Monday, September 24, 2007

Fabric Types, Defined Part I - A Natural Choice

If you are in the process of decorating your home, anything from buying window treatments, reupholstering your sofa, or just trying to make your bed, you may be wondering about fabrics. Which type will hold up best for me? Which type is best for which application? Do I want a natural or synthetic fiber? What is the difference?

Hopefully these basic definitions and suggested applications will make your choices somewhat easier.

The Naturals
  • COTTON Cotton is extremely versatile and is the strongest of the natural fibers with the exception of wool (but who wants to sleep on wool sheets?). Cotton accepts dyes very well, so color options are great. And it allows for the flow of air through the goods; in industry jargon we would say that it’s a fabric that "breathes" well.

Applications: For upholstery, cotton’s breathability has distinct advantages. For a room in which people sit for long periods of time—a family room, for example—the breathability factor will enhance the comfort of the furniture. If you like that ever-so-fashionable wrinkled, easygoing "forever summer" look, you can’t go wrong with cotton slipcovers. To add durability to the breathability mix, look for a cotton-synthetic combination. Cotton is also a great choice for breathable seat cushions for occasional chairs or, with fabric protection, for dinette chair covers. Cafe curtains and less formal window treatments for spare bedrooms can be made from inexpensive chintz or brushed cotton (this type of cotton has a soft, smooth hand, like chamois), giving you great color at a low price.

  • LINEN Made from a vegetable fiber, linen has a fine luster and tastes great steamed with a little hollandaise sauce (just kidding). It possesses a healthy stain resistance, but wrinkles if you even look at it funny. Therefore, the "style" of linen is wrinkled. Often style follows the inherent nature of the material.

Applications: Linen is super as a table covering. It’s lighter hand and casual nature relates to spring and summer. Use it to add a little magic to summer table settings or as a casually elegant unstructured window treatment on a decorative rod.
Linen fabric is great for casually elegant unstructured window treatments like these.

  • SILK Worms make silk, with glorious results. But silk gets a bad rap because it is susceptible to sun damage (but, really, what isn’t?). If you avoid too much sun exposure (which can create what’s called sun rot), silk can be a wonderful investment. It comes in a wide variety of fabric weights, from light handed to heavy raw silk. The weave will often determine the wearability of silk, with some of the raw silks being much stronger and able to take more wear.
Applications: Lined, silk makes gorgeous window treatments and is very long wearing. It makes durable upholstery fabrics as well. Let’s remember that before synthetic fibers, silk and cotton were extensively used. Many of the finest Oriental rugs are made of silk and last for hundreds of years. Silk makes terrific throw pillows, limiting the amount of fabric needed and feeling cool and slick on the cheek when taking that too rare nap on the sofa.

  • WOOL The battleship of the naturals, wool is a fabric that provides long wear. Wool can be scratchy and warm, however, and some people may be allergic to it (your dog, too, might have an allergic reaction to wool carpeting or upholstery).
Applications: Wool makes fabulous hard-wearing wall-to-wall carpeting. Wool sheepskin, in its natural state, brushed and airy with long fibers, makes wonderful small floor coverings at the side of a bed or near a cozy fireplace. Wool upholstery will last to the next ice age.

*Definitions from Fabricology 101, by Mark McCauley for HGTV

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