Helpful Things to Know About Commercial Upholstery Fabric

As we are in the business of crafting custom furniture, it’s interesting to discuss how our craft came to fruition. The process for applying textiles to seating began in the Middle Ages but started taking shape between the 17th and 19th century. In those days they used fabrics made from out of everything from wool to horsehair. While there are quite a few differences between upholstery then and now, one of the biggest differences between upholstery then and now is the focus on the interior materials. Previously, it wasn't uncommon to simply apply the fabric over the furniture. Today, we utilize a method which focuses on the end-use of the piece and desired comfort level.

Before we can discuss different types of fabrics, it’s important to explain how and why we might recommend one fabric type over another, particularly in a commercial setting. Commercial environments call for durable, heavier-duty materials. You want to steer away from non-durable fabrics in a commercial upholstery application.

But how do you know the durability of a given fabric? Believe it or not, there is something called The Fabric Wearability Code. Needing to set universal standards for fabric durability and strength, the US Government created The Fabric Wearability Code. Some fabric manufacturers may have different ways of distinguishing durability, but this system provides a language understood by industry personnel across the world.

The code uses two different types of tests which assign a numerical value that is useful as a basic indicator of how much wear a given fabric can take. Of course, while a test score is not a guarantee of quality or even durability, it can help you choose the right type of fabric for your application.

Upholstery Fabric Choices

Natural Fabrics

Linen

Linen is a comfortable material with good strength. Its tensile strength is greater than that of cotton meaning it won't pill, doesn't stress easily, and is reasonably resistant to abrasion. The fiber absorbs dyes well, and you can find it in almost any shade. With a slight luster, you can expect the fabric to have an almost silky appearance. Linen works well in bedspreads, curtains, draperies and more.

Cotton

Maybe one of the most flexible fibers on the list, cotton is available in a remarkable amount of weaves. It has great performance characteristics whether used alone or in a blend. Cotton takes well to dyes and can be woven into different textures such as damask or canvas. The luster is more casual but holds steady against wear, fading, and pilling. As long as you choose cotton with a tightly woven backing, you can apply the textile to all kinds of custom furniture, headboards, and footrests.

Leather

Different types of leather are available to give each client a different look or feel whether it's used on a sofa, barstool, or booth. Regardless of the source, there are three characteristics that define leather: aniline, semi-aniline, and protected.

  • Aniline - Aniline (sometimes called "naked leather") is the most natural looking and retains surface characteristics for a rustic attitude. It's comfortable and soft to the touch. Just keep in mind it can stain easily because it's untreated.
  • Semi-Aniline - Just as tough but more soil and stain resistant are semi-aniline. It's been treated with a light coat of pigmentation to hide flaws. The leather can withstand higher-trafficked areas because it's a little more sturdy and is more budget-friendly.
  • Protected - The most durable leather is protected or sometimes called "pigmented leather." It's probably one of the most commonly used in furniture because of the polymer surface coating. This coating makes it resistant to scuffing and fading. Although, it might not look as unique and aniline or semi-aniline it’s still beautiful.

Synthetic Fabrics

Nylon

It's highly unlikely you'll use nylon in upholstery without it blending with another fiber. When it comes to upholstery that needs to withstand a lot of use, you couldn't choose better than a nylon blend. It's resistant to abrasion, doesn't quickly soil or wrinkle, and the colors don't fade. The luster is superior lending to a luxurious look. It's used to create velvets or woven fabrics that are incredibly durable. You can apply nylon blends to almost any custom furniture piece.

Polyester

Polyester was developed by DuPont in the 1950s and is another fiber rarely used alone. Alone, polyester will pill or soil. When blended with natural fibers like cotton, the material's performance properties transform, and it becomes wrinkle resistant. If used to create napped fabrics, polyester will eliminate crushing. When blended appropriately, you get a beautiful sheen and luxurious handle. Use it on outdoor furniture or other custom pieces in restaurants because it's easily cleaned.

Olefin

Furniture is guaranteed to see a lot of benefits from using olefin. It's made from melting chemicals and feeding them through a spinneret. Once the fabric has been formed, it's tough to dye. So, it's solution-dyed with color being added to the polymers. Regarding performance, olefin is durable even as a lightweight fabric. Often, it's used to create woven fabrics like wool or velvets that aren't going to flatten or pill with use. The material can be used in a variety of applications when it comes to custom built furniture. Resistant to mildew or moisture, you could use it for outdoor furniture.

Choosing the Best Fabric for Your Upholstery Needs

Designing restaurants, hotels, and other commercial properties require a fusion of luxury, comfort, and durability. Furniture, by design, is made to be used. The interaction guests have with the piece should heavily influence the fabric choice. Chairs, sofas, and banquettes that undergo regular use require a durable fabric that will resist pilling and fiber tears. Some materials aren't going to be as robust as other for these high-traffic areas. However, headboards or hotel bedroom settees might have limited guest use or interaction. These areas can support almost any type of textile. At Kings Commercial Interiors, we’ve been assisting our clients for years make educated decisions on the best upholstery for their application. Click to learn more about our high-volume upholstery services.

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