Decorator Fabrics 101

Learn information about the different fabric types and which ones to use.

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Styles and Patterns

Chintz: The style originally hails from India and was brought to the West by the British raj. Chintz is a highly polished, rather thin, brightly colored calico cotton fabric. Popular for upholstery and slipcovers.

Cretonne: A plain-weave fabric with both printed floral motif and angular shapes for people who can't make up their minds about what they like. Often used for chair coverings and curtains.

Damask: A glossy Jacquard weave (a Jacquard weave is made with a Jacquard loom, which was invented Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801) that has a flat look on the pattern itself but a glossy look for the background. In silk, rayon or linen, it's often used for draperies and upholstery.

Gingham: A relatively inexpensive fabric that usually has a checkered pattern. Looks great as a dining tablecloth in Italian restaurants or on kitchen or nursery windows.

Grosgrain: A silk with a ribbed appearance.

Herringbone: A regular geometric pattern consisting of two slanted rows that form a "V" shape on the fabric. This menswear look has become popular in upholstery.

Moiré: For some reason, the French liked fabric with water spilled on it just like your kids do. Moiré is a "water-marked" fabric (an effect now produced by cylindrical presses) with vertical "cathedrals" (lines that look like the peak of a cathedral).

Mohair: Angora goats' hair. Sometimes used for throws and pillows.

Satin: This one dates from the 14th century. It's believed to be named after the Chinese town of Zaitun, though no one knows where Zaitun was. Satin was originally a glossy silk fabric with a dull back, but the look can be reproduced in rayon for the cost-conscious.

Tapestry: Tapestries were originally developed in the Middle Ages as a form of insulation, as the walls at the time had pretty low R-values. Tapestries helped to block the wind coming in through the chinks in your basic castle's mortar and later developed into a brocade type of weave with ornamentation.

Ticking: Ticking is a striped cotton fabric traditionally made in black and white but also seen in blue/white and red/white. It's used for mattress covers and informal curtains and coverings.

Toile de Jouy: Literally meaning "fabric of joy," toile is a French fabric with a pattern that's somewhat naïve, featuring country scenes of a solid black, red, gray or blue against a cream-colored background. Toile is often associated with cottons.

Ultrasuede: An advance in technology, ultrasuede replicates natural suede (the underside of leather) but resists stains much better than the highly absorbent suede. Second-generation ultrasuedes are the more affordable microfibers that are less dense in terms of fiber count and therefore more affordable.

Velvet: A pile that's cut at uniform lengths to create an even overall surface. Very durable and great for heavy flowing draperies.

Mark McCauley is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers  and author of Color Therapy at Home (Rockport Publishers) and Interior Design for Idiots (Great Quotations Publishing Co.).

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