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Upholstery Fibers

The fibers in upholstery contribute not only to the appearance of an upholstered piece, but also to the durability of it. Further, the amount of care necessary for the piece and the types of cleaning methods that can be utilized on the piece will also be affected. Therefore, it’s very important when deciding to either purchase or reupholster a piece that you consider the upholstery fibers associated with the piece.

Fibers typically come in two major categories: natural and synthetic. Within those categories, several subcategories exist.

Cotton is one of the most popular natural fibers. Cotton is derived from a plant and comes in varying degrees of quality. A long staple and a particular sheen characterize higher quality cotton. Lesser quality cotton is identifiable as having a shorter fiber length and its appearance can sometimes be dull or drab. Because of its chemistry, cotton absorbs color very well, which is why you will often see a variety of colors available for cotton pieces. Cotton stains easily, and needs fabric protection to remain pristine. It also wrinkles easily. That said, however, cotton is considered strong and versatile.

Linen is also derived from plants, and it shares many qualities with cotton. Unlike cotton, however, linen does not fade easily and is therefore a good option for a room with a lot of sun. Linen is, however, very susceptible to mold and mildew.

Silk is a popularly luxurious fabric and is derived from silk worms. Silk can either be reeled, resulting in a smooth shiny appearance, or spun, resulting in a more textured feel. Silk is strong and resilient but is very susceptible to fading in sunlight and is therefore not suitable for a room with a lot of sun.

Wool is made from the fleece of a sheep and depending on how it is spun can either be soft and fuzzy or hard and scratchy. Wool is fairly resistant, standing strong against mildew, sunlight, and abrasion. However, moths or other insects can damage wool easily.

As far as synthetic materials go, the majors are acetate, acrylic, nylon, olefin, and polyester. Acetate is often blended with other fibers to create softness and sheen. It’s resistant to shrinking, wrinkling, and mildew but is not great with solvents or abrasion.

Acrylic is often used in outdoor pieces due to its resistance to sunlight, mildew, and insects. Acrylic has a soft and wooly feel to it, and it almost feels natural. Acrylic is often used in knit pieces as well as woven fabrics and velvets.

Nylon takes color and shape very well and has a nice sheen to it. It’s considered a very durable fabric and is therefore used heavily in pieces that must be sun, mildew, wrinkling, and insect resistant. Olefin too is resistant to such things and is often used to create flat woven fabrics and velvets.

Finally, polyester can either be soft, crisp fabrics or have sheen to them. Polyester is often blended with other fibers such as cotton to create an appearance similar to that of silk.
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