Category Archives: Upholstered Furniture Facts & Tips

Upholstered Furniture Facts #3: The Right Fabric

Old sofa

The sofa looks tired, with good reason

The fabric is faded/worn/spotted/stained/ripped. The color bears no relationship to the rest of the décor, because you’ve been lugging said sofa around since college.
Totally true or not. You know it’s time for a change.

What Should the Furniture Wear? Whether you are buying new upholstered furniture, reupholstering, or having a slipcover made for what you already own, it takes well considered thought to select just the right fabric.

This is where it gets complicated

There is are seemingly limitless fabric options, in every conceivable color and material. This often produces total Consumer Paralysis due to confusion and indecision. Once past paralysis, (God willing) some unerring instinct will probably cause you to gravitate to the most beautiful, most expensive fabric at hand.

Fabulous, but does this fit your real life and real life style?

There are perfect and perfectly beautiful solutions for every budget.  Synthetic fabrics have improved to the point you can’t tell they are manufactured. They have higher stain resistance and can usually be spot cleaned, making them virtually kid/pet proof. Blends of synthetic fibers with natural fibers are available too.  The average price per yard is lower than with an all-natural fiber fabric in most cases.  You also get the easy cleaning properties of synthetics, along with the beauty and better “feel” of a natural fiber.

Here’s a short checklist to help inform your prospective decisions:
  • Consider the suitability of fabric weight (thickness), weave and texture for the intended use. A fabric with texture, versus a smooth finish, is less likely to show dirt, wear and spots. Medium to dark colors are good for the same reason. Unless the piece of furniture is specifically to be used as an accent piece, lean towards interesting, textured neutrals so you can more freely use colorful rugs, artwork, etc.
  • Durability: including an understanding of the natural life of some fibers. Silk, for example again, is very fragile, and fades at the mere hint of sunlight. Some major fabric companies like Kravet, submit their fabric to rigorous testing, including a run through equipment that “double rubs” the fabric thousands of times to rate durability. A fabric that has been subjected to 20,000 double rubs is considered suitable for heavy duty.  I should hope so.
  • Ease of cleaning and overall resistance to wear, dirt and spotting. We all feel better when we see that a liquid and/or dirt repellant finish has been applied to the fabric, but remember this is not a “magic” finish.  Don’t delay attending to any messes. I have been told that the applied finishes don’t have a very long life, but until they fade away, can certainly help.
In other words re-think using a pale silk to re-upholster the family room sofa where three small children, their friends, two dogs and a cat will be playing.

Cover your bases. If your existing furniture is still in good shape and serviceable, consider slipcovers. Slipcovers are a less permanent investment, can be removed for dry-cleaning, as well as give you an opportunity for seasonal design variety. You could have a set of slipcovers for the cold months and a different set when it’s warm.

Be forewarned. It isn’t a good idea to wash slipcovers, unless the manufacturer specifically gives the OK. Washing changes the body of the fabric, and could cause some shrinkage. The cover may not fit as well afterwards, if it fits at all.

We all like cheap, but consider the cost of fabric vs. longevity of service. Upholstery fabric can range in price from under $20 per yard (some canvases for example), to several hundred dollars for various reasons of fiber content, intricacy of weave, foreign manufacture, etc. Some fabrics, though expensive, are so beautiful and wear so well, that the initial high cost amortizes to a very good deal over many long years of use.

Mohair velvet is a good example of this.
Related Posts

(Upholstered Furniture Facts Three Part Series)

Upholstered Furniture Facts #1: Take A Seat

Upholstered Furniture Facts #2:  You Have Options


Photo: Old Sofa from Flickr

This is one of several articles I wrote for publication on It’s presented here as a foundation for further topic discussion, updates and commentaries…