Decorating Fabrics

Furniture is a reflection of your taste and lifestyle, and the fabric on upholstered pieces is as important in enhancing the character of a room as the choice of furniture style. Two identically constructed pieces of furniture can take on completely different looks depending on the choice of fabric. Whether your taste is formal or informal, traditional or casual, the fabric you chose should fit the room, and the purpose for which it is intended. Heavy traffic areas require fabrics that are strong and durable and easy to maintain. Fabrics that are resistant to sunlight and mildew should be used in rooms that receive a lot of direct sun, or in humid climates. With the wealth of fabrics available on the market today, in unlimited colors, textures and patterns it's easy to be overwhelmed. However, if you understand some of the attributes of fabric, and their advantages and disadvantages, you can use the color and texture of decorating fabric to create the style and mood you want.

Some terms to familiarize yourself with when choosing decorating fabric are fiber content, weave and pattern. Fabric is made from fibers woven together to create different textures and patterns. There are four main types of fiber - natural, metallic, synthetic and blends. Natural fibers are derived from plants and animals and include cotton, linen, silk, wool and leather. Synthetic fibers are man made or created by combining different chemicals, and include polyester, rayon, nylon and acetates. Metallic fibers are created by spinning gold and silver into threads, which are usually combined with natural or synthetic fibers. Blended fibers are a combination of natural and synthetic fibers such as cotton and polyester. These fibers are interlaced to form the weave of the fabric. Jacquard weaves create a pattern that contains scenes or figures. Pile weaves create soft projections on the surface of the fabric and include velvets and plushes. Plain weaves can be loose or tight, and textured weaves are often called homespun because they copy hand woven fabrics and are coarse or smooth. Floating weaves such as corduroy use an extra cord which floats on the surface.

Decorating fabrics differ from garment fabrics. They are usually heavier, come in larger bolts and are not meant to be washed or cleaned frequently. Some require special care, and cost varies from moderate to very expensive. Listed below are some common upholstery fabrics and their attributes.

acetate.jpg (5164 bytes)Acetate is made from synthetic fibers, is inexpensive and has moderate elasticity. It has a silk like appearance, but weak fibers cause it to lose shape. Needs special care, requires dry cleaning.

artificial-leather.jpg (9707 bytes)Artificial leather is composed of a nitro-cellulose or vinyl coating applied to a cotton backing and embossed to resemble leather. Moderately expensive, good elasticity, comes in a variety of colors and textures and easy to maintain. Tends to crack or peel with exposure to sunlight.

Brocade.jpg (7744 bytes)Brocade is made of silk with pattern of gold and silver threads. Has a raised surface pattern that resembles embroidery. Resilient and durable, strong fibers, requires special handling, dry clean only and very expensive.

cotton.jpg (5032 bytes)Cotton is made from natural fibers, strong, breathes well, and is available in a wide variety of colors and prints. Inexpensive and easy to maintain, machine washable, but tends to shrink and lose its shape. Easily degrades with exposure to sunlight.

cord.jpg (8650 bytes)Corduroy is made with an extra cord of yarn which is woven above the surrounding threads and "floats" above the weave. When cut these cords stand up above the rest. Corduroy is inexpensive, strong and durable, withstands heavy traffic, easy to maintain, machine washable.

damask.jpg (2833 bytes)Damask is similar to brocade, but is reversible. Made of silk with brightly woven floral designs. Good elasticity, strong and durable. Very expensive and requires special care. Dry clean only.

leather.jpg (1771 bytes)Leather is a natural fiber made from the hide of cattle. Strong and durable, resilient and has good elasticity and good texture. Easy to care for, but tends to crack or peel when exposed to sunlight. Very expensive.

linen.jpg (4750 bytes)Linen is a natural fiber made from the bark of the flax plant. Strong with natural luster, good texture but not very resilient. Very expensive, needs special handling, dry clean only, susceptible to damage and fading from exposure to sunlight.

moire.jpg (1497 bytes)Moire is a synthetic with a wavy or wood grain pattern, satiny appearance, strong fiber, moderate elasticity, expensive, dry clean only.

nylon.jpg (3790 bytes)Nylon is a synthetic fiber with excellent elasticity, strong, easy to sponge off spots and stains. Susceptible to sunlight fades, easy to clean, machine wash, medium cost.

Olefin is a synthetic fiber, strong and durable, lightweight, moderate elasticity, insulates well, resists stains and mildew and sunlight, moderate cost.

polyester.jpg (3042 bytes)Polyester is a synthetic polymer, strong, elastic, holds shape fairly well, nubby texture. Moderately expensive, easy to clean. Also sold under names of Dacron and Duroflex.

rayon.jpg (11472 bytes)Rayon is a synthetic fiber that can be made to look like natural fibers, takes color well, has moderate elasticity. Tends to loose shape with time and wear. Inexpensive, need special handling, dry clean only.

silk.jpg (1435 bytes)Silk is a natural fiber made from the cocoon of the silkworm, strong and durable with smooth texture, good resilience, very expensive. Susceptible to damage from sunlight, needs special handling, dry clean only.

tapestry.jpg (5744 bytes)Tapestry is a thick woven fabric with pictorial designs, strong and durable, moderate resiliency, expensive. Dry clean only.

velvet.jpg (1283 bytes)Velvet is a synthetic with a shimmery look, has a texture and feel of natural fibers, easy to maintain, moderately inexpensive.

vinyl.jpg (1529 bytes)Vinyl and Plastic are synthetics that are composed of woven fibers or produced in sheets which can be cut and tailored like fabric. Available in a wide variety of color and texture, easy to maintain, wipes clean with soap and water. Strong and durable, works well in high traffic areas. Inexpensive.

wool.jpg (2133 bytes)Wool is made from natural fibers, is resilient, strong and comfortable. Provides good insulation and comes in a variety of colors. Tends to shrink when exposed to direct sunlight. Requires special handling, dry clean only.

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