10 Best Materials for making upholstery

When you want to cover a piece of furniture in your house – anything from a bench, dining chair, couch, side chair, recliner, outdoor lounge seating, stool, bean bag – you can use any heavy-weight fabric which is up to some wear and tear; and there are so many for you to choose from in a fabric upholstery shop!

When choosing fabric/material for upholstery, a house will always be divided, as in my own personal experience. Each person will have a different opinion. But there are some upholstery materials which are ever favorites. Here is the list of these evergreen upholstery materials

Genuine Leather / Bonded leather

No one needs references for leather upholstered furniture. Long-lasting, beautifully elegant, classy – all adjectives are applied to furniture upholstered with leather. But it is very expensive – it can cost an arm and a leg for a fully leather upholstered furniture.

If you want to buy leather you will still be left confused – there are 25 different types of leather. You may also want to check out this post : How to buy good quality leather :15 questions to ask 

Bonded leather is the next best alternative if you want a similarly elegant and clean look but at lesser cost. Bonded leather is the choice of many people who want a durable material with the look of leather and has some elements of the real leather. It is made out of scrap pieces of leather which is shredded, mixed and then bonded with polyurethane to form this material, that looks like leather but is a lot affordable to the common man.

But you should be aware that it is as synthetic as they come. The treatments done on the material makes it as far as possible from leather as it could be. And most bonded leather upholstery last only for a few years and then they may start peeling or flaking. It is mostly unrepairable when it get damaged like this. Know more in detail about bonded leather here.

Vinyl/Faux leather

upholstery materials

Vinyl is a durable waterproof synthetic material that has undergone different types of coatings and treatments (to make them resistant to elements like water, fire, sun, mildew) and then given a fabric backing. This is the best material to upholster outdoor furniture – The water resistance and mold and mildew resistance make it ideal for rough and tough use and weather exposure.

Faux leather is a variation of vinyl fabric – it has been made to imitate the look of genuine leather. I suppose this is one of the most popular of all upholstery materials, because it is oh-so-cheap and so easy to maintain and can look a lot like leather at one glance. Read more on faux leather here.

Related post : Best waterproof fabrics  

Microfiber/ Ultra suede

Micorfiber, a synthetic fabric with a soft cropped pile is becoming one of the most popular fabric to make upholstery. The napped surface of microfiber fabric makes it look and feel luxurious and very modern; this, combined with qualities of durability and easy cleanability makes it a favorite as an upholstering material.

Suede is a soft velvety leather (made from the underside of the animal skin which s rubbed into this soft nap) and Ultra suede is the trade name of a material that imitates suede to a great extent with a super soft napped surface. It is actually a type of microfiber fabric made from polyester and polyurethane fibers to look almost exactly like suede. 

The feel, and look of suede are exactly imitated in ultra suede but the problems of suede are not. There are many advantages to this new fabric. It involves no animals in its making – this is the primary advantage for many who are concerned about animal rights. It is also more lightweight than real suede, and easy to maintain – you can even wash it in the washing machine. It can also be dried in the machine and it does not shrink in the wash, nor would it wrinkle much. It does not pill. Another advantage is that it is very supple and flexible. It is also a very durable fabric and very long-lasting.

Cotton fabrics – Cretonne, Chintz, Ticking & Canvas

upholstery material

There are more than 135 types of cotton fabrics but not all of them are used as upholstery fabrics.

If you are looking for a tightly woven long-lasting thick fabric that is inexpensive and also malleable and is breathable, canvas is the number one choice. Drill cloth is a plain canvas material that is very durable and tear-resistant.  It a favorite as an affordable upholstery fabric – though the plain looks are a deterrent for some. Know more about canvas here.

Cretonne is upholstery weight printed cotton/linen fabric. This fabric has floral prints and is usually used only for upholstery purposes. The prints may be only on one side or on both sides. The tight weave of this fabric resists dust and dirt from getting inside unlike medium and lightweight cotton fabrics.

Ticking is a tightly woven narrow-striped cotton fabric that is used to cover bed mattresses as well as upholstery. Tartar check fabrics are very much in demand because of the rustic homely feel they provide to a room. Homespun is a medium weight checkered cotton fabric – it is not thick but can be used with a backing – the cotton fabric is very affordable and has a nice feel. 

Cotton chintz fabric has a shine – the upholsterers call it a glaze. This is a special finish applied to cotton fabrics or a cotton/polyester fabric. The shiny smooth look has a special charm, but it is difficult to manage – it is a dry clean only fabric. If you clean it at home the glaze may be destroyed. Cotton chintz usually comes in beautiful patterns.


upholstery material

Brocade, Damask, Jacquard are all self patterned fabrics with geometrical or floral patterns woven as part of the fabric weave. If you like the subtly patterned rich look on your upholstery lookout for these. These fabrics look as if there is embroidery done on them.

Jacquard is the name of the weave of these fabrics and also the name of the fabric. The designs are woven on it and when light is reflected on the different threads there is a beautiful look. Damask is a reversible Jacquard fabric.  Brocade is a fabric with embossed designs – the designs look raised on the surface.  Golden or silver thread may be incorporated in the weave. These fabrics are available in Silk, cotton and linen fibers

Polyester Basketweave fabric

upholstery material

You can buy a heavyweight basketweave fabric made of synthetic polyester fibers if you want a very durable, very easily maintainable upholstery fabric. In this weave two or more threads are bundled together and then woven as one in the warp or weft, or both and this results in a very strong and durable woven fabric.

Olefin fabrics

These fabrics are made from plastic -i.e. plastic pellets are melted and then spun into yarn.

The fabric has many advantages which make it an ideal upholstery material. The most important attraction of this fabric is that it is sustainable as no natural resources are wasted in its manufacture; it is easy to maintain, somewhat stain resistant, easy to clean water-based stains, water resistant, lightweight and resists mildew. Lack of variety is a drawback but for outdoor furniture upholstery you can look at these fabrics. 

Velvet/Flocked fabrics

upholstered fabric

Velvet is a rich-looking fabric with a nice comfy pile. You need to choose Upholstery velvet, not dressmaking velvet. Dressmaking velvets made of cotton fibers are weak and thin. But synthetic velvets are strong enough for covering furniture. It can be made of polyester, acrylic, nylon or olefin, or a blend of these fabrics.

Synthetic upholstery weight velvets are colorfast, resists color fading, durable, stain-resistant, and abrasion-resistant. The soft smooth look and feel of this fabric (velvety) give the upholstery a luxurious look. Devore velvet (burnt out velvet) is another favorite velvet for covering upholstery, especially for cushion covers because of the beautiful texture it has. 

Flocked Fabrics have designs made out of small pile fibers. The synthetic fibers that make this pile are attached to a fabric backing. These are very popular as upholstery fabrics.

The disadvantage of these fabrics is that they collect dust inside their soft pile and you may find it difficult to remove. Flocked fabrics may lose its pile if you use too much abrasion to clean or even with wear and tear. You can use a soft brush attachment on your vacuum to carefully (at low speed) take out dust on a regular basis.

Rough textured natural fabrics – Burlap/ Haitian cotton/ Dupioni silk

upholstery material

If you want natural fabrics, with a rough and casual vibe, these are good choices.

Burlap is a coarse fabric made from jute, hemp, or flax yarn

Haitian cotton is a rough and tough 100% cotton fabric made of thick irregular yarn – resulting in a fabric that looks very uneven and natural. The rustic look of this cotton fabric has many takers for making upholstery. It is not easy to clean.

Dupioni silk -If you want silk as your upholstery fabric you can go in for Dupioni silk. It is a beautiful silk fabric with a slightly rough texture because of the irregularities in the weave. Silk is difficult to maintain, but for some it is the ultimate in luxury fabrics. 

Linen wrinkles a lot but there is a special charm to linen fabric – it looks classy and elegant. There may be thick slubs (extra thick yarns) along its weave that gives it a rough uneven handspun look. Because linen is anti-static, it does not attract dust. But it is not easy to maintain, stains quite fast and will show wear and tear quite easily. 

Treated fabrics

If you want an upholstery fabric that repels water and oil-based stains, dust and dirt buildup, soiling, and resists spills, and makes it very easy to clean, you can go for fabrics that have been given special coatings/treatments. 

Fabric can be given stain repellent coatings like Teflon finish/scotchguard which forms a shield over the surface of the fabric that will protect the fabric from stains, repells water spills from absorbing (the water will just bead up), and makes the material easier to clean. Then there is an antimicrobial finish that inhibits the growth of micro-organisms. An acrylic backing can be given to fabrics that will make them impenetrable and prevent them from fraying.

You can just wipe these fabrics to clean them. (These fabrics are not to be dry cleaned).

Crypton is a name for a patented technology for the treatment of fabric to prevent it from becoming stained and to resist and inhibit the growth of bacteria. It is commonly used in the upholstery industry. Wikipedia

Related posts : Different kinds of fabric finishes; Names of different fabric patterns and prints; How to clean fabric upholsteryBest fabrics for curtains ; Best fabrics with texture; Best shiny fabrics; waterproof fabrics.; Sunprotective fabrics

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