Upholstery is defined as a fabric used to cover furniture such as sofas and armchairs. The type of fabric used for this purpose is categorised into two main sections: natural and man-made or synthetic. Fabrics such as cotton and wool are classified as natural fabrics, while materials such as polyester, acetate and acrylic are categorised as man-made, or manufactured, fabrics.
Man-made, or synthetic, fibres are manufactured using a combination of naturally forming fibres and chemicals or completely man-made fabrics. One of the main benefits of man-made fibres is their cost. Synthetic fabric is typically less expensive than natural fabric, and may be designed to look and feel like natural fibres. Some of the most common man-made fibres used in upholstery include: acetate, acrylic, polyester, rayon and nylon. These fibres are ideal for furniture placed in high-traffic areas as they are durable and tend to be wrinkle-, soil- and fade-resistant.
Plant fibres are manufactured by taking a naturally forming plant and breaking down its material to make strands of fabric. Some of the more common plant fibres used in upholstery material include cotton, linen and hemp. Cotton fibres are some of the most popular fibres used in upholstery and clothing, as this plant fibre is soft to the touch and prevents overheating as the fabric is able to absorb and release body sweat, making it a breathable fabric. Linen is among the most elegant fibres used in upholstery, and it is up to three times stronger than cotton. Characterised by its smooth texture, linen is derived from the flax plant and gains its appearance due to its naturally forming wax content. Hemp fibres are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, and while its counterpart is used for illegal purposes, hemp is an elegant fibre similar in appearance and texture to linen.
Animal fibres are similar to plant fibres as they are not man-made, and are derived from natural sources. A prime example of animal fibre is silk, which is created from the silkworms' cocoon. Silk is among the oldest forms of animal fibres used for upholstery purposes; it was used by ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman civilisations. Due to silks high absorbency rate, it may be dyed in a variety of colours and features a naturally forming lustre. Wool is another popular animal fibre used for upholstery materials. This fibre may come from a wide variety of animals, such as goats, rabbits and sheep.
Suede is perhaps one of the most durable and resilient upholstery fabrics, as it is manufactured out of animal hide. Typically, suede is derived from cow hide, although it may be made out of horse and donkey hide. Suede is characterised as having a velvety texture and a smooth appearance. Its soft touch and ability to be used on any type of furniture makes it a popular upholstery choice.