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.
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.
This fabric was wash in hot water.
Notice the wonderful contrast between course bulky fiber and thread, as well as color
Wear and stress at the seams can increase fraying, zigzaging or surging the ends before sewing will minimize this.
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.
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.
Notice the use of cross weaving, and top stitching, this is very typical of upholstery fabric.
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.
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.