Picking the right upholstery fabric

Picking the right upholstery fabric can be a daunting process, but it should be seen as a fun opportunity to express your own taste. When picking the right fabric there are a number of elements that need to be considered with upholstery. The fabric needs to be more durable than the standard dress fabric, ideally with a rub test of 30,000 or more. The other key point is fire retardant, I’ll cover these points in more detail later in this post.

The fabric choice can transform the furniture piece, so it is worth contemplating what fabric would best suit the piece. When choosing a patterned fabric a large print would be more suitable for a large piece of furniture as the print can be lost on smaller items.

If choosing striped fabric keep in mind that horizontal stripes create an illusion of widening and vertical stripes elongate the piece. In some cases this illusion can be applied to visually enhance a piece.

Plain fabrics can often be as effective in creating a dramatic finish but are often overlooked. It is worth considering a range of colours from complementing to contrasting. The intended use of the piece is important as if the intended use is for heavy use a durable fabric will be required, also worth noting that a long pile fabric may not be suitable as it will flatten over time.

picking the right upholstery fabric

1960s easy chair

Ideally you consider the piece of furniture and the desired look. Whether you want to stay true to the piece or create a completely different look. An example of this is the 1960’s easy chair previously mentioned on the website. I wanted to maintain the 1960’s feel so opted for a fabric that was reminiscent of the era. Choosing a yellow fabric with a slight warm tone to avoid an acidic appearance but keeping a brightness.

So have fun with picking the fabric, as having a piece of furniture upholstered is an opportunity to put your own stamp on a piece.


For those who require more information regarding abrasion test. I have created a quick outline:

Thread count refers to the number of threads in a square inch of a fabric. The higher the thread count the closer the weave is in the fabric. A thread count of 150 is considered low. For upholstery use a recommended thread count would be 400 to ensure durability. When working with deep buttoned furniture it is more desirable to use a fabric with a high thread count as it creates far better results.

A rub test confirms the durability of a fabric. A sample of the fabric is placed in a martindale machine and rubbed in a circular motion, the test ends when two threads break or there is a noticeable change in appearance. A guide for recommended uses based on a rub test are:

Decorative – less than 10,000 rubs

Light domestic – 10,000 to 15,000 rubs

General domestic – 15,000 to 25,000 rubs

Heavy duty domestic – 25,000 to 30,000 rubs

Commercial grade – 30,000 plus rubs

To ensure a durability to reupholstered furniture it is advisable to be cautious and recommend only fabric of 30,000 rubs plus unless it is a surface that is not going to come into contact with wear such as a back of a chair.

Colourfastness to light

Colourfastness test measure the colour permanence of a fabric when exposed to UV light. The test results are graded as follows:

Grade 5 – no fading

Grade 4 – slight fading

Grade 1 – a high degree of fading

For upholstery use it is recommended to use a fabric with a minimum grading of 4, irrelevant of the final use.

Flammability in compliance with The Furniture and Furnishings(Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended in 1989 and 1993)


As a rule it is advisable that the chosen fabric is fit for purpose, has a rub test of 30,000 rubs plus, a thread count approximately 400 with a colour fade grade 4-5. In order to assure fire safety a barrier cloth is advised unless working with antique furniture and the requirement is to retain the historic process.

1 Comment

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