Whether you are buying a new sofa or re-covering a treasured piece, your sofa is a big investment and so it is important to choose your fabric carefully. How much use is the sofa going to get and will it be subject to a few spills and biscuit crumbs? Will your chosen design complement the shape of the piece and how will its colour – and, perhaps, pattern – fit in with your chosen scheme? Do you want to sink into plush velvet or enjoy the tactile quality of a cosy bouclé? Read on for our advice on choosing an upholstery fabric that will complement both your aesthetic and your lifestyle.
Understanding upholstery fabrics
Upholstery fabrics come in many different guises, from cottons to linens, wools to leathers, as well different blends of materials. First of all, you need to check that your chosen fabric is marked as suitable for upholstery – if it is not, it will quickly show signs of wear. Next, you need to consider its durability: a silk damask may look fabulous but it won’t be suitable for everyday use while a polyester velvet with a stain resistant finish offers both beauty and practicality. The durability of an upholstery fabric is measured by the universally recognised Martindale test, which measures the amount of times discs can oscillate sandpaper or wool across the fabric before it starts to show distress. A fabric of 10,000 to 20,000 is suitable for light domestic use such as occasional furniture while upwards of 30,000 denotes a commercial grade fabric that is suitable for heavy duty wear.
Wool upholstery fabrics
Wool has wonderful properties that make it a fantastic choice for upholstery: as well as being incredibly durable, it is inherently fire retardant, so it doesn’t require harmful chemicals; it is water repellent, making it forgiving with spills; and it is breathable, ensuring that it is warm in winter yet cool in summer. It also doesn’t crease, so it is perfect for more tailored pieces of furniture. Our Ollaberry & Roxburgh collection of pure wool fabrics spans plaids, window pane checks, stripes, herringbones and plains, all in a timeless palette that is perfectly suited to classic interiors. Lana, meanwhile, is made from recycled wool and is one of our most popular upholstery fabrics. It comes in no less than 55 versatile melange colours that span soft neutrals to gorgeous jewel-like hues, and, like Ollaberry & Roxburgh, the fabrics are contract grade, making them incredibly robust. Bear in mind that these fabrics will require dry cleaning.
Linen upholstery fabrics
Linen is the ideal upholstery fabric for bringing a natural feel and subtle texture to interior schemes. Made from the eco-friendly flax plant, it is inherently strong and moth resistant, making it a robust choice for busy homes. Another major bonus is that many of our linen collections are machine washable, so they make a great option for slip covers for a sofa or armchair (just check the advice for possible shrinkage). Our offerings range from quintessentially English florals with The English Garden collection, to Elba, our breezy collection of tumbled linen fabrics in no less than 48 colours, to Small Prints, a gorgeous range of linen fabrics in neat patterns that lend themselves equally well to traditional or contemporary upholstery projects. Pictured here are Fortune Teller in Flurry and Magic Lantern in Sea Holly.
Cotton upholstery fabrics
Like wool and linen, cotton is another natural fabric that is breathable, allowing heat and moisture to wick away from the skin. It also has good abrasion resistance, making it an ideal choice for a sofa that is going to get lots of use. The fact that cotton upholstery fabrics are generally machine washable means that they are often associated with informal slip covers, but a chic, tightly woven cotton can also take on a more formal guise on a tailored piece. And while conventional cotton has the disadvantage of being very water intensive to cultivate and process, our Verde fabric is woven from 80 per cent recycled cotton using offcuts from the fashion industry. It is also chemical-free and it is double brushed on both sides so it is wonderfully soft to the touch. It comes in 46 colours, including this Candy hue.
Velvet upholstery fabrics
Gone are the days when velvet upholstery was relegated to formal rooms that were out of bounds to children and pets. Many modern velvets are fantastically durable, featuring clever stain resistant finishes that make them perfectly suited to family life, while some options are machine washable, too, which makes caring for loose covers, cushions or curtains a breeze. Here at Linwood, we are particularly renowned for our gorgeous velvet offerings which span exquisite printed options – see our recent Wild Life collection or our much fêted Velvet Wonderland designs – to plains in a vast array of colours to suit any scheme, including our hugely popular Omega range; it is pictured here in a gentle Duck Egg hue in influencer Meera Pendred's (@firstsenseinteriors) sitting room.
Sustainable upholstery fabrics
When it comes to choosing upholstery fabrics, we need to think about options that are kinder to the planet, and there are a wealth of sustainable options to consider, from naturally eco-friendly fibres to recycled materials that reuse materials that would otherwise end up in landfill. The most naturally sustainable fabric is linen – pictured here is our wonderfully versatile Elba range – as it is made from the hardy flax plant which requires little more than rainwater to grow. Wool is another inherently eco-friendly material and our Lana range has the advantage of being made from recycled fabrics that are offcuts from the fashion industry. Our Ollaberry & Roxburgh wool fabrics, meanwhile, use pure Shetland wool that is woven in Lancashire, thus helping reduce the fabric’s carbon footprint. Omega III is our first recycled velvet: it uses recycled polyester for the velvet pile, using ten large plastic bottles for every metre of fabric woven. And we also offer an eco-friendly leather: Saddle II uses leather waste from shoes and handbags and comes in a palette of rich, earthy colours that will nicely patinate with age.
Stain resistant fabrics for sofas
If yours is a home where spills and sticky fingers – or, for that matter, muddy paws – are part and parcel of everyday life, it is well worth considering a stain resistant fabric. Upholstery fabrics featuring clever stain resistant finishes will repel everyday spillages, meaning that you can enjoy a beautiful sofa without being too precious about it. We have a vast array of stain resistant fabrics, from sumptuous velvets – pictured here is our eco friendly Omega III in Maize (video courtesy of @lifeatlivingroom) – to Delta II (pictured below), a casual cotton, to Juno, our chic linen blend fabric with a subtle textural quality.
Choosing the right upholstery fabric for your sofa
At the end of the day, it is important that you are honest with yourself about your lifestyle. The last thing that you want is to be a slave to your sofa fabric, so if your sofa gets a lot of use, you need a durable option, and if spills are a regular occurance, you probably want to consider a stain resistant upholstery fabric or slip covers that can be removed and put in the washing machine. Think about how your chosen design will fit in with your scheme, and if you are choosing a bold pattern, make sure that it will complement the shape and size of your piece. Ensure, too, that your upholsterer knows how to match up the pattern at the front – and, indeed, the back of the piece if it will be viewed from behind.
We hope we have inspired you to choose an upholstery fabric that will beautifully complement your sofa; if you take the time to research a design that suits your needs and your style, you will have a piece that can be enjoyed for years to come. And on that note, remember that regular vacuuming and turning of cushions can prolong the life of your upholstery fabric and reduce the need for cleaning. When it is time to get your piece cleaned, make sure that you get all the upholstery and matching cushions cleaned in one go, to avoid mismatched colours.