5 tips for how to choose fabrics for upholstery (Sanderson-poppy pods fabric)

It’s so easy to get carried away by fabrics for upholstery.

Maybe you’ve found the perfect fabric with a curvy pattern that reminds you of the birds swooping in to the feeder outside the window, or a spark of color that brings the room to life, or a soft texture that makes you feel warm & fuzzy in your favorite chair.

When you fall head over heels in love, it’s a natural human tendency to jump to the engagement before the first date is even over. As my mother would say: “Hold on, not so fast…!”

5 tips for how to choose fabrics for upholstery (Sanderson-clovelly claret fabric)

Here’s a question I received from a student shopping for her first upholstery project:

I have a question regarding sources for fabric. Is it necessary to purchase from an ‘upholstery’ shop or can I go to my local fabric store? Are there any concerns I should be aware of with respect to the quality of upholstery fabrics from an all-purpose fabric store? Given this is my first project, I do not want to buy expensive fabric, but I do want the quality to be durable.

I get it: spending $150/yard on fabric for a debut project doesn’t make sense.

Okay, even $50/yard may seem over the top. and there ARE some decent options out there for less. So how do you tell good quality from poor quality?

For starters, I always recommend staying with upholstery-weight fabric. Upholstery fabric must hold up to stresses that lighter-weight quilting and garment fabrics are never exposed to: the stretching, tightening and stapling of the upholstery process. Upholstery shops are (usually) dependable for carrying high quality fabric. If you’re buying at discount, here are

5 tips to help you steer clear of disaster:

  1. Do the ‘crease’ test: Fold the fabric on a corner and crease it tightly between thumb & fingers, it should NOT leave a stiff crease, which is a sign that those weak threads could break or tear easily.
  2. Take note of how much it frays at the edge, as this could make it more difficult to work with. Fraying does not necessarily indicate low quality – you can surge the edges to minimize the challenges.
  3. Do a stretch test: Pull the fabric across the grain, then diagonally – it will always stretch more on the (diagonal) bias, and good fabric choice will usually have very little stretch in the straight direction of the weave. You want a ‘healthy’ amount of stretch for workability, but not too much.
  4. Check for workability: Stretch a section of the fabric over your knee to get the feel of whether it’s appropriate for upholstery.
  5. Check the pattern: If there’s a pattern or print, make sure it’s straight on the roll and not skewed – crooked weave is often a reason for discounting fabrics.

5 tips for how to choose fabrics for upholstery (Kravet-lacy branches fabric)

Additional reading:

If you’re looking at fabric sample books at an upholstery shop, check out this video first, to learn how to make sense of the upholstery jargon inside.

Check out this post for an example of an (advanced) challenge: matching a large pattern on a wing back chair – not a chair for a beginner, but a good illustration of pattern-matching.

Read more tips for choosing colors for upholstery, and for working with velvet.

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I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If I’ve left something out, please post your questions in the comments below.

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