Fabric for Upholstery: What to Know About Fibers

Throughout the semester, I’ve learned lots about interior textiles through my Housing Textiles course. Because I’m interested in furniture, I was hoping to gain some knowledge about fabrics and the best ones for upholstery. However, there are so many factors that influence what makes a good fabric for upholstery: the fiber, the yarn structure, the weave of a fabric, the finish, etc.

Today, I’m going to focus on the core of a fabric: the fibers. Fibers are hair like substances – their length being at least 100 times their diameter. There are five different kinds of fiber categories: protein fibers (from animals such as wool and silk), cellulose fibers (from plants such as cotton or flax), regenerated fibers (using natural materials like wood chips, corn, or soybean in a manufactured process), synthetic fibers (using materials from natural gas or oil such as nylon, polyester, and spandex), and mineral or inorganic fibers (such as glass and metallic fibers).

The textile industry is known for being the source of a lot of water, air, and solid-waste pollution. This mostly is sourced from toxic solvent used in the creation of most manufactured fibers and the dyes used to color fabric. However, not all manufactured fibers require the toxic solution to help dissolve polymers to be extruded into filament fibers. Lyocell fibers use a non-toxic solution that can be recycled for continued use.

Fibers can either be staple or filament. Filament fibers are generally manufactured (silk being the exception) and can be very long, which is ideal for furniture because when yarns (groups of fibers often twisted together) or fibers are less likely to wear out as fast as staple fibers through abrasion and use. Natural fibers (excluding silk) are staple fibers, meaning the fibers are shorter (usually 1-5 inches) and have to be twisted together in yarn to keep them together. Staple fibers tend to be less durable in fabric.

Often different kinds of fibers are mixed to create new characteristics in a piece of fabric. Finishes can also help alter characteristics of fibers along with the yarn structure.

Uphostry Fabric Guide: https://www.bhg.com/decorating/lessons/basics/guide-to-upholstery-fabrics/

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