How to chose the best fabric for your upholstery project part 1


It’s likely that the first thing I discuss when working with a customer on a project is fabric. It is also the thing that can take the longest to decide upon. There are a lot of factors to consider before we even get to the fun part of colour and pattern.

The choice of fabric these days is almost limitless

Hopefully this will help making the decision a bit easier, but please be aware that it isn’t a definitive piece on all fabrics…that would be too long!

I think I need to state this here and now, some velvets will leave a ‘bum print’ on the seat and you will be shocked at how big it is when you stand up and look behind you. It’s not you, it’s the fabric.

Velvet has been always been a natural choice for upholstery and for good reason. Its one of the oldest fabrics ever woven and was originally made from silk. You can still get silk velvet but for most modern upholstery applications, (and for fabric that isn’t eye wateringly expensive) upholstery velvet is likely to be mohair, cotton or linen, synthetic or a mix of fibres.

It’s tactile and soft and due to its construction, it comes in a fantastic range of colours, especially deep jewel colours. Now there are more fantastic options of printed velvets which give an intense full-on pattern which retains the depth and sensuality of velvet.

Cut out velvets are also an option, especially for those looking for striking geometric or striking floral design options.

1960's sofa in Orange velvet
1960’s sofa in orange velvet reupholstered by Square Two Furniture

Velvets are generally hard-wearing fabrics and they suit a lot of applications. There are stain resistant options available, but as with any spill, clean up with a clean cloth as soon as you can.

Velvet is usually a good choice for families and those with young children as it’s soft and generally easy to clean. One thing to be conscious of is that it will have shadows and ‘prints’ on it. If you like your fabric to be spotless looking and to not show any wear, perhaps look at a textured velvet with a very low pile, or a chenille.

What is chenille?

Chenille has had a bad press over the past few years, people saw it as an inferior fabric and it was often confused with velour.

Chenille is actually quite an old fabric too and had a very specific manufacturing technique to make the fabric soft and to give the characteristic shading.

These days, chenille is often designed to be really tough and has a very low pile which makes it a good option for families. Unless you want them, you can avoid any brush marks altogether, but retain the softness of velvet.

Vintage chair in soft mixed fibre fabric

For those of you who want a more structured even fabric, wool is an excellent choice. It’s naturally fire retardant, stain resistant and it suits a lot of vintage chairs as it hugs curves and angles so well.

Premium wool manufacturers based in the UK have developed a fantastic range of plain, textured and patterned fabrics. Beware that inferior wools can bobble and pill and can be a false economy.

One mistake that people often make with wool is to assume that heavier or thicker means more hard waring. This is not necessarily the case and upholstery fabric can be too thick to work with and the finished furniture won’t look neat.

In the same vein, be aware that buying wool fabric designed for clothing won’t be suitable either.

Other popular options are linen, and cotton.

The array of colours in wool or a faux wool is astounding

These are popular choices as they can be printed in an array of fantastic prints and are often (but not always) eco-friendly. These fabrics are hard wearing but can stain easily unless you get a stain resistant finish.

A word on cats

I love cats, and dogs…but they can wreak havoc on furniture. Cats in particular are hard to keep off and once they have claimed a piece of furniture (or carpet) as a scratching post it can be hard to persuade them to stop. There isn’t anything as totally pet proof fabric, cats can destroy leather if they decide they like it. However, the main thing to be conscious of is picking a fabric with no loops, or with an extremely low pile. Try and stop them from scratching as soon as they start too. There are loads of suggestions for distracting cats and dogs on the internet, I have no definitive answers as to what actually works.

Technical things

What is a rub count or Martindale rating?

The Martindale is a test of durability and the results show how much wear and tear a fabric can withstand. In domestic use a score of 15000 to 25000 is good, for severe use, a rating on 25000 to 30000 is suitable.

You can go lower if your chair is only for occasional use, perhaps a bedroom chair. For the family sofa where everyone piles on, I’d go for the highest you can find. However, I caution against using curtain fabric of dressmaking fabric, not only are they not legally compliant (see below) they are unlikely to be hardwearing enough to be sat on regularly.

Fire retardancy

I am required by law to abide by current laws on using fire retardant fabric. There are laws governing what I can All the fabrics I use or recommend will be compliant, OR where legal, they will be used in a compliant way (sent off for back coating, interlined where legal to do so).

I’d be happy to discuss options with you.

Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon…


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