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Choosing the Best Upholstery Material
Plain or pattern? Wool, cotton or linen? Neutral or bold? Exhausting - we know. Choosing the right upholstery material is a daunting task. Don't get your fabrics in a twist! Use our expert guide to help you make the perfect choice.
Functionality is key
Thread count is what really matters when considering upholstery material. The higher the thread count, the tighter the weaves are, the better the fabric! Firstly, think about how you live, what will the furniture be used for and by who? Secondly, will it stand as a statement piece in a low-use room or be scratched and covered in hair by your furry friends? You certainly don't want chocolate pressed into your lovely new velvet sofa! This will also set the boundary for the durability of the material you can choose.
What does Martindale Rubs mean?
We weavers have a fancy term for quantifying the durability of fabrics: Martindale rubs. Essentially this tells you how much wear and tear (how many rubs can go over the material) a fabric can hold before it begins to look pretty dull (abrasion begins to break the threads). Ultimately, the higher the score, the more durable the fabric. For upholstery material, anything above 15,000 rubs is generally acceptable. Take a look at this summary:
Fabrics with Martindale Rubs of 10,000 or less
Fabrics with 10,000 rubs or less are suitable for decorative use only. These fabrics are not suitable for general domestic upholstery but can be used for cushions or accents.
Fabrics with Martindale Rubs of 10,000 - 15,000
Fabrics with 10,000 - 15,000 rubs are suitable for light domestic use only. This includes curtains, blinds and soft furnishings as well as occasional furniture.
Fabrics with Martindale Rubs of 15,000 - 25,000
Fabrics with 15,000 - 25,000 rubs are suitable for general domestic use. This includes household furniture with everyday use.
Fabrics with Martindale Rubs of 25,000 - 35,000
Fabrics with 15,000 - 25,000 rubs are suitable for heavy-duty domestic use. This includes household furniture with high levels of everyday use as well as light commercial furniture.
Fabrics with Martindale Rubs of 30,000 plus
Fabrics with 30,000 rubs or more are suitable for commercial use.
With this said, what sort of upholstery materials are best?
As a rule of thumb, woven fabrics usually last longer than printed fabrics. Therefore, you might want to err on the side of caution if you're planning on choosing printed fabrics for your upholstery projects - trust us it's worth the initial investment! Find out more about our different types of natural woven fabrics below.
Cotton (and any cotton/linen blend) fabric can be a great option for upholstery because it is soft and durable. It is commonly used for slipcovers because you can easily clean cotton with soap and water - these are perfect for everyday use if you have kids. Ticking Stripe fabrics are a popular choice for upholstery due to their hard-wearing nature and ability to endure changing trends. For more ideas on how cotton fabrics can make the perfect fit, see our cotton upholstery fabrics range.
Linen is a strong natural fibre that's soft, smooth and naturally lustrous and perfect for upholstery due to its ability to naturally resist pilling and soiling. If you want your furniture to have a natural aesthetic appeal, consider a tight woven linen fabric such as our Munro Oatmeal Textured Plain fabric (26,000 rubs). To create a bit of interest, try adding subtle coloured accents with decorative linen cushions in our Angus Stripe Flax fabric (below). If you've got something different in mind, explore our collection of linen upholstery fabrics online.
Wool & Velvet
Wools and velvets (within the heavy domestic use range) are sturdy and durable and can create great traditional pieces. With this said, as plush as wools and velvets are, they're generally a no-go in high-use rooms unless you want to pay for a regular dry-clean.
Maintenance is another crucial factor you'll want to consider: be mindful of washing upholstery materials. If you plan on frequent washing (using removable covers), consider the possible 5% shrinkage when measuring or briefing a maker. A smooth cotton fabric such as our stunning tickings are best for this sort of frequency.
Where the fun stuff happens: colour and pattern
If your piece of furniture is relatively big, opt for a more neutral-toned fabric so that it won't dictate the rest of the room. You want to be able to mix up your accent pieces if you get tired of the bolds - plus neutrals never go out of fashion!
Don't forget lighter colours will show more stains, so if you have kids perhaps don't pick a crisp white unless you want sticky finger stains as a postmodern art statement. Plus a word of warning when choosing dark colours, they are likely to fade when placed in natural sunlight. Generally, mid-tones are the safest option and should blend out any stains (at least until you have the patience to clean) whilst keeping their colour!
Be careful choosing an upholstery material with crazy patterns: Try to imagine the fabric chopped up and put back together on your sofa - we don't want to dampen your creativity but bear in mind the piece's outcome. Plus, your upholsterer might thank you for simpler alignment in the making process!
Don't forget the expense of upholstery means you might be stuck with your choice for a long time - opt for a timeless plain or simple pattern that you won't get sick of!
If you're still unsure what fabric to choose, take a browse through our collection of upholstery fabrics. Don't be afraid to try before you buy: If you can't decide between the last few options, drape a sample of each over the furniture you wish to reupholster and take a step back.
Finally, make sure to choose the right person to fit the fabric, after all this thought and consideration you definitely don't want a botch job done. If you need some additional help and advice, get in touch with one of our trusted upholsterers within your area or contact The Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishings.