Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fabric Types, Defined Part II - The Synthetic

The Synthetics
  • RAYON Here’s a synthetic that can hang well, but it also can do some pretty bizarre things for a fabric. Check the fabric contents on window treatments to be sure the rayon content is low, or nonexistent. In the summer rayon absorbs humidity and rises up your window, or shrinks upward. It lets back down in lower humidity months. It’s like window treatments on a pogo stick.

Applications: Rayon is fine for window treatments in a very low-humidity area.

  • ACRYLIC Acrylic is colorfast and resists stains well. It also has sun-resistant qualities not found in the natural fabrics. But it is slightly harder to clean than wool and it can pill.
Applications: Acrylic is often blended with natural fabrics to add durability.

  • NYLON That nylon is tough stuff. It says "no," to stains and static electricity and wears well. Nylon is a continuous filament as opposed to a twist (hence nylon can’t breathe, while cotton has a high breathability factor as air passes through the twist).

Applications: The solidity of the filament makes nylon not particularly comfortable to sit on as it warms up from body heat quickly. But it is fabulous if you are jumping out of an airplane.

  • OLEFIN Another test-tube baby with high durability, but not so high on style.

Applications: Olefin is great for professional-football stadiums (it makes for swell AstroTurf), but it’s not so great in the home—unless you have a need for some indoor-outdoor carpeting.

  • POLYESTER This synthetic is what’s called a staple yard, consisting of strands bonded together. It’s fade-resistant but is harder to clean than nylon or wool. And it’s not as resilient as other fabrics. The term staple refers to a short length of fiber that is twisted (Go, Chubby Checkers!) to form a thicker strand.
Applications: Often used as part of an upholstery blend.
  • ACETATE Acetate is long wearing and is less affected by humidity than rayon. Softer than the other test-tube babies, acetate rarely pills and is tough to wrinkle.
Applications: Good in window treatments because of its draping wrinkle-resistant qualities.

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