We’ve put together a guide covering everything you need to know about upholstery fabrics, including what to use for your specific needs and what works best for your home, outdoor area, or office

What is upholstery fabric?

Upholstery fabric is fabric that we create specifically to be a hard-wearing furniture covering. We use it for the seats and backs of chairs and couches, bed headboards, cushions for indoor and outdoor furniture… and much more.

The choice of upholstery is as wide as the types of fabrics available, from leather and suede to linen and silk. We will go into detail about the different types of upholstery fabric later.

Right now, just consider what type of upholstery there is, and how you can use it to make your furniture more comfortable and stylish.

What sets upholstery fabric apart?

There is a distinct difference between upholstery fabric and regular fabrics, which have many uses such as clothing, soft furnishings (curtains, tablecloths, linen tea towels, serviettes and more).

We design upholstery fabric specifically for covering furniture for the home or office, so it’s sturdier, heavier and a woven fabric (link to blog on woven fabrics).

Eco Upholstery FR fabric - digital print for reloved upholstery using design by Charlotte Beevor
Eco Upholstery FR using design by Charlotte Beevor - Upholstered onto Ercol chair by Reloved Upholstery

Benefits of choosing quality upholstery fabric

If you’ve read all about woven fabric (link to woven fabric blog), you’ll know that the higher the fabric’s thread count is, the more hard-wearing the upholstery fabric will be.

The term 'a high thread count' means that the fabric has a tight weave. This makes the fabric able to withstand wear and tear.

Make sure to bear this in mind when choosing your upholstery fabric.

Before you choose upholstery fabric...

It’s important to consider exactly what type of fabric you’re after.

For instance, are you reupholstering an existing item in your home, or are you planning to add a new item that will be a statement piece?

Do you need something durable? Versatile? Stylish? Something that fits in with existing décor or something that will stand alone?

Is it for outside or an interior décor piece?

The more time you take to consider the upholstery fabric, the more likely you are to enjoy its benefits.

You need to consider where the item is located in your home, whether you have young kids who will be sitting on the couch eating pizza and cold drinks while watching TV, or cats and dogs that tend to cover the couch with fur – or both. 

In that case you need a fabric covering that is not only durable, but is also easy to keep clean.

Make sure the fabric has the following characteristics

Upholstery is a covering that resists smells and doesn’t stain easily, that you can clean quickly to look as good as new. If you use the item constantly, make sure you cover it in high quality, hard wearing upholstery fabric that is able to withstand constant wear and tear.

Custom print on Velvet for Sarah Peterson Design on GPlain armchair
Custom print on Velvet for Sarah Peterson Design on GPlain armchair

4 of the most important points to consider when choosing fabrics

To give you peace of mind, we’ve put together a list of all the important aspects you need to consider before you choose upholstery fabric UK for your furniture. 

1. Durability

We’ve already discussed the importance of choosing a durable fabric. We’ve mentioned kids and pets, but there’s more. Add allergies to the list. If anyone in your family has allergies to specific fabrics, cleaning products or pet fur, you need to take this into account. 

Can you easily remove the cat’s fur from the couch to avoid your child sneezing? Did you choose an upholstery fabric that manufacturers sourced and printed on sustainably? If you did, your family won’t be allergic to any of the chemicals used in the dyeing and printing process.

Do you use natural and hyperallergenic cleaning products? Is the furniture piece in constant contact with sunlight, in which case you need to use a fabric that won’t fade.

To withstand kids and pets, we suggest a really hard-wearing fabric like leather or viscose. And for allergic members of the family, choose a fabric that’s free of lint, perhaps one made from one specific microfibre upholstery fabric UK.

Pattern and durability

You also need to consider patterned upholstery fabric when choosing. Woven patterns, fabrics with tight weaves and those with higher thread counts are all more long-lasting. Printed fabrics and fabrics with heavy textures wear out more quickly. Make sure the fabric you choose is versatile.

You also should consider the lifespan of your upholstery. Of course, you want it to last as long as possible – a decade at least. Which fabrics are the strongest ones? You need materials that can withstand kids bouncing and spilling stuff on them.

Synthetic fabrics are the strongest. While natural fabrics are beautiful, rather consider them for accessories and soft furnishings like cushions. One should cover more durable items with a blend of cotton, polyester and rayon, for instance.

Custom digitally printed Bayeux Fabric - selection of patterns
Selection of patterns custom digitally printed on our Bayeux Upholstery fabric

Flame retardant for upholstery

Fabric you intend using for upholstery has to be flame retardant.

One of the methods we use to treat upholstery fabric so that it's flame retardant is with a fire retardant back-coating. This stiffens the fabric somewhat and makes it better for many upholstery applications. 

We call the other method 'chemical dipping'. Manufacturers use it for fabrics made out of natural fibres or those that have a high proportion of natural fibres. For this method, you soak the fabric in the fire retardant substance.

Fabrics such as our Eco Upholstery FR and Waterproof Suede FR meet CRIB 5 ratings for commercial use.

2. Indoors or outside?

You need different types of upholstery fabric for interiors and for outdoor use. Indoor fabrics have to withstand the wear and tear of home living.

So if you’re choosing upholstery fabric for the living-room or playroom, where the kids will be bouncing on the furniture along with the pets, playing games, watching TV and snacking, it needs to be able to withstand all of those things.

How stylish the fabric is, the colour and the patterns or designs printed on the fabric are all your decision. As long as the actual fabric chosen is suitable, the rest is up to you.

Consider the following...

But when considering outdoor furniture, you need to ask yourself a completely different set of questions. Choosing this type fabric has different requirements. One needs to specifically treat upholstery fabric for outdoor use.

If it’s patio furniture that’s going to be in the sun, it needs to be fade resistant or it won’t last long. For this reason, cotton and linen are not ideal for outdoor living.

You also need to ensure the fabric is water-resistant, if you’re going to leave the upholstered furniture outside. If you live in a tropical environment, you need to include humidity and mildew into the equation. 

Colour waterproof cushions - custom digitally printed on Tentex Fabric
Colourful custom digitally printed cushions on water resistant Tentex fabric for Jennifer Fynn

3. Types of upholstery fabric – natural and synthetic

There are two types of upholstery fabrics: natural fabrics and synthetic ones. Synthetics tend to last longer than natural fabrics, but you may prefer the texture of natural fabrics.

So how do you choose? If you wish to choose a natural fabric, linen and cotton are your best bets. Out of the synthetic fabrics, a polyester blend is usually a good choice.

Natural fabrics

These fabrics are all made from natural elements.

·    Cotton: Hard-working quality fabric that is more fade-resistant than most natural fibres. It doesn’t pill, wrinkle or catch alight. Also, it’s cool to the touch, so it’s ideal for summer, easy to wash and it’s relatively affordable.

The most durable cotton fabrics are canvas (more casual option) and damask weaves. The main disadvantage: cotton tends to wrinkle.

·    Cotton blends: These tend to be less durable. The best blend is between 45 and 60% cotton, which is sturdy and can withstand kids and pets.

If treated with a stain-resistant finish, like Scotchgard, the fabric will be long-lasting.

·    Linen: We make this very strong fabric out of flax. It is very beautiful to look at. It doesn’t pill and if it’s of high quality, it will be mildew-resistant and anti-microbial (it kills or inhibits bacteria, moulds and viruses).

Because of its fibres, you have to professionally clean linen. As a result, we often use it for furniture for a formal lounge. Don’t use linen outdoors, as it fades easily in the sun. If blended with cotton, linen will be more elastic.

·    Silk: You need to look after this delicate fabric, so it’s best for formal living areas. The fabric’s smooth, shimmery look makes it very luxurious. It’s dust-resistant, but not easy to clean. It fades easily in the sun.

As silk wrinkles easily, you can use another fabric to back it, to make it stronger and durable.

·    Leather: Plush and sumptuous, this natural animal hide is extremely hard-wearing. Polish it to remove any scratches. It's also very easy to clean. And it doesn’t fade in the sun.

The downside is that it’s expensive, and doesn’t breathe well, which means it’s clammy in summer and cold in winter. Leather has a natural, rich look.

Suede, on the other hand, has a napped finish and is soft and durable. But you need to professionally clean it.

·    Wool: Because of its lavish feel and texture, wool is a popular upholstery fabric choice. This strong, hard-wearing 100% animal hair fabric doesn’t fade, crease or pill. When its blended with a synthetic fibre, it’s less scratchy and easier to keep clean and the fibres don’t bond together, or felt.

Synthetic upholstery fabric

One creates these man-made fabrics using various chemical processes. They are often more long-wearing than natural fabrics, and less expensive.

·    Polyester: Usually blended with natural fibres (cotton or linen) to make it less likely to crease and fade, polyester is a strong, durable fabric often used for upholstering.

The better the quality, the less likely the fabric is to pill. It’s also very easy to clean, resistant to abrasion and moisture. A great choice for family rooms that need hard-wearing upholstery. 

·    Microfibre: We make this very popular upholstery fabric from tightly woven polyester. We then specially treat it to look and feel like suede, but it's softer and easier to keep clean.

It doesn’t fade easily, so you can keep it in a sunny indoor spot.

·    Velvet upholstery fabric: This fabric is soft, smooth and sumptuous. It is made from a blend of various fabrics including cotton, silk, linen, nylon and others. When dyed, the colours look bright and clear.

This fabric is difficult to clean and tends to crease easily.

·    Viscose: A man-made fibre created from cellulose extracted from trees, this upholstery fabric is much like silk, cotton and linen.

It features a luxurious shiny look. This is why we often choose viscose for upholstery. It's particularly popular when we blend it with other fibres. Viscose, like cotton, is breathable, so it’s cool in summer and warm in winter. It’s also elastic.

·    Acrylic wool: Basically faux wool, this upholstery fabric doesn’t crease or fade and is hard wearing.

·    Nylon: We usually blend this fibre with others to make into strong and durable upholstery fabric. It doesn’t get dirty easily. However, it tends to fade and pill.

·    Rayon: A synthetic imitation of silk, cotton and linen, this hard-wearing fabric doesn’t fade easily and is an excellent choice for upholstering family-friendly furniture.

·    Sunbrella: We also use this fabulous outdoor fabric indoors. Liquid forms pearls on its surface, so it’s easy to clean and very durable. Ideal for families with kids and pets. Best used for outdoors as it’s water-, mildew- and sun-resistant.

Vibrant colourful designs printed on Velvet fabric
Pohutukawa - Blue Red by Andrea Alice on Velvet interiors fabric

4. And now for the fun part! 

(Link to a future or past blog that concentrates on interior design choices)

It’s all about colour, design and texture! So be brave now that you have all the information you need on this type of fabric. Be creative and add a bold touch. 

Make sure your colour choices are in line with your interior colour scheme, and remember: choose a colour, design or pattern that you’ll be happy to live with for years to come!

Texture is important, too. Family-friendly furniture should be soft, comfortable and not rough or scratchy.

Some tips from maake’s experts: 

·      Make sure you keep your sofa upholstery fabric in a solid colour. Play with patterns on cushions, perhaps also occasional chair upholstery fabric.

·      Avoid a small pattern on a large couch. In the same way, don't use a huge pattern on a tiny chair.

·      Also, rather choose a small pattern for a small room. And choose larger designs for more spacious areas.

·      Florals and other prints are great for soft, rounded chairs and couches.

Choose your upholstery with maake

Here’s a selection of what we have on offer. Add one of these to your shopping cart now:

·    Bayeux

·    Velvet

·    Heavy Satin FR

·    Eco Velvet

·    Cotton Denim

·    Basketweave

·    Limani Linen

·    Organic Calico Natural

·    Waterproof Suede FR

·    Calico Plain Cotton

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