They say variety is the spice of life; I tend to agree with that. Variety can be overwhelming as well, especially when it comes to selecting the right type of fabric for a sofa or chair. Whether choosing from a recliner, contemporary sofa, or a showpiece like a chaise, the material you choose matters. Remember that all fabrics are not created equal; different types of materials have different advantages and disadvantages. Some of these good characteristics and the advantages are strength, durability, stain resistance, and cost. Some of the limitations and the disadvantages are a low thread count, fading, and mildew growth. Either way, we feel it is important that you are well informed prior to walking into any showroom to select your next upholstered item.
Natural Materials: Natural materials have always been a popular choice for any upholstered item. The reason is natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, or wool are made of animal or plant based fibers. There are a set of input materials found in nature that can be directly woven, knit, or cured into fabrics with little to no processing. Because of this, the final fabric looks and feels very similar to the original source material. By that definition cotton, hemp, flax (linen), jute, ramie, wool, silk, and even leather are considered to be natural fabrics. It is important to note, however, just because a fabric is natural doesn’t mean that is better or even eco-friendly nor does it imply that it is vegan or even chemical free. It is literally just input material that is found in nature and can be directly turned into fabric. Below lists a number of natural fabrics with a brief description of each.
Leather: Leather is a very popular choice for upholstered items. The leather is strong, durable, easy to clean, and develops a lot of character overtime. Moreover, very few things can be compared to how luxurious soft leather feels and overtime- as the leather ages, the softer it becomes. The downside to leather is that it does not stand up well to sharp objects such as pets claws or metal edges. Leather also tends to feel hot and sticky in humid or hot weather.
Cotton: Cotton is always popular too; however, there are many issues with cotton that you should know. Cotton is not as stain resistant or as strong as synthetics. Depending on the tightness of the weave, cotton is easily prone to damage and wrinkling. Granted a tighter weave equates to stronger fabric, cotton wears fast and tends to get dirt and mold stuck in the groves of the fabric.
Linen: Linen is also a very popular choice. Linen, however, faces the same challenges cotton does. Because linen is not the most durable fabric, it tends to damage and wrinkle very easily.
Wool: Wool is an amazing fabric as it is durable and beautiful. The problem with wool is the feeling when wool touches the skin. That feeling is itchy and can sometimes be very uncomfortable hence the reason why wool is rarely used for sofas and chairs.
Silk: Silk is soft and lustrous but it is also one of the more fragile fabrics. It is also very hard to clean and wears the fastest of all fabrics. For these reasons you rarely see furniture upholstered with it.
Blends and Synthetics: The world’s first synthetic fabric, nylon, was developed in 1938 by Wallace Carothers. He combined chemical amine, hexamethylene diamine, and adipic acid. Synthetic fabrics are made by joining monomers into polymers through a process called polymerization. Synthetic fabric, when looked at through a microscope, looks like plastic spun together. Since Carothers discovery we have seen many spin-offs. The important thing to remember is that synthetic fabric is manmade. Blended fabric is different than synthetic because blended fabrics can include both manmade and natural fibers. Blended fabrics are created when two or more different types of fibers are made together to create an entirely new fabric with unique properties. Polyester and cotton, which is a combination of natural and synthetic fibers, is one of the most common blended fabrics. Below are some commonly used synthetics and blends with a brief description of each.
Microfiber: Microfiber is a type of very fine polyester that is very soft but extremely durable. It is also very easy to clean and competitively priced. It is important to remember that the threads are closely woven which makes it easy to brush off pet hair and lint.
Faux Leather: Faux leather is a popular choice for those who cannot afford or consciousness does not allow them to take home real leather. Faux leather is artificial or synthetic leather. There are two types of faux leather: polyurethane (PU) and polyvinylchloride (vinyl). The advantages to faux leather are durability, low maintenance, realistic quality, consistent appearance, fashionable as you can print on it, and it’s relatively easy to use. Faux leather does not stretch like leather nor is it puncture or tear resistant like leather, which is a significant disadvantage.
Chenille: Chenille is stronger than most fabrics and it looks great. Chenille can sometimes be made from cotton so as you can imagine cotton chenille has the same advantages and disadvantages as cotton. Typically chenille is made from rayon and olefin, which are synthetic materials, which are durable and easy to clean.
Acrylics: Acrylic fibers resemble wool; however, they are easy on this skin and nice to touch. Acrylics are also very durable as they are woven to last. They are also stained, wrinkled, and fade resistant. Finally, acrylics are affordable.
Choosing the right fabric
As you can see, there are many types of fabrics to choose from. Synthetics can imitate most natural fabrics and are easy to maintain while cotton and linen can be treated to improve stain resistance, the fabrics are still not as easy to clean or as strong as synthetics.
We suggest selecting the best weave of fabrics. Fabric that is woven tighter tends to be more durable than fabric with a loose weave. It is also good to look at how easy it is to care for the fabric. Some fabrics can be cleaned with water based products, which is ideal, or while others will require solvents. Leathers and other natural fabrics also may need to be treated with expensive, special cleaning products to ensure durability. Another thing to look for is the construction of the upholstered item itself; how does the fabric fit on it? Do you have pets? Is the fabric pet friendly? Finally, what color do you want the upholstered item to be? Remember most of the natural fabrics such as leather will only come in limited colors where synthetics and blends can come in almost all colors.
Only you can decide what fabric will be the best fit for your next upholstered item. But this shouldn’t be a chore; interior decorating is fun as well as an excellent creative outlet! So roll your sleeves up, do your homework, and unleash your inner interior designer!