Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Fabrics provide important elements to interior design projects such as color, texture and pattern. However, choosing the appropriate fabric that will also perform well can be a bit challenging. Here are just a few key things to consider in order to make the most of your fabric selections.
Fibers play a major role in how all fabrics will behave. Common fibers used in items like furniture, pillows and curtains include both synthetics and naturals. Synthetic fibers, such as those found in thermoplastic fibers include: Nylon, Acrylic, Modacrylic, Olefin and polyester. While inexpensive and durable, these fibers often release toxic chemicals when burned and therefore can be dangerous in a fire. Then, there are natural fibers. They fall into two basic categories: cellulosic and protein. Cellulosic fibers include: cotton, flax, hemp, jute, ramie, bamboo and hemp. These are the healthiest options for both your body and the environment. Natural protein fibers include silk, wool, cashmere, mohair. Although these are strong, durable and inherently stain repellant, they may cause allergic reactions to some users and are not considered vegan since they are of animal origin.
In India alone – a major hub in the textile industry – 425,000,000 gallons of water are used daily! Other international textile centers also use and waste millions of untold gallons of water, as well as produce dangerous waste products in the process. Many textile professionals, of course, believe that this is not sustainable. It will be exciting to see what new technology and products evolve that can reduce water usage and toxic emissions in the fabric industry. The growing production and use of natural alternatives, such as hemp and bamboo, are helping to change industry trends for the better.
Lighting and Perspective
Lighting has a major impact on how color is perceived, so it’s important to view fabrics in an actual interior design project location before making selections. It is also important to get the largest sample possible and step back several yards for a more realistic perspective. People often look too closely at details that will not be seen from a distance. The overall effect of a fabric within the greater context of the room will have the most impact.
It is unfortunate that many fabrics sold to the public come with no information about durability, Ultraviolet light or flammability resistance. A professional designer not only has the inside scoop on fiber, weaving and manufacturing methods, but also the benefit of shopping trade showrooms where fabrics are labeled with the Wyzenbeek test rating, which is a scientific measure of durability. Other ratings are also noted on the labels such as resistance to Ultraviolet light and flammability. There are laws that govern what fabrics can be used for commercial spaces, so this is crucial when making residential vs. commercial fabric choices.
We often hear about fabric terms, such as jacquard, crewel, twill, striae, etc. The terms typically indicate weaving methods, manufacturing type, fabric history and printing processes. While this is a complex subject that is too broad to cover here, instead, I will leave you with some simple and useful tips about fundamental fabric choices from my Fabrics for Designersclass.
Linen: strong, cool, comfortable, moth resistant, but will wrinkle and is flammable and expensive.
Cotton: comfortable, will not pill, no seam slippage or static, but will fade from sun exposure.
Silk: strong, lustrous, insulator, elastic, drapes well, but subject to moth and sun damage.
Wool: resilient, resistant to wrinkles, stains, static and flame, but subject to moth damage.
Acrylic: resistant to sun rot, wrinkles and mildew, easily washed, stable and inexpensive, but collects static, pills easily and has low abrasion resistance.
Nylon: strong, durable, inexpensive, passes flammability test, but has high static and pilling, will melt when heated and is not suitable for vertical applications.
Olefin: resists mildew and abrasion, durable, floats, inexpensive, but absorbs oils (which makes stains worse) and shrinks under heat.
Polyester: abrasion and wrinkle resistant, stable, but pills easily and is subject to staining and static.
Rayon: drapes well, abrasion resistant, high luster, passes flammability test, but is expensive, susceptible to mildew, not for vertical applications and has poor dimensional stability.
Bamboo: high breaking tenacity, moisture-wicking properties and is sustainable. Be sure to look for organic bamboo fabrics!
Hemp: durable, requires 90% less water to produce than cotton, but susceptible to fraying and moisture.
Fabrics have a great and critical place in all interior design projects and now choosing the appropriate fabric should be both a little easier and exciting. Be sure to find just what you’re looking for with a little help from yours truly next time you need to take big strides in your interior design adventures!