Different fabrics explained
When choosing new curtains or sofa coverings, most people look at colour and pattern to make their decision. But what about the fabric it’s made from? Different household fabrics have very different properties, from delicate silk to tough nylon. Choosing the best fabric type for your needs will make your purchases last longer and look better.
Microfiber is made from incredibly fine polyester filaments, 1/100th the thickness of a human hair. Its fine threads make powerful cleaning cloths which whip away dirt with minimal effort; when used as an upholstery fabric, it resists soiling and abrasion, making it an ideal sofa covering for pet owners.
Acetate and rayon (viscose)
Though it’s technically a man-made fabric, rayon is made from natural cellulose. It was originally nicknamed ‘artificial silk’ for its beauty. It is lustrous and wrinkle-resistant, but unfortunately it is usually dry-clean only. Acetate is made from the same basic material as rayon but using a slightly different manufacturing technique. Like rayon, it is resistant to shrinkage, mildew, and moth; acetate also has the advantage of being easy-to-clean.
Petroleum-based polyester has the unusual property of repelling water but absorbing oil, which means it is easy to coat with water- or dirt-resistant finishes. It is also naturally resistant to stains and wrinkling. Because of its non-allergenic properties, polyester is the most common material used for filling pillows, sofas, and quilts.
Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, and it is both natural and tough. The fabric starts stiff and softens with handling. Because of its heaviness, linen hangs beautifully, making it particularly suitable for curtains or tablecloths. Linen is notorious for wrinkling easily, so it is often blended with artificial fibers to make the final fabric more crease resistant.
Nylon is one of the earliest man-made fibers, invented in 1939. It makes long fibers which are slightly elastic, and when woven into fabric nylon is soft and durable. As it’s so tough, nylon is often used for heavy-duty uses like carpeting and office furniture.
Cotton is the king of fabrics. It accounts for over half the clothes worn across the world, and in the home it is used for everything from sturdy floor rugs to soft pillowcases. It is tough, comfortable, and cheap. For household use, cotton is usually blended with man-made fibres, to increase stain resistance and reduce the need for ironing.
Wool isn’t just for warm blankets – its crease resistance and toughness mean it’s an excellent covering for upholstery too. Though it’s tricky to clean (it can shrink permanently if mishandled), wool is naturally stain resistant so rarely needs washing anyway. Wool insulates effectively against both heat and noise, making it an excellent choice for curtains.
Acrylic is highly adaptable: it is unusual among man-made fibers because it can mimic the appearance of other fabrics, down to an almost microscopic level. It resists fading under UV light and dries quickly, which makes it the natural choice for outdoors furniture like sun-loungers. The disadvantage of acrylic is that it generates a lot of static electricity, so it isn’t very well suited to things like bedspreads which will be subjected to a lot of friction.
Beautiful and lustrous, silk filaments are one of the strongest fibres known to man; unfortunately, silk fabric is easily torn and fades quickly when exposed to UV light. For this reason, silk is generally used for decorative rather than practical purposes around the house. It makes beautiful cushions and lampshades, and can be used for light upholstery or wall hangings.