There are many advantages to using modern day upholstery fabrics. Modern day upholstery fabrics come with specs, including rub testing, pilling tests, colour fastness and composition. Variations on these test results determine if a fabric is “hard wearing” or “low maintenance”. Yet there is something not very easy to quantify, which will also determine whether a fabric is going to age well. This is to do with the type of weave, how tight it is and if the fibres are of a particular composition, and how will they behave with every day use.

There are typical types of fabric that I see often, and they fall into a few common categories; Woven, Velvety and Felted

Woven – natural fibres and synthetic

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There are different types of weaves, some will wear well and others not so much. For instance, if the woven fabric has long loose decorative threads on the top surface, these will be the first to go or be pulled when caught on buckles or movement. The base fabric will not necessarily wear through, but the overall look will age quickly because the decorative appeal has turned from a feature, to being on the list of things to fix. There is not much enjoyment taken from things on this list. Close inspection of the sample is best, or if you love it, use this type of fabric as a feature panel where not much skin contact would occur. For example, around the outsides of a chair.

Another characteristic of fabric is the body or thickness of the material and the purpose you are using it for. You can have too thick, but generally, you don’t want too thin! You can do your upholsterer a favour by listening to the overwhelming amount of advice available before making a selection. The look of a piece, is only the start, there can be more than one way to achieve it, and it really depends on the type of furniture and its anticipated use.

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As a side note, if you can see through it, it is probably not suitable!

There are also common expectations about how a fabric will behave over time. For instance, a linen would loosen and soften with time, but wear well in terms of the fibres holding together and would suit a casual but sumptuous look.

Velvety – synthetic, silk and cotton

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Velvet has made a huge come back, it is hard to avoid a velvet when trying to select a fabric. They are everywhere and they have the most amazing colour ranges giving good strong even colour. Yet, some are scared of the maintenance required to keep a velvet. Innovations now have produced velvets with amazing textures and finishes. There is matt, crushed and lustrous velvets to name a few. I love them. In terms of cleaning, a damp cloth to remove the mess and wiping in the direction of the pile is enough.

Felted – woollen or synthetic

Wool does require some care when cleaning, but you can have the effect of felted fabric using a synthetic product also. Both has a fluffy surface and would probably be best not to rub the top surface too much when cleaning. But wool is better in a loose cover (say cushion cover) that can be removed and washed in cold water with a wool wash product. Wool is often chosen for furniture with complex curves as it is one of the best fabrics to flex with the shape and doesn’t show the distortion of the line when manipulated to fit.

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Faux wool can be a great alternative at a much lower price point and with a slightly less itchy feeling!

Mostly when I clean furniture, I use a carpet cleaner. This means I can avoid buying two products that do the same job. They recommend spot testing, but I have found generally they are very good for not taking the colour out of your fabric. Only small amounts are needed to remove most marks. If you have serious staining or marking from more permanent sources, it wouldn’t hurt to get in touch with a professional. Yes, there are people that do this for a living!

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