Choosing the Right Upholstery and Decorative Fabrics

Choosing the right fabrics for your project can have a big impact on the style and comfort of the space as well as how easy it is to clean. In this guide, we will look at the most important criteria to consider for fabrics to help you make the best choice.  

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  • How can I choose the right fabric for upholstery and decoration?



    Fabrics come in a wide variety of motifs, densities and materials, which define their style and can impact their quality. The main criteria to consider when selecting a fabric include:

    • Application
    • Dimensions and thread count
    • Technical characteristics
    • Material
    • Motifs and colors
    • Current trends and innovations
  • How will the application influence my choice of fabric?

    SUNBRELLA Curtain Fabric

    SUNBRELLA Curtain Fabric

    The main decorative applications for fabrics include upholstery, curtains and awnings. It is important to choose a fabric adapted for your application to ensure proper comfort for the end user. When choosing fabric for curtains, for example, you will need to consider whether you want to block light completely or simply soften it and whether retaining heat is a priority. Blackout fabrics are great for keeping morning sunlight out, while translucent sheer fabrics allow light through and help maintain some privacy. As for upholstery, fabrics used need to be easy to clean, comfortable, resistant to water, stains and friction from regular seating. Fabrics used in outdoor upholstery and awnings require stain, UV and water resistance as well.

  • What do I need to know about the dimensions, density and thread count of fabrics?

    OSBORNE & LITTLE Recycled Fabric

    OSBORNE & LITTLE Recycled Fabric

    It is important to consider dimensions, weight and thread count when choosing a fabric to make sure it is suitable for your project.

    Dimensions of the fabric: Choosing a fabric that’s wide enough for the intended application will help save time and reduce the number of pieces that need to be sewn together.

    The weight (g/m2): Heavier fabrics are generally more resilient but also more expensive than lighter fabrics.

    The thread count measures the tightness of the weave for woven fabrics (threads per square inch in the US, or threads per 10cm square in the EU). While a higher thread count might be an indicator of a better quality fabric, the thickness, evenness, resistance and length of the fibers will also have an impact.

  • What technical characteristics are important to take into consideration for fabrics?

    The most important characteristics to consider when choosing fabrics are fire, wear and weather resistance, as well as environmental impact.

    SERGE FERRARI Fire Rated Fabric

    SERGE FERRARI Fire Rated Fabric

    Fire rating / resistance: The fire rating that the fabric needs can change depending on the application and geographical area.  Check local regulations to find out what standard your fabric needs to meet for your project, such as EN13501-1 for the EU and NFPA 701 certification for the US. Some fabrics are inherently flame retardant such as Kevlar or wool. Other fabrics have a treatment applied to render them fire retardant, but this could deteriorate over time, so may need to be retreated.

    Ecological characteristics: Ecolabels such as the Ecocert, Greenguard or Oekotex make it easier to identify fabrics that limit the use of harmful substances or minimize waste, water and air pollution. Textiles that are VOC-free or have low levels of VOC help limit emissions caused by volatile organic compounds, which can be harmful to health. Some fabrics are made out of recycled textiles or are organically produced to reduce their environmental impact.

    Wear resistance: For upholstery fabrics, wear resistance tests such as the Martindale or Wyzenbeek tests can help determine the suitability of fabrics for different applications. A fabric rated 40,000 or above with the Martindale test (often used in the EU) or a 30,000 Wyzenbeek score (often used in the US) is considered suitable for heavy commercial use.

    Weather resistance: Many outdoor fabrics have water, UV, mold and mildew resistance to increase longevity and reduce maintenance.

  • What are the main types of fabrics to choose from?

    Make sure the fabric you choose is suitable for your project and within your budget. Here are some of the main natural fabrics to choose from:

    ELMO Natural Upholstery Leather

    ELMO Natural Upholstery Leather

    Cotton is inexpensive and widely available in a number of colors and patterns. Although it is durable, breathable and fade resistant, it can stain and crease. Favor organically grown cotton, as cotton is a plant that is often chemically treated.

    Linen is more expensive, but more eco-friendly than cotton. Made from flax, it is easy to grow, resistant to bacteria, insects, disease, mold and mildew. Flax also uses less water and produces less waste than cotton production. As linen can be difficult to dye, it is often available in natural shades. Although linen is tough, it can be prone to staining, sun damage and creasing, making it more adapted to use in low traffic areas or for residential projects.

    Wool is hard wearing as well as stain, flame, mold and mildew resistant. However, it is more expensive than other fabrics and usually dry clean only. It also has a limited number of available finishes and patterns.

    Leather is hard wearing and easy to wipe clean, but is also quite expensive and might need special care products from time to time.

    Silk is known for its luxurious feel and attractive appearance. However, it is expensive, prone to staining and hard to care for, so it is better for occasional use in high-end projects.

    Here are some of the main synthetic fabrics:

    LUCIANO MARCATO polyester fabric

    LUCIANO MARCATO polyester fabric

    Polyester is hardwearing as well as stain, wrinkle and fade resistant and available in a wide range of colors and finishes. This means it is adapted to a wide range of professional and residential projects.

    Polypropylene (or olefin) is a highly recyclable material that’s durable and easy to clean, sometimes used for outdoor fabrics

    Viscose (or rayon) is an inexpensive material made from wood pulp. It can be used as imitation silk, velvet or chenille, but is not very hard wearing.

    Acrylic is quick drying as well as fade and mildew resistant, making it a good choice for outdoor fabrics.

    Nylon is abrasion, insect, mildew and wrinkle resistant but not very UV resistant.

    For upholstery fabrics being used in commercial or high traffic settings, favor robust materials that are crease, stain and wear resistant. While it is possible to have fabrics made 100% from one material, many are blended with other materials to improve the finish, robustness, ease of maintenance and reduce the cost.


  • What do I need to know about choosing motifs and colors for fabric?

    NINA CAMPBELL Printed Fabric

    NINA CAMPBELL Printed Fabric

    The motif and color of fabrics can have a big impact on the overall decor of your space. While solid colors tend to stand the test of time, ornate motifs can add interest and character to a space or even help camouflage wear and tear. In addition to using colors and patterns, combining different textures such as velours, silks, smoother and coarser fibres can also add originality to the design.

    The method used to produce the motif can have an effect on the longevity, style and texture of the fabric. Motifs can be printed using different methods such as roller printing and screen printing or the motifs can be weaved directly into the fabric, using techniques such as Jacquard and Damask.

  • What are the current fabric trends?

    ELITIS Outdoor Fabric

    ELITIS Outdoor Fabric

    At the moment, there are some notable trends in upholstery and decorative textiles, concerning outdoor fabrics, eco friendly fabrics and natural patterns.

    With an increase in outdoor living spaces, there is more choice of colors and motifs than ever before for outdoor upholstery fabrics, with properties such as water, UV and mildew resistant finishes.

    As the environmental impact and life cycle of materials is becoming more important, the number of recycled, natural and organic fabrics is increasing. Natural colors, textures, and neutral tones are accompanying this trend.

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