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Fabric 101

Fabric 101: How to Choose Upholstery Fabric 

The best upholstery fabrics stand up to a lot of life. Think of cozy family movie nights wrapped up on sofa, or delightful dinner parties that go into extra courses. When you bring a new piece of furniture into your home, you may wonder how to choose upholstery fabric that will fit your life. Even though there are hundreds of fabrics to choose from, with a little background about fabrics, you can easily sort out the best upholstery fabrics for your home.

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Fabric Content of Material for Furniture Upholstery

Fabric for furniture upholstery is made from natural or synthetic fibers, which are twisted into yarns and woven into fabric. The fiber affects appearance, hand (how the fabric feels), performance, and grade. Finer fibers can tend to be softer; thicker heavier fibers tend to be more sturdy and coarse. 

  • Natural fibers like cotton and wool are usually shorter strands that are spun into longer filaments before being spun into yarn.
  • Synthetic fibers – polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene – are generally longer strands that are twisted into yarns.

Many upholstery fabrics actually contain a blend of fibers. Blended fabrics take advantage of the characteristics of both natural and synthetic fibers for enhanced performance and aesthetics.

Having a general idea of the fabric content you prefer is a good start. When we think about how to choose upholstery fabric, it also helps to know the difference between a twill and a tweed, and which upholstery fabric types appeal to you.


Best Upholstery Fabric Types

The best upholstery fabrics for furniture include both classics and newer performance blends.

One way to think of upholstery fabrics is to divide them into how the fabric is woven – flat weave or pile weave – and whether specially textured yarns are used.

  • Flat weave fabrics have yarns woven into a flat surface:
  • Plain weave forms a simple criss‐cross pattern, such as canvas or washed cotton, linen, and linen blend.
  • Twill weave is constructed by interlacing warp and filling yarns in a progressive alternation, which creates a diagonal effect and adds strength. 
  • Herringbone weave and basket weave are timeless weaves that add texture, pattern, strength, and durability.
  • Jacquard (including damask and brocade) is loomed in a way that allows a pattern to be woven into the fabric, as opposed to being printed on top. As a result, the pattern will retain its appearance longer.

Pile weave fabrics are woven with yarns that protrude, which creates a loop, or are cut to create a pile.

  • Velvet has cut loops, which creates a luxurious hand and distinctive nap.
  • Matelassé has a raised, or blistered/quilted surface, and often results in an embossed pattern on solid colored fabrics.

Textured yarns include chenille, a soft yarn that combines beauty with durability, with a pile that sticks out on all sides like a caterpillar. Chenille has a nap, meaning it reflects light in different ways when you brush it in different directions. Boucle yarn, on the other hand, has loops that range in size from large loose curls to tight little circlets, which adds dimension and depth to a fabric. Boucle can be dressed up or dressed down. Textured yarns make a fabric even more interesting, but the yarn loops can also make them a poor match for pets with claws.

Textured weaves like tweed and hopsack are created using yarn construction and weaving techniques. Tweed has a wooly menswear vibe and often includes yarns of different colors, while hopsack is an open weave fabric that results in a classic nubby texture.

How to Pick the Best Material for Furniture Upholstery in YOUR Room

When designing a room, you also want to think about pattern and color. Accent pillows often sport a fun texture or pop of color. Even beyond pillows, smaller pieces like accent chairs or ottomans give you an opportunity to add a fabric with a striking pattern or a fun texture on a smaller scale.

On the other hand, the requirements are different when you’re looking for the best fabric for a sofa. “A sofa is a larger piece, so people want longevity,” according to John Delong, design consultant for Bassett Furniture in Atlanta. “People want more a more neutral fabric that they can live with for a long time.” Pillows are easy to change, but the best fabric for a sofa is long lasting in both quality and style.

When choosing material for furniture upholstery, keep in mind these important factors:

  • Durability. 
  • Fade resistance.
  • Cleaning instructions. Cleaning codes indicate the type of care a fabric requires – water based, solvent, or a combination.
  • Furniture frame. Certain fabrics work better with different frames. Depending on the scale of the fabric pattern, whether the furniture has buttons or curves, and whether the furniture moves (like a recliner), you might steer towards a certain fabric or pattern.
  • Grade. The fabric’s grade refers to its overall price when used to upholster a certain piece of furniture. Grade is affected by the fiber, the manufacturing process, and the pattern as well (since some patterns will result in more or less material waste during the upholstery process).
  • Appearance.
  • Hand. “Hand” means how the fabric feels.

Bassett Fabric Stack

The key to choosing best upholstery fabrics is that lifestyle dictates fabric selection. Consider how you live and who will use the piece, this will help guide you on the type of material to choose. You may love the look of that velvet, but it will quickly get destroyed in a house with kids or pets. Pieces in high-traffic areas, such as family or living rooms, will need durable fabrics, while furniture that doesn't get as much wear and tear, such as bedroom chaise or headboard, can sport the wool or linen of your dreams.

If you’re drawn to a fabric that doesn’t quite fit your current lifestyle for one reason or another – the messy Doberman, or the newlywed budget – the broad Bassett Furniture fabric collection is sure to include a similar selection that offers a better fit. In the end, the best fabric for upholstery is one you love. Stop in to a Bassett Furniture store today, or make an appointment to find a fabric you love.

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