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This post about choosing fabric for upholstery projects is a Guest Post by Jenny Marks of Yorkshire Fabric Shop.
Scroll down for the printable upholstery fabric shopping cheat sheet too!
One thing people sometimes forget about when they’re ready to upgrade their home’s look is that buying new furniture is not the only choice!
There is another way to change the look of your home without purchasing new furniture, and that is to upcycle and revive your exisitng furniture by reupholstering it.
There are a number of DIY upholstery tutorials on this site you can refer to, but the first question when re-upholstering should really be – what is the right fabric to choose?
The real answer is there is no right fabric for every upholstery project, but below I am going to run through which fabrics tend to make the best upholstery fabrics for different situations and why.
My hope is that you can use this guide to make the right choice of fabric for your upholstery project.
I’ll also go over some of the other important materials you need to think about if you are going to undertake a DIY upholstery project.
I’ve included a printable shopping cheat sheet at the end of this post to keep you right!
Fabric for Upholstery Projects – Options
There are different types of fabrics for upholstery, and they each have their share of benefits and disadvantages.
You need to keep in mind a few things:
- how much the furniture will be in use
- who the furniture will be used by (kids, animals, etc)
- what your primary objective is in choosing your upholstery fabric (do you want it to be pretty, budget friendly, hard wearing, or something else?)
I wish I could tell you that one type of fabric was best for all upholstery projects, but it just isn’t the case.
You could spend hours researching everything there is to know about upholstery fabric to find the one that is best for your reupholstery project….but who has time for that?
Below is my rundown of the key points for the most popular types of upholstery fabric to help make your decision a bit easier!
Cotton is a popular choice for upholstery projects.
It’s key advantage is that it is soft and resilient, but it’s key disadvantage is that it can also be easily soiled and susceptible to wrinkling.
As most cotton can be washed with soap and water, it’s a common option for cloth covers.
Furthermore, you can never find 100% cotton upholstery fabric. Most of it is generally part of a mix. So keep that in mind if you are choosing cotton for allergy reasons.
Generally, the best-quality cotton blends can contain around 45 to 60% cotton.
Within the cotton family you can choose to use Damask that has formal weaves or something like canvas which is more casual and durable.
Linen is made from flax and it is an incredibly versatile natural fibre.
It’s smooth, soft, and naturally lustrous.
Linen is great because it doesn’t easily pile or soil.
However linen can quickly wrinkle – you’ll know this if you own any linen clothing! Because of this it is often seen as more suitable for informal spaces than formal ones.
It is also often used to provide greater elasticity in cotton mixes.
Linen upholstery is best for casual or adult areas because of its susceptibility to getting wrinkles and scratches – not one for kids & pets in other words!
Lastly, keep in mind that linen needs to be washed by professionals to prevent shrinkage.
One of the synthetic fibres that are used widely for upholstery purposes is polyester or microfibre.
Polyester upholstery fabric is very comfortable, smooth, and quick to clean.
You will often find polyester in mixtures of other synthetic or natural materials.
Furthermore, blending polyester with other fabrics improves the fabric’s longevity.
Polyester is usually one of the cheaper options for upholstery fabric so if you are looking to save money both on purchasing your fabric and on cleaning it polyester can be a good choice.
Chenille can be made from cotton but more commonly for upholstery projects it will be made from synthetics including poly-blends.
It is hard wearing and easy to clean, but can shrink with too much water so spot cleaning is best.
Chenille often has a textured appearance like the palm leaf print above but can be found smooth as well.
One of the natural fabrics that are used for upholstery is leather.
Great for homes and public spaces, leather upholstery can look incredible and it is known for being hard wearing.
For houses with pets and youth, leather is often the best option.
Over time, leather gets more comfortable as it get’s ‘broken in’ and softened after being sat on and used.
Leather is also pretty easy to clean. Usually a wipe will do it. Often you don’t even need specialist products although you can get specific leather furniture wipes if you want to keep it at it’s best for longer.
Leather is made from animal hide so it won’t be suitable for strict vegans.
Keep in mind that there are numerous leather types, so be sure to look for full or top grain leather to ensure you get the best, longest lasting leather for your upholstery project.
Rayon is a fibre manufactured from wood chips.
It’s very inexpensive and is often mixed with other fabrics.
Originally Rayon, a cellulose-based fibre, was produced as an imitation for other fabrics like silk, linen, and cotton.
It is robust but it is also vulnerable to wrinkling.
It is typically blended with other types of threads to create a mixed material that is suitable for upholstery.
Older types of Rayon are highly flammable. Recently, a much more practical brand of rayon was developed that we can use for upholstery.
Make sure to check the labels and ask wherever you buy your fabric whether the rayon you are looking at has any fire retardant properties.
Velvet is one of the most desired and sought after upholstery fabrics.
Aside from having a soft and warm texture, velvet also highlights the shape of the furniture.
There are several types of velvet fabric. Velvet can be made from natural fibres, synthetic products and a combination of other materials so you get a variety of different types including:
Expensive, soft and luxurious. This kind of velvet often looks wet and is best used for low-use pieces of furiture.
Rayon or Nylon Velvet
Budget friendly version of silk velvet. Still soft but much more heard wearing and durable.
Absorbs dye well. It tends to have a matte appearance and rich colours. The surface of this type of velvet can be irregular in appearance and susceptible to damage.
This is a hard wearing velvet fabric that should be top of your list if you want to use velvet on a piece of furniture that is going to get lots of wear and tear. It withstands dirt, crushing and frequent use very well.
This type of velvet can look ‘crinkled’. The fibres within it are twisted which causes it to look almost shimmery displaying the light and dark versions of the fibres in different places. This type of velvet is very good at reflecting light.
Wool is a durable choice for upholstery fabric. It is a natural fibre that comes from animal fur.
It can be a little scratchy, though, if it is not part of a mix.
Pure wool can also be hard to clean and risk felting.
This is why wool is often combined with other synthetic fibres.
Wool blends are more versatile and easy to clean. Wool blends are pilling, wrinkling, soiling, and fading resistant.
In my opinion if you are interested in wool for your reupholstery project a blend is the way to go.
Other Upholstery Materials to consider
Your furniture is unlikely to be cosy without good-quality padding.
When you strip off your old upholstery fabric to start your project you will often find that the existing padding has worn thin, depending on the kind of original padding that was used.
Don’t fret though, replacing it isn’t difficult.
You can get specialist foam, which can be cut to size and form, or even advanced seat-pad replacements.
In general you want to look at what was used previously and try to replace it with the best modern equivalent.
Besides comfort and longevity, the other thing you’ll want to keep in mind is to double-check that your new padding is fire-retardant.
Webbing is a woven fabric that is solid. Used often in chair seats, but also sometimes for backrests.
Webbing is available in a range of fabrics, all the way from rubber to natural jute.
When you reupholster your furniture, you should replace the webbing as well.
Webbing is generally laid out in a hatched/woven over-under-over process that supports the weight of the person sitting on the furniture.
Take a picture of the old webbing and where/how it is attached before you take it off to replace it. That way you can more easily put the new webbing back in the correct place!
As it has such high elasticity, rubber webbing is one of the most common, and so it does not tend to sag over time.
An alternative to webbing in some furniture is springs. In fact sometimes you might even find both!
With coil springs, jute webbing tends to go hand in hand as it is not self-elasticated.
It is a natural material and the webbing is conventional. Other synthetic fabrics, such as polyolefin webbing, may also be used. Since it is a synthetic material, it can be a little more costly, but it is not prone to water damage or rotting.
Upholstery trim comes in different varieties from metal studs to brocade.
It is decorative and can ‘frame’ your upholstery fabric on your chair, sofa or footstool. But it also has a practical purpose.
Upholstery trim, as well as looking nice, is also used to hide staples and tacks that are used to secure your upholstery fabric in place.
This kind of trim isn’t necessary in every project as there are upholstery techniques (for example using tack strips) that hide how the fabric is attached without using trim.
If you are attempting a reupholstery project it is usually best to have a look at what the piece looked like before and replace like for like.
So if the chair you are re-covering has trim then you should probably use trim in your re-upholstery of it – you can modernise it and choose different trim of course though!
What fabric to use for your upholstery project?
Although it ultimately depends on your choices and specifications, there are some strong front-runners from which to choose when it comes to upholstery fabric.
Be brutally honest with yourself about the wear and tear that the upholstery would have to endure before you let yourself fall in love with that delicate linen or wool.
It’s easy to fall in love with fabric, but if it has to be replaced in a couple of years, then it isn’t worth it.
Once you’ve narrowed down what type of fabric would be best for your project you will still have plenty of choices and then comes the fun part of choosing what colour or pattern it will be!
Use the below printable cheat sheet to keep you right when your are shopping for your next upholstery project!
- Cotton Pros: Soft & Resilient. Cons: Easily Soiled, can wrinkle
- Linen Pros: Doesn’t Pile or Soil. Cons: Wrinkles easily – not great for kids
- Polyester Pros: Cheap & Easy to Clean Cons: Synthetic Man Made Fibre
- Chenille Pros: Hard wearing & Easy to Clean Cons: Can shrink
- Leather Pros: Hard wearing & wipe clean Cons: Not Vegan-Friendly
- Rayon Pros: Cheap & Robust Cons: Can Wrinkle (also check it isn’t the old flammable kind)
- Velvet Pros: Soft & Luxurious looking Cons: lots of variety in price & quality
- Wool Pros: Durable Cons: Can be scratchy & Hard to Clean
If you are doing a DIY Upholstery Project don't forget to consider replacement padding, webbing and any studs or trim you might need.
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DIY Upholstery Tutorials & Inspiration on Upcycle My Stuff:
- How to Upcycle an Armchair – Reupholstery Basics
- How to Reupholster a Dining Chair – Seat & Back
- How to Reupholster a Headboard (without taking it off the wall!)
- How to Upcycle Antique French Fauteuil Chairs – Painting & Upholstery Tutorial
- Armchair Makeover Inspiration – Our Top Upcycled Armchair Ideas
- How to Upcycle a Velour Armchair – Using Paint