How to buy long lasting upholstery fabric

Posted by Suzette Beaudelais on


The biggest challenge customers face is how to buy long lasting fabric for their furniture. And truthfully, this is a tricky topic. 
Normally when I want to learn about a topic, the first place I go is to the web. Unfortunately on the topic of buying good fabric, there is a great deal of misinformation out there. 
Here are some of my tips for how to buy long wearing upholstery fabric.
Factors to consider before you buy-
1. You need to look at the purpose of the furniture. Fabric for a family room sofa in a house full of kids is an entirely different beast from fabric you might choose for a chair in the corner of your bedroom. 
2. Consider cleaning. Many upholstery fabrics are now washable. It is wonderful to be able to wash seat covers. Keep in mind that natural fabrics will fade in the wash, so if you wash cushions frequently, over time they will not match the rest of the sofa.
3. The sun is a factor.  Look at how much sun the room gets. Do your windows have a UV filter? Even indirect sun will fade fabric over time but direct sun on dark cotton or linen will fade your upholstery in less than a year. Natural fibers are worse for this, but if you love linen and you have to have it, consider a lighter shade which will not show fading as much. 
 
When you are shopping
 1. Buy the best you can afford. Personally, I loath up-selling. But buying cheap quality fabric is a false economy. Consumers should recognize the massive amount of abuse your upholstery takes. Think about blue jeans with studs on the back pockets, being repeatedly dragged across your seat cushions daily.  
2. Fabric content is a huge factor in wear. As much as we all prefer the softness of natural fibers, they simply will not last as long as synthetics. Generally natural fibers are rated by weight. A good minimum weight for upholstery is 12 ounces or about 350 grams. Imagine the weight of a heavy barn coat. Keep in mind that a 12 ounce fabric will wear and thin down over a few years. Natural fibers are really popular and beautiful. They add warmth and style to a room. They look expensive. If you want a natural fabric that will last, make sure to buy one that is as heavy as you can afford. 
 3. If you can, buy a couple of extra yards as an insurance policy. Accidents happen. Puppies chew. People use box cutters on the sofa. Kids decide to decorate your sofa with sharpies. You can have the extra fabric made into a throw or a protective cover for your seat cushions, and it is there in a pinch.
4. Polyester is generally a very long wearing upholstery fabric. It lasts well and most good quality polyester fabrics will not pill. Often it is blended with other fibers to improve the feel. I have had clients with perfect sofas ask me to change the polyester fabric because they are just tired of looking at it after 10 years. There are some lovely polyester fabrics that have been produced in recent years in many styles.
5. Consider the wear rating with skepticism. Most upholstery textile companies use a wear rating system, and it is helpful but I would also be skeptical. I could tell you stories but let me just say that wear ratings are sometimes exaggerated.
6. Test your fabric. Buy a swatch. Hold it up to a window. Can you see light through it? If so, the fabric has a low thread count and should not be used for a heavy use area. Clean the fabric using the method that you wish to use. Throw it in the wash, in the dryer, send it to the cleaner. Even dump some spot cleaner on it. Do your own wear testing. Using a rough piece of cloth or a soft brush, and repeatedly abrade the fabric. Do you see lots of little fuzzy bits coming up within a few minutes? This is an indication that the fabric is going to pill over time. Pilling can be dealt with, but keep in mind that pilling is your fabric getting thinner and wearing out. 
7. When someone asks me what the longest wearing fabric is, generally I tell them to buy a densely woven polyester chenille. Usually, you can take a chenille outside and drive over it, and it will be fine after a good wash. Chenille is non absorbent and dirt tends to sit on top of the fabric, so they are easy to spot clean as well.
Do email me if you have more questions!

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