What Is Upholstery Fabric and What Does It Mean? [15 Illustrations] Update 07/2022

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new couch or just want to learn how to reupholster an old one; there are thousands of options available. Allows you to customize your furnishings to reflect your personal style. You may question, “What is upholstery fabric?” with so many various types of furniture out there today.

The strong frame of a piece of furniture is protected from damage by an upholstery cloth covering. Leather, velvet, and synthetic blends are some of the most common upholstery materials on the market. The best upholstery fabrics have a high thread count, which minimizes tearing and scuffing from everyday use.

You’ll learn about the most important aspects of upholstery fabric in this post. This guide includes the top 15 most popular upholstery fabrics. Finally, you’ll learn how to choose the ideal material for your couch or chair!

What Is Upholstery Fabric

What is Upholstery Fabric?

Any cushioned seat’s padding and support are hidden beneath the fabric’s lining. Upholstery cloth covers the padded seat of your swiveling office chair. The thirty-year-old overstuffed couch in your parents’ basement does, too!

Upholstery fabric refers to any fabric used to cover a piece of furniture. Although this material requires a lot of wear and tear, it offers distinct features. All of the furniture’s internal components must be protected by the cover!

What Does Upholstery Mean?

All of the steps involved in cushioning furniture are together referred to as “upholstery.” In order to give a piece of furniture a more cushioned feel, padding, foam, springs, webbing, and fabric are added. The term “upholstery” refers to everything other than the furniture’s actual wood, metal, or plastic framework.

People who embellish furniture in the Middle Ages were known as “upholders,” and that’s where the term came from.

Furniture upholstering became a popular trend in the 17th and 18th centuries. Decorating your home in a certain style became fashionable during this time period.

Decorators were hired by the wealthy to keep their homes up to date with the latest trends. Horsehair, coconut husks, and anything else you might think of as a filler for furniture were all possibilities back then.

Even today, many of the fashions popularized in the Regency era are still relevant. Some examples include “chinoiserie,” which saw many Europeans decorating their drawing rooms and ballrooms in an attempt to replicate a Chinese aesthetic. The term “cultural appropriation” would be appropriate here today.

A wide range of tasks were involved, from wallpapering to reupholstering. Lacquer and rich silks adorned a great deal of the furniture, which often featured pagodas, flower designs, or landscapes from nature.

Today, a factory is where the vast majority of furniture is made. Upholstery on high-end designer pieces may be done by hand, while the majority of furniture is made by machines in factories. In spite of this, you may still find skilled upholsters who can reupholster a variety of furnishings.

If you’ve been thinking of recovering an old wingback chair for some time, you might want to think about hiring one of these experts. You can, of course, learn how to reupholster. That’s not to say this isn’t a difficult skill to learn!

What is the Difference Between Upholstery Fabric and Regular Fabric?

A pile or a flat weave makes up the majority of upholstery fabric, both of which are considered heavyweights. Instead of dyed-in patterns that might fade away, it usually has woven patterns. Velvet, for example, is generally typically backed by a robust material to make it more durable.

It’s a different story in a sewing shop, where most of the material is lightweight, multifunctional cloth. Material of this type drapes wonderfully. Dresses, jackets, and curtains can all be made with them.

This test will allow you to experience the difference for yourself. To begin, gently squish a medium-weight cotton ball between your palms. To remove the stain, use a swatch of upholstery fabric and gently rub it.

The difference in weight and thickness is immediately noticeable!

Furniture fabric isn’t an excellent choice for clothing. Because of its weight and stiffness, this fabric would make you look like a lampshade if you wore it as a skirt!

In addition, many light and medium-weight fabrics use dyed-in patterns to produce attractive motifs. Woven patterns are more commonly used in upholstery materials. Colorful threads are weaved together to create the desired pattern.

As soon as you look at the back of this garment, you’ll notice that it’s a mirror image of what you see on the front.

Remember that upholstery fabric must withstand a lot of wear and tear before it falls apart. The “double rub” test is a common test for modern upholstery materials. This method uses a mechanical arm to abrasively test the fabric’s resistance to friction!

How Can You Tell if Fabric is Upholstery Material?

Weight and thickness are the best indicators of upholstery material. Because of their extra weight, these materials are more expensive than the normal clothing material, so be sure to check the price tag!

Retailers do a fantastic job of describing upholstery fabric as upholstery or furniture fabric since it costs a lot to create. By the yard, you’ll find this fabric on a huge roll rather than a normal flat cardboard bolt of garment or quilting materials

It’s common for sewing stores to divide upholstery and outdoor fabrics in a distinct area of the establishment.

15 Types of Upholstery Fabric

Polyester, velvet, and leather are some of the most popular upholstery fabrics in use today. Upholstery fabrics come in a wide variety of styles and colors.

Before we get into the intricacies, let us point out one major distinction between this type of content and others. Nowadays, you can get upholstery made of synthetic, natural, or a combination of both. What does it mean?

Man-made synthetic fabrics exist. Petroleum and petroleum byproducts are used to make the fibers that make up the plastic fabric. This group includes synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic.

In nature, a plant or animal is used to make natural cloth. Cotton, for example, is a product of a cotton plant, while wool is a product of sheep.

The durability and lower cost of synthetic materials make them a popular choice. As a result of this, current producers have also developed blends. Synthetic fibers and natural fibers are combined in a blended fabric.

1. Acetate

Acetate

The cellulose in wood is the raw material for acetate cloth. Semi-synthetic cloth is made by undergoing a chemical transformation of cellulose.

Blending this material with a natural material like silk or cotton gives it an exquisite, soft feel. It has a nice drape and keeps dye well, so it’s a good option for draping.

Aside from that, acetate is less durable than the majority of synthetics. To remove nail paint or chlorine bleach, it dissolves. Under pressure, it wrinkles and rips as well.

The majority of acetate upholstery fabrics must also be cleaned with a dry-cleaning machine. A piece of furniture in a high-traffic area wouldn’t be wise to cover with this fabric.

2. Acrylic

Acrylic

It takes a lot of time and effort to make acrylic fabric from acrylonitrile, a chemical compound. Durability is one of the many advantages of using this all-synthetic material. Additionally, it’s simple to maintain and offers good insulation.

When it comes to outdoor upholstery, acrylic is a popular choice because it is resistant to sunlight and mildew.

Acrylic, on the other hand, has a significantly harsher texture than a delicate, natural substance like cotton. if its original stain-resistant coating wears out.

In order to get the appearance of velvet in interior materials, acrylic is frequently subjected to a particular pile weave method. Acrylic is almost certainly used in specialty furniture items that imitate faux fur.

3. Chenille

Chenille

The French word for caterpillar, “chenille,” is the origin of the name. The pile weave of this fabric is punctuated by several little, soft tufts, resembling fuzzy caterpillar hair. Polyester or a poly blend is now used in the majority of today’s chenille, resulting in these unique tufted yarns.

In keeping with what you’d anticipate, this yarn has a luxuriously soft and fluffy texture. What you may not realize is that chenille is an excellent upholstery choice for family rooms and high-traffic areas because it is quite durable. If you’re looking for something cheap and robust, chenille may even be preferred over microfiber.

It is necessary to vacuum chenille furniture on a regular basis in order to keep the fluffy yarns clean. The yarn can snag on a pet’s claws, making this material unsuitable for usage around animals.

4. Cotton

Cotton

Cotton fabric is often associated with quilting squares or light bedsheets, but it is also widely used in upholstery. Many different varieties of textile can be made from cotton, depending on the weave. A pile weave is used in cotton velvet, whereas a heavy weave with thicker threads is used in cotton denim or canvas.

When it comes to natural fabrics, cotton is a great option. Synthetic upholstery is frequently less expensive, but natural upholstery has a softer feel to it.

Cotton of higher quality has longer staples than cotton of lower quality. If you’re looking for cotton furnishings, keep in mind that longer staples twist into glossy and more lasting threads!

Slipcovers made of cotton are ideal since they can be washed at any time. A wide variety of patterns and designs are available in cotton, making it a delightful option for decorating! Cotton, like most synthetics, has some pill resistance, although not as much as synthetics.

Cotton fades with time, which is a pity. It’s also easy to get stains on, and the overall durability isn’t outstanding. So, you’ll see a lot of blends of cotton and polyester in clothing.

5. Jute

Jute

Jute, as surprising as it may seem, comes in second place to cotton in the world of natural textile manufacture! Because it doesn’t get the same amount of press as cotton, this multipurpose natural fiber is in desperate need of a public relations campaign. It’s still widely used in rugs, carpets, and upholstery made of burlap, despite the negative connotations.

The texture of this cloth is gritty and rope-like. I bet you already have a padded burlap headboard or burlap-lined hampers in your home because of the DIY burlap decor trend! Jute is a common ingredient in rope-wrapped furniture.

It’s easy to regenerate and uses less water and chemicals than cotton manufacture, making jute fabric one of the most environmentally friendly options available.

Jute, on the other hand, has a coarser feel than most other fabrics. There’s nothing else like it when it comes to aesthetics; it stands out from the crowd.

6. Leather

upholstery thread

The outer layer of cowhide is used to make high-quality leather upholstery. To get a uniformly coloured finish, an aniline dying procedure is typically used. It’s also polished to a high sheen with a buffer.

You may expect your leather goods to last for many years if you clean and polish them with soap and water and a leather polish every few months. In addition, the scratches and nicks that form over time can be disguised by using leather polish!

However, a lot of leather upholstery employs bonded or mixed leather, which is just polyurethane that appears to be leather. While animal rights advocates can breathe a sigh of relief over this faux leather, it doesn’t stand up well when it comes to furniture upholstery.

Fake leather flakes and tears considerably more easily than real leather, and it also tends to peel and crack with time.

7. Linen

furniture upholstering fabric

The flax plant is the source of linen. An airy, delicate feel characterizes this cloth. Typically, it has a loose weave that lends it a tactile quality that can be felt by the touch.

Despite the fact that it’s difficult to clean, this type of fabric is commonly found in high-end furniture. I love how it brightens up a room while also making it feel warm and cozy!

As a result, washing linen can cause it to shrink significantly in size. Falx fibers will be damaged if bleach is used on them. Smudges and creases can be simply wiped away.

Linen upholstery has a luxurious look and feel, but if you have children or pets, stay away from it!

8. Nylon

high end upholstery fabric

Because it pilled so quickly on its own, nylon is frequently used in upholstery as a blending fabric with other synthetic materials. Nylon, when combined with other materials, makes an extremely robust and resistant upholstery. It stops velvet and other piled fabrics from crushing and wrinkling or discolor.

There are many pieces of commercial furniture, such as waiting room chairs and museum seats, that are made of nylon blends. This material is stain-resistant and wear-resistant, which means it can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

The natural toughness of the cloth is frequently added to by specific coatings or an acrylic backing in this type of upholstery. This may give the cloth a plasticky texture, but it also extends the life of the cloth.

9. Olefin

Olefin

Polypropylene, another name for olefin, is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process. With the help of cutting-edge textile science, this once-wasted gas may now be transformed into a long-lasting covering for outdoor furniture. Everything that might possibly harm it can’t do so with this material.

Durable synthetic material that won’t fade or stain and won’t grow mold or mildew or burn. If you must bleach it, you can do so without inflicting any harm.

Since olefin is tougher and more environmentally friendly than, say, polyester, production may see an increase in the coming years. Although it lacks the softness of a natural material like cotton, it is still an excellent option. For outdoor furniture and public seating like church pew cushions and office chairs, olefin is most commonly utilized.

10. Polyester

Polyester

With a global market share of over 80%, polyester is the most widely used synthetic fiber. Petrol-based plastic is the source of this item. In spite of this, its versatility is so great that it can generate velvets and microfibers as well a variety of satins and simple weaves!

Polyester upholstery fabric is significantly less expensive than many other types of cloth. Durable fibers that resist fading, mildew, staining, and wrinkling make it simple to maintain. Unlike cotton, polyester couch cushions don’t get saggy and wrinkled over time like cotton cushions do.

That being said, there are certain drawbacks to this completely synthetic method, including a lot of plastic waste and a lack of sustainability. Polyester upholstery, on the other hand, is unbeatable in high-traffic areas, and it holds up admirably even when exposed to children.

11. Rayon

Rayon

Rayon fabric is like an amphibian in that it doesn’t belong in either the synthetic or natural material worlds. Due to the chemical processing of wood pulp, it is classified as semi-synthetic. Faux-silk and cellophane manufacture both use it extensively.

Whether or not rayon may be used for upholstery is an important question. It has a number of disadvantages, such as its high flammability and propensity for wrinkleing. Making it safe for use at home generally necessitates additional chemical processing. It also needs to be dry cleaned, which makes it a hassle to maintain!

In spite of this, the fabric has a light, silky hand and is ideal for silk or brocade pillows due to its silky texture. Unlike many synthetic materials, it is highly absorbent and does well in warm or humid situations.

12. Silk

Silk

Silk is derived from silkworms, and its manufacture dates back to ancient China, where it was first produced thousands of years ago. Luxurious and ethereal, this venerable and exquisite cloth is the pinnacle of elegance and sophistication. Of course, such a great level of comfort comes at a high cost!

Silk upholstery fabrics are available in a variety of weaves, including velvet, brocade, and heavy satin. Make careful to do your research and read product descriptions before purchasing silky-looking upholstered furniture, as many of today’s products are made of polyester.

When used in upholstery, silk tends to be backed by another material, such as cotton, because of its delicate appearance. As a result, it is more resistant to stretching and ripping. Silk is susceptible to water stains, thus it needs to be cleaned and cared for in a certain way.

13. Velvet

Velvet

A particular double weave loom was used to weave silk threads into velvet, creating two layers of cloth that were joined. After cutting them apart, you’re left with a big mound of soft pieces! Traditionally, velvet was made from natural fibers such as wool and silk. Velvet comes in a variety of forms, including crushed velvet and embossed velvet.

Since silk used to be a prerequisite for velvet’s production, and because of the high cost, the fabric is still associated with riches and affluence. It lends a luxurious feel to any room.

Most upholstery velvets have a specific woven backing to help them last for years and years and years and years and years. For added water and stain resistance, many velvets are treated. Velvet is very durable. It is possible to restore the soft nap’s fluffiness even after prolonged use by steaming or gently brushing it.

14. Vinyl

Vinyl

Polyvinyl chloride, the chemical compound that is the basis for vinyl fabric, has the appearance and feel of plastic. Vinyl cloth can be found in many restaurant booths and automobiles. It can give your home a classic 1950s feel!

When it comes to cleaning, vinyl is a dream come true since you can use soap and water or any number of chemical cleaners to get rid of old paint or other icky stuff. However, it has a plasticky texture and tends to adhere to the skin when it’s not covered. As a result, you must have a specific style in mind before you install vinyl in your home.

15. Wool

Wool

Because wool is more expensive than synthetic fabrics, you may not see it used as frequently in upholstery. On the other hand, it provides your couch or armchair with a nice and robust layer. Natural fibers are the only ones that provide this level of breathability. It resists fading well and does not stretch or sag when used.

Wool upholstery, while cozy and inviting, requires a lot of maintenance to maintain its suppleness. Wool needs to be vacuumed on a regular basis to prevent its fibers from becoming clogged with dust. Wool furniture can be spot-cleaned at home with appropriate products or by using dry cleaning for some types of wool.

Last but not least, lanolin, an allergen found in wool, may irritate those who are allergic to it for health reasons.

Upholstery Fabric Grades

The quality of an upholstery fabric can be gauged by looking at the upholstery fabric grades, however these grades can differ from one manufacturer to the next. Many upholstery fabric producers assign a letter grade to their products, ranging from A to F. Grade A fabrics are of poorer quality, while grade F fabrics are made with the best materials, the highest thread count, and the most detailed weave possible.

However, there’s a catch to this. This grading scheme does not adhere to any set norm. Each producer is free to design their own label for their product.

Because of this, “grade F” materials produced by two distinct factories could both be of a very different quality!

Read the product description attentively to find out what kind of fabric is used instead than relying on this suspect system. Find out the thread count and the results of the “double rub” test.

To be long-lasting, upholstery fabric must be at least a particular thickness and weight. Upholstery fabric should be at least 12 ounces per square yard in weight.

What is the Most Durable Upholstery Fabric?

Microfiber and leather are the most commonly used upholstery fabrics.

Polyester, the durable synthetic material manufactured out of plastic, makes up the bulk of microfiber. Due to its tight weave and high tensile strength, microfiber fabrics use threads even finer than those found in silk. Microfiber is a good choice for high-traffic areas, despite the fact that it appears to be a low-quality fabric.

The upkeep of leather is both expensive and time consuming. It will, however, last for a very long time if it receives such attention! If you decide to go with leather upholstery, be on the lookout for faux leather. Real leather, on the other hand, is extremely durable and can withstand a lot of wear and tear.

What is the Width of Upholstery Fabric?

There are two standard widths for upholstery fabric sold by the yard: 54 and 60 inches. Most fabrics are available in these standard widths, so this should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly sews.

However, this means that if you’re making your own upholstery, you’ll have to cut and sew a lot of pieces. The fabric normally does not provide enough breadth to cover your entire sofa with a single large piece!

Where Can I Buy Upholstery Fabric?

Furniture fabric can be found in nearly every sewing and fabric store. The heavy-weight cloth can be found at Joann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, and several internet fabric sellers. On Amazon, you may buy upholstery fabric, while on Etsy, you can look for stylish, specific varieties.

The cost of reupholstering your armchair isn’t going to be the same as the cost of sewing you a summer dress! It’s not uncommon for a yard of upholstery fabric to cost upwards of $100 or even $200.

The additional weight and high thread count required by these long-lasting types of cloth result in this price.

What is the Best Fabric for a Sofa

Ultimately, the finest fabric for a sofa is one that is both stylish and durable enough to survive the amount of wear and tear you expect from it.

Even if you are a silk fan, you may want to think twice before buying a silk sofa for your family room because it will be subjected to a lot of wear and tear. For a rarely used sitting room, on the other hand, silk is a safe bet for a luxurious loveseat because it complements both your aesthetic and the expected amount of use!

In order to reupholster a six-foot sofa, you should purchase at least 12 yards of fabric. Bigger couches necessitate a lot more fabric!

Upholstery Fabric for Chairs

Seating options are vast and varied; some fabrics are better suited to certain types of chairs’ kidneys than others. For example, brocaded pillows are common on high-end dining room chairs. Microfiber or leather upholstery is more likely to be found on recliners that will be used nightly in front of the television.

You may have upholstered chairs in a wide variety of styles, which is a great perk. Nonetheless, the same general rules still apply. When designing a product, keep in mind how often it will be used when coming up with a design.

In spite of its magnificent Art Deco style, you may wonder whether your velvet sofa can withstand the slobber and dirt of your toddlers and preschoolers.

When you know what to look for, all of these different kinds of upholstery fabric let you combine practicality with aesthetics.

Conclusion

Fabric used for upholstery is used to cover the cushions of a piece of furniture. Your favorite sofa at home might have the luxurious velvet of an office chair, but it could also be made of a hard, synthetic material like plastic. Everything from jute to silk can be found on the market for upholstery.

It is common for upholstery fabrics to be hefty and have a high thread count. Special backing or protective coating is also included in several types to avoid wear and tear.

To what type of upholstery fabric do you turn when you want to relax on your favorite couch or chair? What about the fabric’s feel appeals to you the most? Let us know what you think by commenting below!

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