Technically, upholstery fabric includes the foam as well as the fabric that covers the frame and springs of a piece of furniture. Furniture upholstery fabrics should be substantial enough to hold up well to long-term wear. Whether they are manmade or natural upholstery fabrics, the materials that cover furniture should suit the colour and style of the room. Better quality upholstery fabric has a tight weave and/or a high thread count.
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Natural upholstery fabrics include those made from cotton, wool, silk and linen. Available in a variety of weaves such as jacquard or sailcloth, cotton fabrics are suitable for a wide range of furniture pieces from elegant to casual. Because they are soil and fade resistant, cotton fabrics are a popular choice. Wool fabrics are sturdy and last a long time, but they may be more difficult to clean. Silk is a delicate fabric that's best placed on furniture that gets little use. Linen also works best in formal settings where it doesn't get a lot of wear and tear from daily use. In today's market, manufacturers combine the natural beauty of any of these fibres with synthetic materials to improve their wearability.
Leather from animal hides is another natural upholstery fabric that is popular. Because it wears a long time and it's easy to clean, leather is often the choice of families with children. Leather softens as it ages and the colours often subtly change to give the fabric a unique appearance. Covering an entire large piece of furniture, such as a sofa, with leather is expensive. A popular alternative is to cover the seat and cushions with leather and then use a matching synthetic vinyl for the rest of the piece.
Synthetic upholstery fabrics come in a variety of textures and weaves and can mimic the looks of natural materials. Acrylic and polyester fabrics are good choices for wool-like fabric. A drawback for using acrylic materials is they tend to pill. Newer processes, however, reduce that tendency. Polyester and rayon give the look of silk, but with increased durability. Rayon weaves also make good substitutes for cotton and linen. Vinyl is a good choice to upholster children's furniture. Olefin fabrics wear well and resist staining, but tend to fade if placed in direct sunlight. Microfiber is a relatively new synthetic material that is soft, durable and easy to clean.
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