A Quick Education on Upholstery Fabric

Today, fabric choices include cloth, leather, and many new high-tech synthetics. Here’s how to choose a fabric that’ll make the right statement in your home or office.

Nothing has a greater effect on the look of upholstered furniture than the fabric. It’s the most visible indication of fashion and quality. It’s also the part of an upholstered piece to show soil and wear fastest.

So how do you select a fabric that has the style, durability and feel that you want? It’s all in knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask. First, we’ll point out some basic decorating and selecting considerations, and then we’ll look at the differences between fabric types.

Things to Consider When Selecting A Fabric

Style – First, the fabric should be appropriate to the style and character of the piece it is covering. A traditional frame will usually look best with a more traditional fabric style. Second, the scale of the pattern should be appropriate to the room size. As a rule, large repeating patterns look better in larger rooms. Also consider whether the fabric color is warm or cool, and be sure it’s the right “mood” for the room the furniture is going into.

Color – Color is probably the number one reason people select certain fabrics. But certain color fabrics may not be the best choice for durability and stain resistance. If you have small children, you’re probably better off choosing a color that won’t show dirt easily.
Durability – Will the furniture be in an area of the house that receives the heaviest traffic? Pieces subject to daily heavy wear need to be covered in tough, durable, tightly woven fabrics. Generally, fabrics that have their pattern “woven in” will wear better than printed fabrics.

Thread Count – The higher the thread count, the more tightly woven the fabric, and the better it will wear. Thread count refers to the number of threads per square inch of fabric.

Fade Resistance – Will your furniture be exposed to constant direct sunlight? To reduce the chance of fading, see if your choices include fabrics that are sunlight resistant.

Tailoring – Fabric covers should be pulled tightly, without snags or unwanted tucks or dimples. Patterns such as checks and plaids should be aligned and matched.

Form & Fiber: A Look at Different Fabric Types

When shopping for fabrics, you’ll find a vast array of different patterns, textures, thread counts and fiber contents to select from. But your choice will come down to two basic fabric types: natural fabrics and synthetics. Here’s a quick look at some of your options:

Natural Fabrics

Cotton –This natural fiber provides good resistance to wear, fading and pilling, but is less resistant to soiling and wrinkling. Surface treatments and blending with other fibers often compensate for these weaknesses. Durability and use depend on the weave and finish. For example, damask weaves are formal; canvas weaves such as duck and sailcloth are more casual and durable.

Cotton Blend Depending on the weave, cotton blends tend to be sturdy, family-friendly fabrics. For everyday use, it’s a good idea to apply a stain-resistant finish.

Leather – Perhaps the best all-around upholstery fabric ever. This tough material comes in many colors and finishes, and develops more character and softness with age. Leather is very forgiving and easy to clean.

Linen – A great, fresh look! Linen is best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas because it soils and wrinkles easily. While it won’t withstand heavy wear, linen does resist pilling and fading. It also must be professionally cleaned to avoid shrinking.

Silk –This beautiful, delicate fabric is only suitable for formal areas and must be professionally cleaned if soiled.

Wool – Sturdy and durable, wool and wool blends offer good resistance to pilling, fading, wrinkling, and soil. Generally, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make it easier to clean. Blends can be spot-cleaned when necessary.


Acetate – Developed as imitation silk, acetate resists mildew, pilling and shrinking. On the other hand, it offers only fair resistance to soil and tends to wear, wrinkle, and fade in the sun. Not a good choice for furniture that will get tough, everyday use.

Acrylic – Developed as imitation wool, and resists wear, wrinkling, soiling and fading. Low-quality acrylic may tend to pill excessively in high-wear situations. Better-quality acrylics are manufactured to resist pilling.

Microfiber – A term used to describe a new category of upholstery fabrics with a velvety, suede-like surface. Made from ultra fine polyester fibers, Microfiber fabrics are durable and pleasant to the touch. Excellent value, durability and cleanability.

Nylon – Rarely used alone, nylon is usually blended with other fibers to make it one of the strongest upholstery fabrics. Nylon is very resilient; in a blend, it helps eliminate the crushing of napped fabrics such as velvet. It doesn’t readily soil or wrinkle, but it does tend to fade and pill.

Olefin – A fashionable, durable choice for furniture likely to receive heavy wear.

Polyester – Rarely used alone in upholstery, polyester is blended with other fibers to add wrinkle resistance, eliminate crushing and reduce fading.

Rayon – Developed as an imitation silk, linen and cotton. Rayon is durable, but can be prone to wrinkling. Recent advances have made high-quality rayon very practical for upholstery.

Vinyl – Easy to care for and less expensive than leather, vinyl is a practical choice for busy family rooms and children’s furniture.

A Word About Fabric Grades

As you’re selecting your upholstery, you may find yourself faced with a choice of fabric grades. Grades typically range from “A” on the less expensive end, to “F” on the pricey side. Grades vary from one upholstery manufacturer to another, and are based on variables like intricacy of the weave, fiber content, construction, and performance characteristics – all factors that affect the wholesale cost.

But it’s important to note that grade is NOT an indication of quality or durability.

It’s just an indicator of how expensive the fabric was to make. The trick is to read the details on the fabric card attached to the swatch and to make your decision accordingly.

A Good Fabric Is Always In Fashion

Regardless of color, fiber, thread count or grade, upholstery fabrics should always be chosen to serve your needs, both fashionable and practical. There are countless choices out there, so don’t settle for anything you’re not in love with.

Most important, be sure to pick a fabric that you can truly LIVE with. And, if you grow tired of it in a few years, remember that virtually all upholstery can be re-covered!

Queen Anne Upholstery and Refinishing, named ‘One of Seattle’s Best’ by Seattle Magazine, is an industry leader in customer service. Established on the top of Queen Anne Hill in 1936, Family owned and operated Queen Anne Upholstery and Refinishing is committed to the excellence of ‘old world’ craftsmanship.

Queen Anne Upholstery and Refinishing can restore your custom and antique furniture to its original beauty. Durable and unique in character, such furniture helps create a remarkable interior for the entire home, office, theater, hotel and restaurant.