Upholstered Fabric Guide

The fabric of an upholstered piece is the most visible sign of quality and style. Upholstery fabric also is the part most likely to show wear and soil. When choosing upholstery, you should be aware of its durability, cleanability, and resistance to soil and fading. We have created a guide to help you determine the best fabric for your upholstered furniture.

Depending on how and where your upholstered pieces will be used in your home is a great starting place to determine the best fabric choice. For example, sofas, chairs, and ottomans receiving only moderate amounts of wear will do fine with a less durable fabric. The pieces of furniture that are subjected to daily wear such as pets or children will need to be covered in tough, durable, and tightly woven fabrics.

Technology advancements in the fabric industry have made synthetic fabrics of similar feel and quality of natural fabrics but with spill proof and more durable qualities. We love Crypton Fabrics for frequently used and abused furniture by kiddos and four legged family members.

Helpful Fact: The higher the thread count, the more tightly the woven fabric is, and the better it will wear. Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch.

Natural Fabrics

Linen: Linen is best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas because 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.

Leather: This tough material can be gently vacuumed, damp-wiped as needed, and cleaned with leather conditioner or saddle soap.

Cotton: This natural fiber provides good resistance to wear, fading, and pilling. It is less resistant to soil, wrinkling, and fire. Surface treatments and blending with other fibers often atone for these weaknesses. Durability and use depend on the weave and finish. Damask weaves are formal; canvas (duck and sailcloth) is more casual and more durable.

Wool: Sturdy and durable, wool and wool blends offer good resistance to pilling, fading, wrinkling, and soil. Generally, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make it easier to clean and to reduce the possibility of felting the fibers (causing them to bond together until they resemble felt). Blends can be spot-cleaned when necessary.

Cotton Blend: Depending on the weave, cotton blends can be sturdy, family-friendly fabrics. A stain-resistant finish should be applied for everyday use.

Vinyl: Easy-care and less expensive than leather, vinyls are ideal for busy family living and dining rooms. Durability depends on quality.

Silk: This delicate fabric is only suitable for adult areas, such as formal living rooms. It must be professionally cleaned if soiled.

Synthetic Fabrics

Acetate: Developed as imitation silk, acetate can withstand mildew, pilling, and shrinking. However, it offers only fair resistance to soil 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 synthetic fiber was developed as imitation wool. It resists wear, wrinkling, soiling, and fading. Low-quality acrylic may pill excessively in areas that receive high degrees of abrasion. High-quality acrylics are manufactured to pill significantly less.

Nylon: Rarely used alone, nylon is usually blended with other fibers to make it one of the strongest upholstery fabrics. Nylon is very resilient; in a blend, it helps eliminate the crushing of napped fabrics such as velvet. It doesn't readily soil or wrinkle, but it does tend to fade and pill.

Olefin: This is a good choice for furniture that will receive heavy wear. It has no pronounced weaknesses.

Polyester: Rarely used alone in upholstery, polyester is blended with other fibers to add wrinkle resistance, eliminate crushing of napped fabrics, and reduce fading. When blended with wool, polyester aggravates pilling problems.

Rayon: Developed as an imitation silk, linen, and cotton, rayon is durable. However, it wrinkles. Recent developments have made high-quality rayon very practical.

Fabric Types

Woven: Most fabrics are woven together on a loom. Some looms can create very intricate designs using multiple colors of yarn, like the Jacquard loom. There are also other looms, like the Dobby, that make simpler designs.

Knit: Not many upholstery fabrics are knit (like a sweater), but sometimes fabrics are adhered to a knit backing for stability.

Velvet: Velvets are actually created on a loom by weaving two pieces of fabric face-to-face and then cutting them apart. This creates that luxuriously soft hand.

Non-woven: Some fabrics (like microsuedes) are not actually woven. The micro-denier (really thin) fibers are bonded together in an irregular "tangle" of fibers (like felt). Sometimes they are then adhered to a knit backing for stability.

Print: An easy way to create any kind of design is to print it onto the surface of a pre-woven fabric. Prints are usually less expensive, but the designers are no longer limited by the looms, so they can work with some amazing colors and patterns. Unfortunately, prints are more susceptible to fading because the dyes are only on the surface of the fabric.

If you want to your own piece of custom upholstered furniture please contact us. Barnes Custom Upholstery has been providing professionally hand crafted upholstered furniture for over 40 years. Join us at the table and let's plan your custom piece together! Call us at 336.885.7370 or email us at sales@barnescustomshop.com.

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Barnes Custom Upholstery

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Custom Upholstered Furniture

Since 1974

High Point, North Carolina



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