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Choosing Fabrics

If you have ever been faced with the task of selecting a fabric to be used on a piece of furniture, you know that it can be daunting.

Choosing fabric entails so much more than merely deciding on the right color or pattern. The fiber content, construction of the weave, the care instructions, and maintainability of your prospective upholstery choice are equally important to the success of your room.

A wise and careful choice of fabric will pay off in many ways. It is worth taking your time, asking questions, and being sure that you are choosing the fabrics that will perform appropriately for your needs.

In making your decision, think about where this piece of furniture will be used in your home, by whom, and how often. Will it get constant use by the whole family (i.e. the family room)? If so, look for fabrics with sturdy fiber content (your salesperson and/or designer can guide you to a selection of these). Furniture for livingrooms, master and guest bedrooms, and other areas in your home where lighter use would be indicated, can handle fabrics of a slightly less durable construction. These are areas where you can go for the "glam" over the "workhorse".

Also, watch fabric sample labels for cleaning codes:

"W" - A good choice for that family room! "W" stands for water. This fabric can be cleaned with water. Spot cleaning with a damp cloth, or even an upholstery cleaning machine, is in order here. "W"- coded fabrics are advisable for dining chairs, where spills are a concern.

"S" - Stands for solvent. This symbol tells us that the fabric requires dry cleaning only. Do not try to spot clean an "S" fabric with a water-dampened cloth. There are solvent-based upholstery cleaning products on the market, however, they must be used with extreme caution. There is a risk of leaving a "ring" if an area is spot-cleaned on a generally soiled item. If a sofa, chair, etc, is too heavily soiled before a professional upholstery cleaner is called in, the results will often be a disappointment.

"S/W" - There aren't many of these "Solvent/Water" coded fabrics anymore, but there are some around, and if you choose one, treat it as an "S", and dry clean only.

"X" - There are very few "X" codes in the marketplace these days. "X" indicates that this fabric or substance is not cleanable by any method. You may see it on some window blinds or shades, although it is unlikely that you will come across it on "by the yard" fabrics.

An important fact, which most people do not realize, is that those nice neat zippers on the backs of your sofa pillows and seat cushions are put there for manufacturing purposes only. During the final manufacturing phase, powerful compactors squeeze the cushions and place them, in the proper position, into their fabric casings. Once in place, the cushion or pillow is released and allowed to spring back to its natural state, all engineered to form a perfect, smooth fit. Many a sofa and chair have been destroyed because the owner has assumed that the zippers were put there for "easy" cleaning removal.

Remember: NEVER, EVER, REMOVE CUSHIONS AND/OR PILLOWS FROM THEIR ZIPPERED CASINGS! You will never be able to put them back properly, and your furniture will be ruined.

Once in your home, care for your new upholstered furniture by keeping it away from bright, direct sunlight. The harsh, damaging rays of the sun will quickly fade color and weaken the fibers, shortening their life considerably. Install window shades and use them during the hours of the day when your furniture is the most vulnerable. Translucent honeycomb shades work beautifully to protect your furniture, and cast a dreamy, soft light in the room.

If you don't have an upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner, get one. Dust and dirt are also enemies of fabric fibers, however they are easy to control by vacuuming regularly.

Many fabrics are pre-treated by the manufacturer with Teflon-based fiber protectors, which give you a fighting chance in keeping your upholstery clean looking longer. These chemical applications do not prevent furniture from becoming soiled; they merely allow for easier spot removal and general cleaning. Ask, when selecting fabric, if it has already been treated. If not, many retailers offer the option of treating your furniture before it it delivered to your home. It is well worth consideration.

Lastly, and most importantly, make a commitment to buy quality furnishings. "Buying Cheap" is the most extravagant way to live. The so-called "bargain" sofa may look "just like the others" while it is brand new. However, the short-cuts taken by low-end manufacturers condemn the furniture to a short life, and for a good part of that life the furniture will look shabby and old. You will be replacing it sooner than you anticipated. This is a hard and costly lesson, but one which is not soon forgotten! Quality frames, springs, foam, fabric and construction will go far in assuring you that your investment will bring you
many years of comfort and joy.

- Karen Saloomey


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