Introduction to Upholstery Fabric

There are five parts to many pieces of upholstered furniture: the frame, the springs, the padding, the material that covers it, called upholstery fabric, and sometimes cushions. Although many people may think of upholstery in terms of the material—often fabric—that covers the whole, it actually refers to everything besides the frame: the stuffing, springs, covering material, and cushions.

The upholstery of a piece of furniture determines a great deal about how it looks and how it feels. To a large extent, it determines the cost. It determines whether the furniture feels--firm or soft. The type and quality of the upholstery also determines how it will last.

Upholstery Fabric

Upholstery fabric is very important in at least three ways:

    • It plays a large role in creating the style of the furniture it covers.
    • Its cleaning requirements and delicacy or durability play a large role in the type of use that the furniture is appropriate for and the time, energy, and expense involved in maintenance.
    • Its cost may represent the largest percentage of the cost of the entire piece of furniture.

home institute 1 For these reasons, it’s a good idea to learn about the various attributes of the different materials that are used to upholster furniture.

Types of Upholstery Fabric

Plant Fibers

A variety of fabrics made of cotton are used in upholstery. The cotton fabrics run the gamut from rougher fabrics like canvas, denim, and sailcloth, to lighter, more delicate fabrics, like chintz, gingham, and toile. Chintz is notable for its glaze, and for this reason, it should not be exposed to heat (e.g., an iron). Linen is used less because of its wrinkling tendencies.

Animal Fibers

Silk bespeaks elegance, but it does not stand up well to heavy use. Wool is a durable choice and, recently, is being used in blends to increase its versatility.

• Animal Hide

Leather, tanned animal hides, wears between four to seven times better than fabric, but while it doesn’t wear out, it does change in appearance. Sometimes leather is used only on the cushions and pillows of a piece of furniture, while cheaper, matching vinyl is used on the rest as a means of cutting cost.

• Synthetic Fiber

There are many synthetic fibers used to make upholstery, including acetates, acrylics, nylon, polyester, polypropylene (Olefin), rayon, and vinyl (Naugahyde). Synthetics are often blended with natural fibers for better wear.

Acetate, nylon, and Olefin all tend to fade in sunlight. Acrylic and polyester can both have a wool-like feel, and polyester can also be like silk, as can rayon.

• Special Fabrics

Slightly less usual for use as upholstery fabric are embroidered fabrics and pile fabrics, such as velvet, which—whatever the fiber—have a thick, short pile in some configurations (overall for velvet, in stripes for corduroy, etc.) on one side.

The qualities that add cost to upholstery fabric may also contribute to its inability to wear well. Hand embroidery, for example, is more easily caught on things and torn than is woven fabric. The wear on upholstery will depend on how the furniture is used, and the fabric should be chosen accordingly.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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