Upholstery is defined as a fabric used to cover furniture such as sofas and armchairs. The type of fabric used for this purpose is categorized into two main sections: natural and man-made or synthetic. Fabrics such as cotton and wool are classified as natural fabrics, while materials such as polyester, acetate and acrylic are categorized as man-made, or manufactured, fabrics.
Man-made, or synthetic, fibers are manufactured using a combination of naturally forming fibers and chemicals or completely man-made fabrics. One of the main benefits of man-made fibers is their cost. Synthetic fabric is typically less expensive than natural fabric, and may be designed to look and feel like natural fibers. Some of the most common man-made fibers used in upholstery include: acetate, acrylic, polyester, rayon and nylon. These fibers are ideal for furniture placed in high-traffic areas as they are durable and tend to be wrinkle-, soil- and fade-resistant.
Plant fibers are manufactured by taking a naturally forming plant and breaking down its material to make strands of fabric. Some of the more common plant fibers used in upholstery material include cotton, linen and hemp. Cotton fibers are some of the most popular fibers used in upholstery and clothing, as this plant fiber is soft to the touch and prevents overheating as the fabric is able to absorb and release body sweat, making it a breathable fabric. Linen is among the most elegant fibers used in upholstery, and it is up to three times stronger than cotton. Characterized by its smooth texture, linen is derived from the flax plant and gains its appearance due to its naturally forming wax content. Hemp fibers are derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, and while its counterpart is used for illegal purposes, hemp is an elegant fiber similar in appearance and texture to linen.
Animal fibers are similar to plant fibers as they are not man-made, and are derived from natural sources. A prime example of animal fiber is silk, which is created from the silkworms’ cocoon. Silk is among the oldest forms of animal fibers used for upholstery purposes; it was used by ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman civilizations. Due to silks high absorbency rate, it may be dyed in a variety of colors and features a naturally forming luster. Wool is another popular animal fiber used for upholstery materials. This fiber may come from a wide variety of animals, such as goats, rabbits and sheep.
Suede is perhaps one of the most durable and resilient upholstery fabrics, as it is manufactured out of animal hide. Typically, suede is derived from cow hide, although it may be made out of horse and donkey hide. Suede is characterized as having a velvety texture and a smooth appearance. Its soft touch and ability to be used on any type of furniture makes it a popular upholstery choice.
- Photo Credit Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images