sunlight. For tailoring, pull fabric covers tightly and avoid snags and unwanted tucks and dimples. Align patterns such as checks and plaids and make sure they match.

When the time arrives to select a fabric, customers will be presented with many different types of patterns, textures, thread counts and fiber contents to select from. In the long run, however, the choice comes down to two basic fabric types: natural fabrics and synthetics.

Natural fibers include cotton, which offers strong resistance to wear, fading and pilling but shows susceptibility to soiling and wrinkling. These weaknesses can be improved by blending the cotton with other fibers and using surface treatments. Durability of cotton depends heavily on the weave and finish, whether damask or canvas. Cotton blends also tend to be sturdy fabrics and offer a great option for everyday use for families, provided they are treated first with a stain-resistant finish. Perhaps no fabric is a better all-around option than leather, which comes in many colors and finishes and softens with age. It is also very easy to clean. Linen offers an excellent appearance, but its susceptibility to soiling and wrinkling makes it best for formal living rooms or areas where adults only congregate and spills are unlikely. Linen also resists pilling and fading well. Silk, while beautiful, works only in formal areas because it is delicate and must be professionally cleaned. Finally, wool and wool blends are sturdy and durable and resist pilling, fading, wrinkling and soiling. Often, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make for easy cleaning, and wool blends can be spot-cleaned when necessary.

Among synthetic fabric options, acetate functions as imitation silk that resists mildew, pilling and shrinking but offers only limited resistance to soiling and tends to wear, wrinkle and fade in the sun, making it a poor choice for tough everyday use. Acrylic, known as imitation wool, resists wear, wrinkling, soiling and fading, but low-quality acrylic may pill excessively when subjected to frequent wear. Microfiber includes a new category of fabrics with a suede-like surface comparable to velvet. Microfiber offers excellent value with durability that comes from ultra-fine polyester fibers. Nylon fabric usually gets blended with other fibers to make for a strong combination that offers resilience without soiling or wrinkling, but it does tend to fade and pill. Olefin fabric makes an excellent choice for furniture that requires durability because of regular heavy wear. Polyester, meanwhile, gets blended with other fabrics to add wrinkle resistance, eliminate crushing and reduce fading. Rayon, which works as imitation silk, linen and cotton, provides durability but may be prone to wrinkling. Vinyl, which offers ease of care without the expense of leather, makes for a smart choice in active family rooms and for places with children’s furniture.

No choice is more important than fabric when it comes to upholstered furniture. Customers can pick from a wide variety of materials and the challenge becomes to determine the best fabric for them and their home’s needs. In addition to basic decorating and shopping questions, it helps to know as much as possible about the differences between the many kinds of fabrics available. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that works for the customer’s wallet, style and living patterns.

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