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Fabric Buying Guide

The fabrics and textiles you choose for your home are the most important element in determining the tone and atmosphere of any room.

The fabrics and textiles you choose for your home are the most important element in determining the tone and atmosphere of any room.

When buying fabric either from a shop or online, colours and textures can create flow through your entire space or create visual boundaries for separate areas. Some fabrics are durable and stain-resistant, some are luxurious and soothing, and others bring energy into a room with bright, saturated colours. As you consider the qualities of fabrics for your home, such as the colours or prints, you also need to think a little more deeply about the materials from which the fabrics are made.

This buying guide for fabrics will take you through some of the details of fabric types to help you find the ideal combination of performance and appearance for any use you have in mind.

What Is The Difference Between A Fabric And A Textile
The terms “textile” and “fabric” are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, but they have more specific meanings when used by interior designers. Fabrics are finished goods that are made from textile fibres.

Textile fibres are strands of either natural or man-made materials that are woven, knit, felted, or by some other means made into fabric. The raw materials from which textile fibres are formed determine their performance qualities, such as strength, flexibility, abrasion resistance and the ability to repel or absorb water. Natural and man-made textile fibres can be combined to achieve very specific fabric qualities.

Fabrics are the finished goods that are available to the shopper "by the meter" in an almost infinite variety of colours, textures and prints. They may be sturdy woven cloth with a smooth finish, a splendid silk with a slubbed texture, or a smooth, stretchy knit. Using coordinating fabrics for upholstery, drapes and pillows will allow you to bring a variety of textures and prints into your home while keeping a coherent look.
Natural Fabrics Versus Synthetic Fabrics

Natural fabrics are those made entirely from fibres that grow in nature. These may be plant or animal fibres, including wool, cotton and linen. Synthetic fabrics are manufactured from man-made fibres. Many of today’s fabrics are a combination of both.

Types Of Natural Fabrics

Natural fabrics are durable, luxurious and resilient. Some of the natural fabrics most commonly used in home decorating are:

  • Linen:The flax plant is the source of linen, and yields a fibre that is tough, durable, washable and moth-resistant. Unfortunately, linen is also notorious for the ease with which it wrinkles, and this make it unsuitable for upholstery. On the other hand, linen has a wonderful drape, making it a very nice choice for curtains and accents, however when used for made to measure curtains it can have a natural tendency to crease more but do not necessarily let this put you off.
  • Cotton: Is made from the fluffy bolls of the cotton plant. It is best suited for curtains and bedding due to its wash ability, strength and resistance to fading, but it may not be durable enough for upholstery.
  • Silk: Silkworms produce the silk fibres that we weave into fabric. Because harvesting silk is very labour intensive and the fibre itself is lightweight and delicate, silk is considered a luxury fabric. Silk fibres used for home decorating fabric often have a thick-and-thin quality that produces a desired slubbed texture. While silk is beautiful and lustrous, it requires special care and cleaning and will fade if exposed to direct sunlight so is not always advised for curtains. If used for curtains then we would always recommend substantial lining and protecting the curtains leading edge as the sun can literally burn away the silk.
  • Hemp: Is a plant-based fibre that can be used for everything from ropes to finely woven fabrics. It is strong and robust, making it ideal for upholstery, curtains, and any products that will receive hard wear.
  • Jute: is eco-friendly. strong and suitable for many different uses. It is commonly called burlap or hessian, and may be used for rugs, carpets or upholstery. Its rustic, down-to-earth nature is making it increasingly popular as an interior design fabric.
  • Wool: An animal fibre, wool is fleeced from sheep, and is known for its insulating properties, durability and versatility. Wool may be used for carpets and upholstery. It is often combined with synthetic fibres to make it easy-care.
  • Cashmere: is often thought of as wool, but it is actually hair from the undercoat of cashmere goats. There is a wide quality range of cashmere depending upon the texture, colour and length of the fibres. Cashmere fabric is a delicate, high-end choice that requires gentle handling. It is best suited for items that will receive light use.
  • Leather: is cut from the tanned hides of cattle. It is a very tough material but is subject to staining, scratching and fading. Leather is popular for the warm, earthy quality it brings to a room and is available in a rich range of colours. Mostly used as an upholstery fabric, leather is also increasingly being used for accessories and wall coverings.
Types Of Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic fabrics offer the advantages of being easier to care for and more affordable than many natural fabrics. The fibres are quite durable on their own and improve the performance of many natural fibres when blended. The most popular synthetic fabrics are:

  • Polyester: Is a wonderfully versatile material that is often blended with other fibres to make them more resilient and crease-resistant. It is easy to clean, inexpensive and can withstand direct sunlight without fading. Polyester is used for draperies, upholstery and accessories and can be a cheaper alternative to silk.
  • Rayon: Is often called “artificial silk” due to its vivid colours, drape and lustre. It may also be labelled as “viscose.” Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric, so called because it is made from natural cellulose which has been chemically processed into fibre. It is breathable, like cotton, and takes dye very well, but it may shrink or expand when exposed to water.
  • Acrylic: If rayon is artificial silk, acrylic is “artificial wool.” It was created to mimic the desirable characteristics of wool while adding wash ability and resistance to insect damage. Acrylic is soft and lightweight while still being durable. It takes dye well, does not shrink, and provides excellent insulating properties at an economical price.
  • Nylon: Nylon is a tough, elastic fibre that is most often found in a blend with other materials. It adds durability to items that will receive hard wear, such as rugs, carpets and upholstery. Nylon fibres have a silky finish and are very resistant to stains.
  • Faux leather: Faux leather is the ideal choice for the look of natural leather at a lower cost. While it is not as breathable or durable as leather, it is more supple and is available in a broad range of colours and finishes.
Fabric Widths

Fabric for interior decorating, upholstery and or curtains is most often available at a width of 48 inches. Imported fabrics, like silks from India, may be sold at 40 or 42 inch widths, while those from America may be 54 or 60 inches wide.

In the UK the average fabric width is approx 140cm wide, but it can vary from approx. 122cm-145cm,  however you can now get Room High fabrics and Wide Width fabrics that can be anything from 280-320cm wide. Often these fabrics are voiles and can be used to create sheer curtains, but in more recent times plain and pattern fabrics are available in wide with, room high and dual purpose.

Fabrics for the home are stored on rolls. These may also be called bales, bolts or rolls. Each roll will have a tag that gives the width, fibre content, care instructions, and perhaps the pattern repeat. It is wise to copy and keep this information for each piece of fabric you buy and keep it for reference.

Note manufacturers have a legal tolerance of around 3% so the width of fabric at times can vary ever so slightly. 

Fabric Product Detail Information

The fabric information listed online, is also what is supplied on the label that accompanies each roll of fabric supplied, the only real difference is that the label will often show piece number and batch number to show which roll of fabric the pieces supplied has been cut from. As mentioned it is advisable to keep this information.

The following information is generally provided on each product page and label supplied with the roll of the fabric:

Code: Unique product code or sku normally with design FDG2830 separated with colour number -01 like example Designers Guild Sukhna Damson Fabric FDG2830-01

Brand: Brand of fabric for example Designers Guild, Romo, Harlequin

Design: Design name of fabric

Collection: Name of fabric collection that the fabric design comes from

Composition: Composition of fabric for example linen, cotton, viscose or mix  e.g 100% LI

Width: Width of fabric listed in cm e.g 140cm

Repeat: Repeat of fabric normally vertical repeat listed in cm  e.g 64cm

Weight: Usually in grammes per meter length  e.g 360 G/ML

Martindale Test: Rub test for upholstery e.g. 20,000, 40,000 etc

Usage: recommended usaage for example curtains, upholstery, loose covers etc.

Care Instructions: information and instructions on washing and caring for fabric product

Country of Origin: country of manufacturer e.g India

Please note that you should check all fabric products not only to ensure the product information is correct but also for faults and defects.

In the unlikely event an issue should occur you should still check the code and colour numbers match with your sample, you should measure the roll length, the width of the fabric and check the pattern repeat is as described.

By the very nature of fabrics imperfections can and do occur, plus the manufacturer has a legal tolerance of 3% on the width of the fabric which is normally only around 1cm difference, however if the fabric has been cut before any imperfections, defects or anything untoward  has been noticed then they have no legal obligation to replace the fabric.