Choosing the Right Fabric

Here is a brief guide to choosing fabric for your furniture.

Fabric Content

While this is not an all inclusive list of contents found in upholstery fabrics, these are the basics. Knowing the pros and cons of each will help you select the fabric for you.


Natural fibers generally feature flat weaves that are ideal for prints. They are softer, and tailor well for upholstered furniture. However, being a natural product they can fade in direct sunlight, and may be susceptible to pilling.

  • Cotton. Made from the cotton plant, this is soft, absorbent, and fades easily.
  • Linen. Made from the flax plant, linens tend to have a lot of hard plant fibers and slubs.
  • Wool. Made from animal hair, wool is warm, and not often used in upholstery.
  • Silk. Made from the cocoons of silk worms, silk has strong fibers and a natural shine, but can be damaged by sunlight.
  • Rayon. Also known as viscose, rayon is made from wood pulp and designed to be shiny like silk.


Synthetic fibers are made by extruding chemicals into fiber strands. They are more durable and (in general) more resistant to staining and fading than natural fibers. Synthetic fibers are just as likely to be susceptible to pilling, however.

  • Acrylic. Very durable and often has a texture similar to wool.
  • Polyester. Very durable and cleanable.
  • Nylon. Stain resistant and durable.
  • Olefin. Durable, but can be susceptible to pilling if used in high amounts.
  • Polypropylene. Related to polyester.

Fabric Types

There are several different ways to turn yarn into fabric.

  • Woven. Most fabrics are woven together on a loom. Some looms can create very intricate designs using multiple colors of yarn, like the Jacquard loom. There are also other looms, like the Dobby, that make simpler designs.
  • Knit. Not many upholstery fabrics are knit (like a sweater), but sometimes fabrics are adhered to a knit backing for stability.
  • Velvet. Velvets are actually created on a loom by weaving two pieces of fabric face-to-face and then cutting them apart. This creates that luxuriously soft hand.
  • Non-woven. Some fabrics (like microsuedes) are not actually woven. The micro-denier (really thin) fibers are bonded together in an irregular "tangle" of fibers (like felt). Sometimes they are then adhered to a knit backing for stability.
  • Print. An easy way to create any kind of design is to print it onto the surface of a pre-woven fabric. Prints are usually less expensive, but the designers are no longer limited by the looms, so they can work with some amazing colors and patterns. Unfortunately, prints are more susceptible to fading because the dyes are only on the surface of the fabric.