Nothing has a greater effect on the look of upholstered furniture than the fabric. It's the most visible indication of fashion and quality. It's also the part of an upholstered piece to show soil and wear fastest.

So how do you select a fabric that has the style, durability and feel that you want? It's all in knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask. First, I'll point out some basic decorating and shopping considerations, and then we'll look at the differences between fabric types.

Things To Consider When Selecting A Fabric

Style - First, the fabric should be appropriate to the style and character of the piece it is covering. A traditional frame will usually look best with a more traditional fabric style. Second, the scale of the pattern should be appropriate to the room size. As a rule, large repeating patterns look better in larger rooms. Also consider whether the fabric color is warm or cool, and be sure it's the right "mood" for the room the furniture is going into.

Color - Color is probably the number one reason people select certain fabrics. But certain color fabrics may not be the best choice for durability and stain resistance. If you have small children, you're probably better off choosing a color that won't show dirt easily.

Durability - Will the furniture be in an area of the house that receives the heaviest traffic? Pieces subject to daily heavy wear need to be covered in tough, durable, tightly woven fabrics. Generally, fabrics that have their pattern "woven in" will wear better than printed fabrics.

Thread Count - The higher the thread count, the more tightly woven the fabric... and the better it will wear.

Fade Resistance - Will your furniture be exposed to constant direct sunlight? To reduce the chance of fading, make sure your choices include fabrics that are sunlight resistant.

Cotton -This natural fiber provides good resistance to wear, fading and pilling, but is less resistant to soiling and wrinkling. Surface treatments and blending with other fibers often compensate for these weaknesses. Durability and use depend on the weave and finish. For example, damask weaves are formal; canvas weaves such as duck and sailcloth are more casual and durable.

Linen - A great, fresh look. Best suited for formal living rooms or adult areas because it soils and wrinkles easily. While it won't withstand heavy wear, linen does resist pilling and fading.

Silk -This beautiful, delicate fabric is typically used in formal areas but it can be very strong when backed with another fabric for durability.

Wool - Sturdy and durable, wool and wool blends offer good resistance to pilling, fading, wrinkling, and soil. Generally, wool is blended with a synthetic fiber to make it easier to clean.

Acetate - Developed as imitation silk, acetate resists mildew, pilling and shrinking. On the other hand, it offers good resistance to soil and tends to wear, wrinkle, and fade in the sun. Not a good choice for furniture that will get tough, everyday use.

Acrylic - Developed as imitation wool, and resists wear, wrinkling, soiling and fading. Low-quality acrylic may tend to pill excessively in high-wear situations. Better-quality acrylics are manufactured to resist pilling.

Microfiber - A term used to describe a new category of upholstery fabrics with a velvety, suede-like surface. Made from ultra fine polyester fibers, Microfiber fabrics are durable and pleasant to the touch. An excellent value, durability and clean ability.

Nylon - Rarely used alone, nylon is usually blended with other fibers to make it one of the strongest upholstery fabrics. Nylon is very resilient; in a blend, it helps eliminate the crushing of napped fabrics such as velvet. It doesn't readily soil or wrinkle, but it does tend to fade and pill.

Polyester - Rarely used alone in upholstery, polyester is blended with other fibers to add wrinkle resistance, eliminate crushing and reduce fading.

Regardless of color, fiber, thread count or grade, upholstery fabrics should always be chosen to serve your needs, both fashionable and practical. There are countless choices out there, and I carry most of them in the Robert Allen Upholstery Fabric line. I always order several sample memo of the fabric choices for my clients so they can live with them for a few days. Makes all the difference in the decision making process!

Most important, be sure to pick a fabric that you can truly LIVE with. And, if you grow tired of it in a few years, remember that virtually all upholstery can be re-covered!

Do you have a sofa or chair that needs re-covering? I'm offering 20% off Upholstery Fabric for the entire month of September! Call 925.862.9064 to see how much you can save!