Fabric 101: Textile Basics for Sofa and Upholstery Shopping

Huntington House Fabric 10250-71
Huntington House Fabric 10250-71
Huntington House Fabric 30858-67
Huntington House Fabric 30858-67

Shopping for sofas, chairs, or sectionals can be as basic as saying 'yes' as you see it or customizing every choice to create the perfect piece for you.  When considering what fits your wants and needs with sofa and upholstery shopping, you'll need to take into consideration the fabric option.  Thanks to our Upholstery Buyer, Alician, our design consultants are constantly trained and refreshed on textiles.  Below, I've adapted Alician's training into a short guide that's hopefully helpful for your sofa shopping experience.

Natural Fibers vs. Synthetic Fibers

Natural Fibers

Popular natural fibers include:

Plant based: Cotton, Flax (linen), Bamboo, Hemp, Jute, Abaca, and Sisal

Natural protein based: Wool, Mohair, Angora, and Silk

Natural Fibers Pros and Cons

Pros: -Soft & comfortable touch to the hand.

-Natural fibers 'breathe' so it keeps you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter

-Natural fibers are pliable, so they drape well - great for slipcovers!

Cons: - Fades quicker than synthetic

-Natural fibers stain and wrinkle easier

Synthetic Fibers

Popular synthetic fibers include: Polyester, Nylon, Rayon, Olefin, Acrylic (Sunbrella)

Synthetic Fibers Pros and Cons

Pros: -Accepts dyes well

-Synthetic fibers have resistance to moisture and soiling - great for kids and pets!

-Synthetic fibers are less apt to stain and fade

Cons: -Doesn't 'breathe' as well so can be hot

-Can produce static electricity when it is rubber against itself or other fabrics

-Possible pilling (the formation of small, fuzzy balls on the surface of the fabric).  *Pilling occurs either due to the natural tendency of fibers to migrate to the surface of a woven fabric or as a result of friction on the fabric surface, which loosens fibers and tangles them.  If pilling occurs, a lint brush or pill shaver is best to remove them.  It is not considered a defect in the fabric.

Basic Weaves and Fabrics

Bernhardt Fabric 2293-055
Bernhardt Fabric 2293-055
Bernhardt Fabric 2366-034
Bernhardt Fabric 2366-034
Bernhardt Fabric 2630-066
Bernhardt Fabric 2630-066

Velvet - Velvet is a cut pile cloth.  These were commonly used in formal settings (and still are!) but have evolved to by included in more casual or transitional designs.  Velvets are appealing because they have a great hand and wear beautifully, but keep in mind that they will crush!  Crushing of velvet fabrics is not a defect, it is a normal function and will continue over time.  They can be made of natural or synthetic fibers.

Huntington House Fabric 60537-33
Huntington House Fabric 60537-33

Chenille - Chenille is a type of yarn that is created by twisting yarns of various lengths.  Each yarn has a fuzzy pile protruding from all sides that resembles a caterpillar.  It has a soft pile texture and is slightly uneven in appearance, which makes it very durable and hides things well!  They can be made of natural or synthetic fibers.

Huntington House Fabric 60319-31
Huntington House Fabric 60319-31

Microfibers - Microfibers are many extremely fine yarns that are cut and piled or woven to form many different textured cloths.  The original resembled a suede but now it is woven into many different textures including velvet.  They are made mostly of polyester (sometimes nylon), which provides an inherently stain resistant surface.  They are easy to clean if stained!

Huntington House Fabric 10251-21 at Belfort Furniture
Huntington House Fabric 10251-21 at Belfort Furniture
Huntington house Fabric 10288-15
Huntington house Fabric 10288-15
Huntington House Fabric 10254-15
Huntington House Fabric 10254-15

Prints - Prints are fabrics where the pattern has been printed on the top of a plain piece of cloth.  If the backside of the fabric doesn't have any pattern or design on it, this is a print.

Huntington House Fabric 30810-53
Huntington House Fabric 30810-53
Huntington House Fabric 30817-74
Huntington House Fabric 30817-74
Huntington House Fabric 30772-21
Huntington House Fabric 30772-21

Jacquard - Jacquards are fabrics woven on a Jacquard loom and usually include very complex designs.  Damasks, brocades and tapestries are examples of popular jacquard fabrics.

Huntington House Fabric 61022-86
Huntington House Fabric 61022-86

Twill - Twill is a basic cloth usually made of cotton.  It has a subtle diagonal weave and can be dyed any color.  It looks great on more casual or transitional designs.

What's the Best Fabric for Sofas?

What are the best fabrics for sofas?  What do we suggest?  As we showed you above, there are pros and cons to all fabrics!  Depending upon your likes and needs, different fabrics are better for different people - so there's no one right or easy answer.  Our customers most often choose microfibers for their durability and ease of cleaning or chenilles for their soft hand, durability, and variety of patterns and textures.

Popular Prints and Fabric Trends

Morgan Sofa at Belfort Furniture
Morgan Sofa at Belfort Furniture

Well-Travelled - Ikat is an ancient fabric dying method from Indonesia where individual yarns are tie-dyed and then woven into a pattern.  Most ikats being used now are not true ikats but prints made to look like them in a more cost effective way.  Mixing vibrant colors, patterns, and textures is a big part of this trend.

Kempner Sofa at Belfort Furniture
Kempner Sofa at Belfort Furniture

Mid-century Modern - The popularity of Mad Men has brought mid-century modern designs front and center again in apparel and home furnishings.  Popular fabrics from this era are grasscloths, boucle, geometric patterns, micropatterns and clean lines.

Ellie Sofa at Belfort Furniture
Ellie Sofa at Belfort Furniture

French Laundry - Linen, burlap, and cottons mixed with rugged leathers, natural elements and French script patterns are still popular, too!

Emilie Sofa at Belfort Furniture
Emilie Sofa at Belfort Furniture

Color! - Neutral basecloths with colorful pillows and accents are what is hot now!  We're seeing this chosen by customers across different design styles and ages - easily change out the pillows for another look or the latest trend next year.

To view our full fabric galleries in person and our hundreds of room settings for ideas and inspiration, visit our Furniture Campus with four showrooms - conveniently located in Dulles, Virginia!  Need help with any area of your home?  Visit our Design Help page and provide some basic information to get started today!