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How to Choose The Right Furnishing Fabric

Choosing the right furnishing fabric for your project may seem a bit daunting but if you know a few things before you get started you can choose with confidence.

Upholstery vs Curtain weight:

Our furnishing fabrics will be marked with either UPH (upholstery weight) or CTN (curtain weight) - these are divided into 2 separate categories online. What do they mean?

  • UPH basically means that they have passed a test to qualify them for upholstery use, generally this is 20,000 rubs - meaning a machine literally rubs the fabric 20,000 times before wear occurs.
  • CTN means that these fabrics have never been through a rub test but are suitable for curtains.

You can generally use upholstery fabrics for curtains also, the only time this would not be the case would be when the fabric is too heavy to fall/pleat correctly, in our current range all upholstery fabrics can be used for curtains.

You can generally use curtain fabrics for cushions also, some heavier cottons I would even say you could use for kitchen chairs etc as they can be spot cleaned but they will not last as long as a fabric that is designated upholstery.

Fabric Composition:

Cotton/ Linen:

  • Cotton is a natural fibre, quite matt in appearance and will hang very well as curtains and lend itself very well to cushions and the likes as it can usually be washed. Of course I would never recommend washing curtains but a cotton can be spot cleaned.
  • Cotton is very easy to work with and is a good choice for beginners projects.
  • Beware the shrinkage! Allow yourself 5% shrinkage and always pre-wash your fabric if you’re planning to wash it in future.

Silk:

  • Silk is a natural fibre and is a beautifully luxurious fabric with a dull sheen but requires some care.
  • When using silk for curtains use a good lining to protect against sun damage as it will fade easier than other fabrics, generally they will be interlined with an extra thick lining for body.
  • Probably not the best choice for cushions due to its delicate nature but I have been unable to resist in the past and with careful cool hand washing they have lasted me quite well.
  • Silk generally won’t shrink.

Viscose:

  • Viscose is derived from plant sources like wood pulp and then transformed to fibres - it has a beautiful drape and silk like lustre but is much cheaper.
  • It’s generally a good all rounder as it’s breathable like cotton so nice for cushions etc and as long as it is graded UPH will do a fine job for upholstery.
  • Viscose can shrink slightly and sometimes can be a bit “bouncy” to work with but if made up correctly it is a beautiful fabric.

Polyester:

  • Is a synthetic fabric, essentially a plastic making it extremely versatile and it generally has a sheen to it.
  • It is frequently washable and doesn’t shrink - making it a good choice for either cushions, curtains or upholstery.
  • It is less breathable than most of the other fabrics so you may find you get a little warmer on a polyester upholstered couch or with polyester cushions.
  • If made into curtains you can nearly guarantee it will last for years as it won’t shrink or fade like some of the natural fibres.

Most fabrics you see will be some sort of mix of the above fabrics giving them slightly different attributes. For example: Polyester is frequently mixed with cotton to give it the firmer handle of a cotton and dull the polyester sheen with the longer life span/ lack of shrinkage of a polyester; Viscose is frequently mixed in with other fibres to add lustre and drape.

Generally if you see a mix, you will be getting the best attributes of the fabrics listed rolled into one.

I hope you can shop more confidently knowing more about these fabrics, trust your eye, choose what you love first and then have a good look at the composition and care to see if it is suitable for your project. If you want further help you can ask out experts in store who will be happy to advise you.

Laura

I started working for Hickeys when I was only 16 and my love affair with all things fabric, textiles and crafts began!! I always have some project on the go (even if they don't always get finished), and after 17 years in the business I'm still learning new things all the time from fellow staff and amazing customers!

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