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Decorator Fabrics 101

By: Mark McCauley
May 11, 2016

From cotton to cretonne, learn all about the different types of fabric and where they're best used. 

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Fabrics 101

There are two basic forms of fabric – natural and synthetic – and both have their positive qualities. Synthetics, for instance, can be very durable and can often resist sun damage. But don't think of naturals as necessarily being weaker than the synthetics  – durability often depends on the weave and finish applied to the products, not the inherent qualities of the fabric itself. For example, chintz is a highly polished, somewhat thin-fibered cotton that isn't long-wearing. It's a "look," whereas a cotton using thicker fibers and heavier weave will perform better for greater periods of time. Image courtesy of HGTV Magazine

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Fabric Pros Vs Cons

In some cases, a synthetic-natural blend is going to be the best option for your upholstery, floor-covering or window-treatment need. Blends can give you the strength of the synthetics combined with the desirable qualities of the naturals. The following slides explain the various types and styles of fabric and how they're best put to use.

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Natural Fabrics: Cotton

Cotton is extremely versatile and the strongest of the natural fibers, with the exception of wool (but who wants to sleep on wool sheets?). Cotton accepts dyes well, so color options are great, and it allows for the flow of air through the goods; in industry jargon, we'd say it's a fabric that "breathes" well.

Where to Use It: For upholstery and bedding, cotton's breathability has distinct advantages. For a room in which people sit for long periods of time – a family room, for example – the breathability factor will enhance the comfort of the furniture. If you like that ever-so-fashionable wrinkled, easygoing "forever summer" look, you can't go wrong with cotton slipcovers. To add durability to the breathability mix, look for a cotton-synthetic combination. Cotton is also a great choice for breathable seat cushions for occasional chairs or, with fabric protection, for dinette chair covers. Cafe curtains and less formal window treatments for spare bedrooms can be made from inexpensive chintz or brushed cotton (this type of cotton has a soft, smooth hand, like chamois), giving you great color at a low price. Image courtesy of Thibaut.

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Photo: Mark Lohman (Styled by Liz Strong). From: HGTV Magazine.

Natural Fabrics: Linen

Made from a vegetable fiber, linen has a fine luster. It possesses a healthy stain resistance but wrinkles if you even look at it funny. Therefore, the style of linen is wrinkled. Often, style follows the inherent nature of the material.

Where to Use It: Linen is super as a table covering. Its lighter hand and casual nature relate to spring and summer. Use it to add a little magic to summer table settings or as a casually elegant unstructured window treatment on a decorative rod. See more of this colorful home, featured in HGTV Magazine

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