Upholstery Fabric 101


Choosing fabric for an upholstered chair or couch can be a confusing task. From rubs and grades to a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics, it gets overwhelming. BUT these things all factor in to the quality and price of a piece of furniture. Lisa Worth was in studio to clear the air and help us really understand what why some fabrics are much more expensive than others.

Three important pieces of information that are usually found on fabric samples:

1. Double-Rub 

For designers, it's called abrasion data. It is extremely important when you are selecting your fabric for upholstered pieces that are going to be subjected to high traffic (ie. the family room).

What it means is quite simple - double-rub is a testing method that uses a special machine that passes a testing pad back and forth over the fabric until it is worn out. Each back-and-forth pass is known as a double-rub. Domestic fabrics are usually rated at 25,000 double-rubs, so if you are purchasing one that is over 50,000 - you are good to go! Commercial-grade fabrics usually wear out after 100,000 to 250,000 double-rubs. You can't visually tell how well fabric will hold up until it has been tested.


Here's a great entry level chair from Urban Barn - $799 Retail

2. Grades 

GRADE = PRICE. It's that simple! It's just an indicator of how expensive the fabric was to make and NOT an indication of quality or durability. Each manufacturer has their own grading system. They vary from one manufacturer to another, and are based on many variables like intricacy of the weave, fiber content, construction, and performance characteristics - all factors that affect the wholesale cost. Grades can be either ranked with numbers or letters. Be sure to ask the retailer what their scale is. 


This chair, which is upholstered in natural fibers, is from Elte - $1,185 Retail. It's a linen and cotton blend. Linen can be a premium fabric, so the price jumps, which means grade goes up.

3. Synthetic vs. Natural Fibers (LISA'S MOST IMPORTANT POINT)

Natural fibers like silk, wool, cotton and linen, while beautiful, are typically more fragile than man-made fibers and are susceptible to damage from factors like staining, wear and tear, and fading from sunlight.
Silk will disintegrate over time if it is unprotected and exposed to high levels of natural light.
The man-made fibers on the market today are technologically advanced and designed to withstand high levels of daily abuse. Remember, years ago polyester was considered the "cheap" poor man's fabric? Not anymore!
Lisa loves a combination of both man-made and natural fibers. You get the best of both worlds - good looks and performance!

Here is another chair from Elte - $3,435 Retail. Part of the price jump is the frame, but the fabrics are also noticeably nicer. Upholstered in a fabric with 4 fibers, some natural and some man-made for strength, look at the ribbing in the chenille.

*Not all retailers will share all this information, so the most important thing is to find out what the fabric is made of - it really gives you a tell-tale of quality and durability.


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