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Ask Mr. Williams How to use fabrics

Posted on: September 24th, 2015 by halewilliams No Comments

Dear Mr. Williams,
You have written about how to select fabrics. I, however, don’t remember seeing anything about how long a fabric should last before having to recover the furniture. I recovered a sofa, two chairs, an ottoman and a pair of small pull-up French style frame chairs only four years ago. They all look shabby and somewhat worn now. The sofa and two chairs particularly. Is that normal? We use the room in which these pieces are placed every day and sit mainly on the pieces most worn. What can I do to ensure the fabric selected will “wear like iron” the next time I recover the furniture?
Sincerely, Margaret Davis
Dear Mrs. Davis,
The options open to you have grown over the past few years to include a wide range of commercial grade fabrics that are both beautiful and durable. At the same time the residential fabric market has begun to include durability information in price lists and on the tags of samples in showroom and interior design studios. As consumers demand more and more information and become knowledgeable about fabrics and their uses the manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with new and improved materials. The industry standard for durability is the Wyzenbeek abrasion test. The Wyzenbeek machine runs an abrasive bearing over the fabric until a worn spot appears and the fabric is declared to have failed. The process is described as “double rubs” and the number of “rubs” is an indication of the durability of the fabric. Normal residential use requires somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 double rubs. Some fabrics like mohair, horsehair and the like often exceed 100,000 double rubs. The Wyzenbeek test is a very good indication of how sturdy and long lasting the fabric might be.
Nothing “wears like iron” except iron. Both residential and commercial fabrics still must endure the wear and tear inherent in day-to-day use. There are, however, many resources for beautiful and durable fabrics. It is important to understand a good re-upholstery job is the first step in guaranteeing the fabrics selected will perform as you hope. The way the springs are installed, the decking, the lining for the cushions and the fabric itself all play a very important part in durability. Assuming your upholstery will be professionally completed many fabrics will meet your needs. Natural fibers have, over time, proven to be long lasting and durable. Leather, of course, is strong and relatively easy to work with. As with all products the higher the quality the better the performance. Patchwork, seamed, miss-matched and distressed are all signs of less than superior quality leather. The next natural fiber on the list of most durable is wool. Mohair is the fleece of the Angora goat and has been used for years for its luxurious and long-lasting qualities. You might remember Mohair from theater seats and it is also still used on the seats of the Piccadilly line tube in London. Cotton, linen and silk all offer good durability but will show wear more quickly than many of the man-made fibers.
Man-made fibers offer another very durable alternative. Ultra suede©, a Polyester non-woven ultra-micro fiber, is durable, washable and easy to work with. Available in lots colors and some prints it is best known by many for use in clothing. The Ultra suede© we use in our profession is a thicker gauge and heavier weight than that used in fashion. New acrylics, mod acrylics, acetate, viscose, rayon and polyester are, for many, the fibers of choice for durability. Sunbrella© has licensed its solution-dyed process to many fabric mills here and abroad and now comes in a plethora of styles, colors and prints. It is now soft, luxurious and beautiful. It performs wonderfully well both indoors and out.
A complete understanding of the qualities of the fabrics offered and their ability to withstand the day-to-day uses to which they will be subjected is an important part of the education of any design professional. You may find a combination of natural and man-made fibers will give you the best possible solution to your dilemma. Each of us uses fabrics and upholstery in different ways and there is never one solution for every problem. Good luck and I hope you are able to combine beauty with the best in durability.

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