Fabric …the Soul of Decorating

I truly believe fabric is the essence of any decorating undertaking. It can set a mood, add color, pattern and unite all the room’s elements.

The long-term satisfaction with your home decorating project is due, in large part, to your choice of fabrics.

Not all fabrics are created equal. Decorator fabrics differ from fashion fabrics.

Generally they have a higher thread count (more threads per square inch), resulting in a tighter weave and durability. Decorator fabrics are often treated with finishes that give them sheen, add to their stability, make stain resistant and fire retardant.

Most often, they come 54 inches wide. Decorator fabrics are usually displayed open to full width and rolled on cardboard tubes. If you are in a store that sells both types, this helps distinguish them from fashion fabrics that are folded and wound on flat cardboard.

Make sure you have chosen a fabric suitable for the purpose you intend to use it. A fabric you have fallen in love with may work well for draperies, but be totally unsuitable for upholstery.

Don’t worry… this doesn’t mean you have to take a lengthy textile course before heading to the fabric store or design center.

However, decorator fabrics can be expensive. Arming yourself with basic knowledge, before making a purchase, could save you from a costly mistake. Ask questions of the staff at the design shop if the fabric isn’t clearly marked.

The long-term wear and look of the fabrics you select for home decorating, depends on the fiber content of the fabric. Fibers are the threads spun into yarn. The yarn is then woven into cloth. Fibers can be natural or synthetic.

Here are the pros and cons of fibers most often used in home decorating fabrics.

Natural Fibers

Pro – Stable, durable, resists moths and comes in a wide variety of weights, patterns and textures. Dyes well, giving crisp, clear colors.
Con – Will fade, wrinkle, burn and shrink unless treated.

Pro – Strong, durable, moth and soil resistant.
Con – Easily fades and wrinkles. Will stretch in humid areas.

Pro – Resists moths and abrasions. Long lasting if properly handled.
Con – Will fade and rot in the sun. Easily wrinkled

Pro – Extremely durable
Con – Will fade and rot in the sun. Attracts moths

Synthetic Fibers

Pro – Stable and durable. Resistant to wrinkles, moths, mildew and sun rot.
Con – Will “pill” and colors may darken in the sun. High heat will cause melting.

Pro – Silk-like, drapes well, resists stretching and moths. Dyes well and resists fading.
Con – wrinkles, weak fiber

Pro – Durable, soft, drapes well. Resists soil, mildew and wrinkles.
Con – Tends to “pill”, will melt under high heat

Pro – Excellent strength and durability. Drapes well. Resists wrinkles, soil and mildew. Retains heat set pleats.
Con – Will “pill”. Accumulates static electricity.

Pro – soft, excellent drape, good durability. Dyes well
Con – Wrinkles, stretches and shrinks. Flammable if not treated

The advantages of natural fibers will be enhanced and the disadvantages diminished, if blended with a synthetic fiber.

The weaving method has a major impact on a fabric’s durability. It also determines how appropriate a fabric is for a particular use.

In close weave fabrics, there are no open spaces between the threads. Closely woven fabrics have great durability. It is definitely a fabric characteristic you want in upholstery fabrics. Jacquards, broadcloth, sateen and twills are a few examples.

On the other hand, open weave fabrics like laces and casements, can have significant spaces between threads. They drape well, but will stretch if hung or used in highly humid areas.

If you like to research a new topic and want to know more about fibers and their characteristics, “Fiber Link” is a great source. It’s a wonderful informational site on all things fabric related.

Read labels and ask questions of the design shop staff. If you are using a decorator, she will pick fabrics appropriate for the intended use. Learn from her. Most decorators love to explain why they chose certain fabrics. I always made it part of my design presentation. An informed customer is always an asset.

Decorator Tips

Fabrics can look differently in your home than they do in the store.

Ask your designer to bring the fabrics to your home or to lend you a “memo” sample. Preferably, keep them overnight. Observe how the fabric changes when you go from daylight to artificial light.

If you are making your own, buy a yard of fabric to see how it looks in your home. Better to be out the cost of a yard than to buy 20 yards, sew your project and then decide you don’t really love the fabric.

Hint for DIYers:
Frequently, popular fabric patterns from the major textile mills will be “borrowed” when their period of exclusivity expires. Lesser-known mills will run yards and yards of these patterns and sell them through discount retailers.

You should be aware of two factors when buying from a discounter. The first is the weight and weave of the fabric may not be the same as the original and secondly the colors could be off.

Home décor fabrics from the major textile mills usually have a color registration key on the selvage. Each dye used in creating the pattern is numbered and shown within a circle, all circles enclosed in a box. If the color exactly fills the circle, it is said to be “in register” and the dye is the same as was used in the original fabric. If the color isn’t exactly the same as the original, the dot of color will be slightly outside the circle, or “off register.”

Sometimes the textile mill will run yards of fabric before quality control discovers the dye lot on a couple colors is off. They can’t sell this fabric as first run…so off to the discounter it goes.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fabric will usually be less expensive and if you are buying the entire amount of fabric you need from that source, the dye lots will match.

Just don’t think the $10/yard fabric is exactly the same as the $30/yard fabric a design center sells.

Buy all the fabric you need at one time.

Dye lots can differ. It may look the same when you buy that extra yard…until you put it against the fabric you have home! The last thing you want is to have a project three-quarters finished and not be able to find the same dye-lot!

Even if you try incorporating the fabric in an inconspicuous place, you’ll know it’s different and it will drive you crazy every time you look at it.

Now you’re ready to hit the design center.

If this is your first time in, don’t expect to waltz in, pick out your fabric and waltz out in a few minutes!

Give yourself time to explore the possibilities. Run your hand over the fabric feel the texture. Unroll a few yards, to see the overall effect of the pattern.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t fall in love with a fabric the first trip. Sometimes it takes several shops before you find the perfect fabric.

Remember, it’s a large investment. Don’t settle for an “okay” fabric if you are going to live with it for years. With all the choices, there is sure to be one you can’t live without!