Furniture Fabric 101

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If you haven’t shopped for furniture in awhile, you may be surprised by the vast array of materials, colors, and patterns available. If you can envision it, you can likely find it. While this makes it all the easier to customize your style, it also requires more careful research of the options. Our Fabric 101 guide will walk you through what to consider when choosing upholstery fabric as well as the various types of fibers and weaves.

What to Consider

Style: Style encompasses many things—your own personal style and the style of the furniture and of the room in which it sits. You may love big, bold patterns, but they could overtake a small room. The fabric should also complement the frame. Different patterns, textures, and sheens will look better on modern furniture versus traditional furniture and vice versa.    

Color: Be careful of color trends. With so many options available these days, it’s tempting to go with the latest look, but ask yourself: Will I like this 5 years from now? If the answer is a definite yes, then go for it!  If you're not sure, you can still bring in that hot new color with accent pillows, rugs and/or lamps, while sticking to a more tried-and-true color for your furniture.  Color can also set the mood. If you want to create a warm space, you’ll want to choose warmer colors (reds, oranges, and yellows). Cooler colors (blues, greys, and greens) set a more formal tone.   

Sun: Will your new furniture be placed in a basement that sees little light or in a living room full of windows? Sun will fade fabric so it’s best to consider something fade-resistant if your furniture will see a lot of light.

Use: If the piece will see infrequent use in a formal dining room, a less durable fabric may serve. If it will be situated in a rec room (the realm of kids and pets), you’ll need a fabric that can stand up to activity such as nylon or polyester.

Allergies: If you or someone in your family suffers from allergies you may want to pick a weave such as microfiber, which is lint free and doesn’t attract dust.

Types of Fibers

Synthetic or man-made fibers offer numerous benefits. They are made for durability and provide a rich palette of colors, textures, and patterns. They include:
  • Great for high-traffic areas—stain-resistant and extremely durable
  • Soft to the touch
  • Fade-resistant—withstands exposure to sunlight
  • Similar to wool: natural memory and dirt- and flame-resistant
  • Soft and luxurious
  • Non-allergenic
  • Dries quickly
  • Machine washable and dryable
  • Tough stuff: Stronger than the majority of fibers
  • High elasticity—quickly regains its shape
  • Non-absorbent—dries quickly when wet
  • Dirt-resistant
  • Resists abrasion and static electricity
  • Just like the 70s: Wears exceptionally well
  • Resists creasing
  • One of the most widely used upholstery fibers
  • Blends easily with other materials; can be engineered to look and feel like natural fibers such as silk, wool, and linen
  • Strong, yet soft to the touch
  • High luster
  • Drapes well
  • Can be made to resemble natural fibers such as silk, wool, cotton, and linen

There are many natural fibers on the market. The most common are cotton and wool—the top two strongest natural fibers.
  • Takes dyes easily; offered in a wide range of colors and patterns
  • Soft to the touch
  • Blends well with other fibers
  • Extremely durable
  • Not recommended for direct sunlight or damp conditions
  • Naturally stain resistant
  • High elasticity—quickly regains its shape
  • Absorbs up to 30% of its weight without feeling damp
  • Extremely durable
  • Dirt- and flame-resistant

Types of Fabric Weaves

Velvet, damask, chenille… You may think you’re referring to types of fabric, but you’re actually referring to the fabric’s weave. As with fibers, different weaves offer different benefits.
  • Super cozy—one of the softest, cushiest fabrics available
  • Hides dirt
  • Extremely durable—lasts for years
  • Family-friendly
  • Available in a variety of colors, patterns, and textures
  • Elegant and sophisticated
  • Commonly produced in monochromatic (single color) designs with a variety of patterns (flowers, fruit, etc.)
  • Has soft highlights that beautifully reflect light
  • Extremely durable; resists pilling
  • Luxurious—feels like peach skin
  • Water-repellant
  • Extremely durable—good for families and pets
  • Non-allergenic
  • Not recommended for those who prefer a sleek, uniform look (fabric will appear varied when rubbed back and forth)
  • Soft, silky feel
  • Adds a distinctive touch to any room
  • Available in a wide variety of rich colors and patterns
  • Extremely durable and long-lasting
  • More difficult to clean than other fabrics; steam cleaning recommended
  • Diagonal pattern
  • Drapes well; softer and more pliable than other fabrics
  • Soil and stains are less noticeable on twill
  • Durable, air and water resistant
  • Produces intricate, all-over patterns
  • More stable and resistant than basic weaves
  • High luster
  • Has a tendency to snag