How to Pick the Best Fabric for your Furniture
Although The Amish Home and our Amish builders focus on hardwood furniture, we offer plenty of furniture with fabric cushions or upholstery. Some customers will ask us, what’s the best fabric? The truth is, when selecting fabrics, there are several characteristics beyond color and pattern that you should balance with your goals and needs.
Fabrics are often described by their fiber content. There are natural fibers, like cotton, silk, and linen, and there are man-made fibers, like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. Fabrics can also be described by their construction. The most common fabric construction types are woven fabrics or knitted fabrics, with other constructions including felt, lace, and industrial nonwovens. Finally, fabrics can be finished with various treatments, from aesthetic finishes like softening, stiffening, and acid-washing, to functional finishes like stain-protection, water repellents, and flame retardants.
When selecting fabric, you have to balance the appearance and the feel (hand) with the durability against wear and stains. For example, silk is known as smooth and luxurious, but it’s certainly not durable. On the other hand, the fabric used in a restaurant booth is highly durable and stain-resistant, but most of us wouldn’t want it on our living room sofa.
The tags on each fabric sample give the important information to choose your best fabric. Each tag lists the fabric number and name, along with the fiber contents. Each fabric also has a cleaning code. “W” means to use a water-based cleaner, while “S” means to use a solvent-based cleaner. “SW” can be cleaned with either type. Sometimes the fabric will say “Railroaded.” This refers to the direction of the pattern on the fabric, and is important on large upholstery like sofas. A railroaded fabric can be used horizontally across the back of a sofa, with the pattern placed in its proper orientation. Railroading is irrelevant on small items like dining chairs, where no panel is wider than a standard 54in bolt. The other note you may see is about durability and double rubs. A “double rub” refers to the number of times you can sit down (that’s the first rub) and then stand back up (that’s the second rub) before the fabric breaks down. This measurement is most often performed on commercial fabric, and can be as high as 100,000.
At The Amish Home, we offer fabric on dining chair seats, gliders, sofas, recliners, and some headboards. Some of our builders’ shops have an on-site upholsterer, while others hire an outside seamstress – usually a woman named Mary, who also makes our lay-on fabric seat pads. We have a big book of fabric that can be selected for any furniture, no matter the builder or seamstress, but builders that hire Mary can offer a better price on the fabrics in our smaller book, that she has selected as best-sellers to buy in quantity and keep in stock.