Sunday, August 9, 2009

What to Look for When Choosing Upholstery Fabric

One of the most important decisions you can make when deciding to buy custom upholstery is what fabric to choose. When you walk into a custom upholstery store you may be greeted with a wall full of different fabrics to choose from. What choice do you as a consumer have but to defer to the expertise of the "design consultant". But is this really the best way to make an informed decision? In many cases, yes, the design consultant ideally should have the knowledge and experience to steer you in the correct direction for making an informed decision. A reputable consultant will also research unknown answers to your questions rather than make up something on the spot "to make the sale." Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Beware of the following responses to your questions:

  • "They are all upholstery grade fabric." This is a statement that literally means nothing to you as a consumer. Certainly all the fabrics showcased have been approved for use on all the frames available but this by no means assures you that all the fabrics are appropriate for your particular needs.
  • "The higher the grade the better the fabric." Higher grade only means higher price. Upholstery fabric pricing reflects only the cost to create the fabric and has nothing to do with durability. Generally speaking natural fibers are more costly to produce than synthetics. The dyeing and looming process of a fabric also figure greatly in the price of a fabric.
  • "It's rated heavy use." This is a statement that may or may not reflect your needs as regards durability and is at best only one part of the story. A heavy use rating only means that the fabric has undergone an abrasion testing and has endured a certain amount of "double rubs" to warrant its rating. If you are looking for fabric on dining chairs you should be more concerned with the fabric content as some "heavy use" fabrics are still very susceptible to staining.
  • "It's microfiber." Probably one of my favorite misleading statements. Microfiber refers ONLY to how a fiber is made and is NOT synonymous with durable. Microfibers as a whole are generally stain resistant because of the nature of their production. However, not all microfibers are created equal and any synthetic fiber can be manufactured as a microfiber. Look for polyester and nylon combinations and stay away from acrylic and rayon. Look for my future blogs where I will go into detail as to what to know about microfiber.

When choosing an Upholstery Fabric it is always important to look for the following:

  1. Some synthetic content. Synthetics tend to be more difficult to dye and therefore are less likely to hold stains.
  2. Polyester for durability. Polyester has the attractive fiber properties of great tensile strength and abrasion resistance and are often used with natural fibers such as cotton to provide stability and stain resistance.
  3. Use Rating. While only part of the story, the abrasion rating can be important when choosing a fabric for furniture that will endure a great deal of movement such as a highly used Family room.
  4. Fabric Weave. Generally speaking, the tighter the weave the more durable the fabric but remember this is also one piece of the puzzle. If you have dogs or cats, a loose weave or "floaters" would not be a practical choice regardless of fabric content or use-rating.

As an Interior Designer with Ethan Allen I have the advantage of having worked for a commercial fabric company in Seattle and in the Interior Design Department of the University of Washington. In both cases, a strong knowledge of fabrics and their composition was required. Ask for me when you visit Ethan Allen in Lake Oswego and I can guide you through the process of fabric selection one step at a time.

Terri Eichen, (503) 639-9676,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Terri,

    Thank you for your posting it was helpful. I am looking at purchasing an ethan allen couch covered in this fabric:
    gretta black
    item# 80356

    * description
    o content: 55% polyester, 30% cotton, 15% rayon
    o color: black
    o wear code: heavy
    o grade: I
    o to clean this fabric consult an upholstery cleaning professional

    It appears to be durable and stain resistant but I am concerned about it being dry clean only. I have grandchildren that come over to my home and lets face it things spill. I want to be able to clean up a juice spill without having to send the cushion to the cleaners. The designer I'm working with is so eager to make a sale I feel like she would tell me anything. Any input would be helpful.