The ins and outs of Home décor/upholstery fabric  Part I

Why use: 

Color—because home décor fabric is expected to last many seasons, the colors, although mirror fashion trends, will tend to be less high fashion, and introduce colors in a way that will not make it obsolete in a year.  Further, home décor/upholstery fabric will repeat patterns in a number of color variations, giving you a better chance of finding, texture, pattern, and weight of fabric, in your color tones and style.

Pattern and Texture—for large women, these patterns are great. Our clothes, whether wide or long, are large enough to tell a story--finish a thought.  We will not be swallowed up by the larger bolder patterns and textures available in home decor.

Durability—the thick layered fibers of upholstery fabric makes it virtually indestructible as a wearable fabric, and very warm for winter coats.

Physical characteristics of upholstery fabric.  

This fabric differs from general fashion and home décor fabric, in its primary use.  Designed to cover furniture, upholstery fabric must meet a threshold number of double rubs before it can qualify.  (A single double rub is simply when you rub your hand up the fabric and then back down to original position) But within that category, there are divisions, industrial, heavy duty, light weight etc.  There is no true standard either in the pressure used to rub the fabric or the total number of double rubs required to meet the upholstery threshold, or the various categories within the group.   This determination varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer.   Upholstery fabric is designed to resist stretching, tearing, soiling, and last, but certainly not least, to add comfort and style to the object being covered.

This use affects its characteristics.  The fiber content of upholstery fabric is usually some variation of polyester/cotton blend.  The cotton will soften the fabric, and the polyester will give it strength.  If you see a shiny thread--that is usually rayon.  Rayon is a manmade fiber like polyester, but does not wear as well, it is usually used to add a little “flash.”  Occasionally, in the outdoor or higher end fabrics you will find acrylic and wool.  These fabrics will tend to be a little stiffer, but you can rest assured, will not fade, and will last to the third and fourth generation.

An essential element of upholstery fabric is that it not stretch or tear.  To that end you will find the fibers of the fabric a courser weave.  Style and physical design will also be used to create a denser, tougher, less flexible fabric.  Multi-levels of diagonal weaves or decorative top stitching, all help to stabilize the fabric.  The positive is that you have wonderfully different, interesting and exciting fabric.  The negative is that the fabric is very thick, and unravels much more easily.  If you have a serger, make sure you surge all the cut ends before throwing it into the washer or, after washing, before sewing the seams.  If you don’t have a serger, simply zigzag your ends.   

In addition to a larger fiber and design, manufacturers will sometimes add a plastic, gluey kind of backing or an actual lining.  I have found that the gluey stuff does not wash out.  And, depending on the thickness, it can crust, ball up in chunks after a wash.  With thinner coatings, however, I have found it fine just to line the fabric.    

The fabric with lining?  The lining is usually a polyester cotton combination, but your upholstery fabric may be a different cotton poly blend, resulting in a funky kind of mess.

Chemicals used

In order for the fabric to resist staining, manufacturers will include a Teflon coating--either by treating the fiber or the fabric.  Fabric used for business, cars or boats, as well as outdoor, should be steered away from for a number of reasons.  As they are very stiff and inflexible, you probably will not select them anyway, but their fiber is treated with highly toxic chemicals to ensure durability and stain resistance, which do not easily wash out.  I would be very reluctant to cloth myself with any of these fabrics.   

Because of the chemicals now used on upholstery fabric, I just don’t get anything that can’t be washed.  As the intended purpose of these fabrics is not to be worn close to the skin, it’s just not worth taking a risk.

Washing the fabric

Before cutting the fabric, I throw the whole home decor/upholstery clothe into the wash--and show it no mercy.  I wash it in the hottest setting, and then throw it into the dryer.  Of all the fabrics I have washed, it all has washed beautifully, no fading or bleeding in hot water.  No promises--but I don’t think bleeding will be a problem.  Obviously a silk or 100% cotton may bleed, but even with these fabrics, I have not run into problems.   

But having said this, I do encourage you not to place too many preconceived expectations on the fabric.  How the fabric shrinks could add a very nice texture, softness and warmth to the look and feel of your coat.    
 
I do not iron the fabric after washing.  I leave the shrink in, and cut to that.  You may find you have a little less fabric to work with, but I have never not had enough.  The shrink is not usually that significant.
Picture
This fabric was wash in hot water. 

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Notice the wonderful contrast between course bulky fiber and thread, as well as color

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Wear and stress  at the seams can increase fraying,  zigzaging or surging the ends before sewing will minimize this.

Picture
The back of the of upholstery fabric is often not finished, leaving long threads that can catch on buttons, etc.  This is easily remedied by adding a lining.  

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This fabric has been washed, but the plastic backing is still in tact.  The chenille is very soft and flexible, a nice lining will take your skin away from the plastic.

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Notice the use of cross weaving, and top stitching, this is very typical of upholstery fabric.  

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I love this fabric, the bulky  course weave allows for many possibilities.  This linen weave fabric is very popular, and can be found is a full spectrum of colors.

Get a Sample

 The texture of the weave, the fiber content and type of backing will all impact on how the fabric will shrink when washed. 

Washing your fabric is taking a risk---but fear not, you do not have to gamble your hard earned money on fabric that might end up a wad in your washing machine.  Fortunately, most home décor fabric sellers will give you a sample piece, with which you can test suitability.  Red tags are generally not sampled, but you can have them cut a piece as small as an inch to purchase. 

Next week

Thank you for joining me, next week we will cover traditional patterns and designs available in home décor and upholstery fabric, that make for great coats.
 


Comments

01/31/2015 12:18pm

I love upholstery fabric for fashion apparel. Your blog has great information. I made a dress and jacket from a smooth upholstery fabric and it looked so nice. It was a shift dress with piping and a long straight jacket with simple seams. Thanks for the inspiration to get sewing again with some unusual fabric.

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Nubia
09/25/2015 2:01pm

Hello, and THANK you for this post. I just purchased (great sale!) a fabric called VFF Suese at Joann. It's thick and feels awesome, my question would be regarding seams. I'm planning on sewing up a coat for my kiddo. My fear is that the thickness of the fabric would make the seams stiff...
Does that make sense? I'd like any help, I've been searching online with no results :|

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09/29/2015 12:37am

Thank you for your comment. Being somewhat low tech I have to admit it took a while to figure out how to respond to posted comments. It has been my experience that the seams of the jacket or coat will not be that much stiffer than the fabric itself. Real suede and leather is used to make coats, and the seams work out well with those. Where I ran into an issue was with the sherpa coat and upholstery thread. The thread is very strong and inflexible most noticeably with something like sherpa a very soft fabric. In this case, I reduced my seam allowance to a little more than 1/8th of an inch, just enough for the thread to get a good perch of the fabric. You can also use heavy duty polyester thread which is more flexible and still very strong. So remember four things, a) reducing the seam allowance will make your seam more flexible,b) selecting a pattern that will accommodate the stiffness of the fabric, i.e. leather jackets are simple designs c) if fraying is an issue, zigzag or surge the end to help avoid the seam fraying away when it is stretched, d) use heavy duty polyester thread to soften the stitches. I hope this helps, thank you again for your comment.

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