It may seem exciting to have an abundance of fabric options to choose from, but without some basic knowledge, the search for the right upholstery can become overwhelming. With all the fabrics (not to mention the colors and designs) available, how do you choose the one which is right for you?

Upholstery fabric is a big investment and the last thing you want is to be second-guessing your choice after the piece is already finished and inside your home. Choose the wrong material and you’ll be fighting snags and stains. Choose the wrong color or pattern and the entire room will suffer because of it. So, to keep that from happening, we’ve put together a little guide for you. We hope it serves you well in boosting your confidence when it comes to picking the best fabric for your upholstery that will meet both your needs and your style.

What is Upholstery, Anyway?

Upholstery is the materials that make up the soft coverings of sofas, chairs, and other furniture. These materials typically include fabric, padding, webbing, and springs--all of which make resting a much more enjoyable experience.

The process of using upholstery dates back to the Middle Ages. Since then, it has grown in popularity and the materials used have evolved, allowing for prettier and more comfortable furniture.  

In regards to the interior materials, they shouldn’t be looked upon as an afterthought. Even though they can’t be seen, the longevity of your furniture depends on them. Choosing high-quality inner layers are sure to help your piece last for many years.

Understanding Fabric Content, Types of Fabric, and Patterns  

Fabric Content

Fabrics can be broken down into two categories: natural fibers and synthetic (man-made) fibers. And, as with anything, each has their own set of pros and cons:

Natural Fibers

  • Cotton: soft, absorbent, breathable and durable, but fades easily.
  • Linen: airy, breathable and light, but tends to have hard plant fibers and wrinkles easily.
  • Wool: warm, durable but not the best for upholstery.
  • Silk: strong with a beautiful sheen but prone to fading if placed in direct sun.
  • Leather: tough, easy to clean and ages well.
  • Hemp: durable but wrinkles easily.

Synthetic Fibers

  • Acrylic: inexpensive, maintains shape and resists sunlight, however, it builds static electricity and pills easily.
  • Polyester: very durable and comes in a variety of patterns, colors, and textures; great for stains, yet doesn't handle oils (from bodies or food) very well.
  • Nylon: durable and stain resistant.
  • Olefin: durable but can pill easily.
  • Rayon: fairly strong and affordable but stretches easily.

Fabric Type

Fibers are turned into fabric through several different processes. Two popular fabric types are woven, non-woven and printed:

  • Woven fabrics are woven together on a loom and can be made with intricate designs of multiple colors to simple designs of few colors.
  • Non-woven fabrics are bonded, rather than woven together, and are often adhered to a knit backing for stability.

Pattern Types

There is a wide variety of patterned upholstery fabric, but here are some common terms to become familiarized with:

  • Florals (sometimes called Jacquards)
  • Paisleys (tear-drop shape)
  • Body cloths (solid colors and textures)
  • Geometrics (squares, circles, etc)
  • Stripes (includes pinstripes and ombres)
  • Plaids (includes checks, ginghams, and houndstooth
  • Novelties (unusual designs)

Choosing the Best Upholstery Fabric for Your Furniture

As you shop for upholstery fabric, think about your needs. Regardless of how much you know about fabric, it is important that you consider how you live and who will use the piece. This above all else will help guide you on the types of materials to use.

For example, high-traffic areas of your home will benefit most from durable fabrics that are tough enough to withstand years of abuse. Reserve those other textiles you love for furniture that doesn’t get as much wear and tear.

It’s also important to think about how the fabric you’re considering will age over time. Take time to read labels to find out about the content of the materials as well as their cleaning needs. If it’s more work than you care to put in, then choose another fabric that will be easier to maintain.

Two other things to think about are the style of the furniture and the size of the room. This will help you narrow down pattern and color. Not every color and pattern will look the same once it’s cut and put back together on the piece, especially if the shape is tricky or ornate. The same goes for the size. Color or pattern that looks amazing on a large piece of furniture might not look so amazing on a smaller piece.

Most importantly, however, is that you need to love the fabric. If you find a fabric that’s not shown on the showroom floor, ask for a swatch that you can take home to drape on your piece. This will give you a much better idea of how it will look.

Ready to take your upholstery to the next level? Stop by Interior Fabrics where you will find endless discount designer fabrics for any project. We have quality fabrics that fit multiple decorating styles. You’re sure to find something that you’ll enjoy for many years to come.