Textile design is the creative and technical process by which thread or yarn fibers are woven together or interlaced to form a flexible, functional, and decorative cloth or fabric which is subsequently printed upon, dyed or otherwise adorned.
Furnishing fabrics include: upholstery fabrics, window furnishing (curtains, drapes, blinds), soft floor coverings, fabric wall coverings, and accessories such as cushions and throws.
One of the most important features of any design is the choice of the fabric and materials used to cover the upholstery, fabricate window coverings, and create the accent pieces within a space. The selections of these fabrics and materials can make for a visually successful space or one of total mediocrity.
The success of a room’s interior design critically depends on the selection of the quality of the materials for the application. Color, being one of the more recognizable traits, can present challenges when it comes to deciding where specific colors should be placed. Pattern, equally important to color, actually plays a more critical role when it comes to relaying a consistent style within a space. Then there are the less discernable qualities of fabrics, that if not recognized and understood, can lead to serious problems in the areas of appearance, upkeep and maintenance.
The” weight” of the fabric often became the key to its use. Heavily embellished wools with intricate and colorful threads would be used on upholstered pieces, while thinner linens and silks, often embroidered with silken accents, would hang from the windows.
The way the window covering was designed would dictate the type of fabric that was most appropriate. The curve of a piece of furniture, the size of its back and seat might also dictate the weight of the fabric and the size of its pattern. One quality of fabric that is rarely even discussed in today’s designs, except by knowledgeable and expert designers, is a quality called the “hand” of the fabric. The “hand” of a fabric refers to the way a piece of fabric feels against your skin. It is an important element when it comes time to decide what material should be placed on a large, comfy sofa or a small armed side chair. It also relates to the way the fabric feels between your fingers and your thumb. Interestingly enough, it plays to a combination of physical, physiological and psychological factors; not only how the fabric itself feels, but how it makes you feel, too!
Similarly, the “drape” of a fabric is key when it comes to selecting materials that would be considered for a window covering. When everyone was installing swags and jabots, a heavier, more substantial “drape” to the fabric, would give the swag and jabot more form, able to stand up to the curve of the swag and the folds of the jabot. Today, the “drape” of the fabric plays a key role when the design of a window treatment consists of two stationary panels, that simply frame a window. The question will then pertain to how will the selected fabric “fall.” If you want the panels to be more structured in appearance, the “drape” of the fabric should have more substance and body. If you want the panels to be more fluid, soft in appearance, or ethereal, the drape of the fabric chosen should also reflect those qualities.
If you know a few things about the types of fabrics before you get started you can choose with better confidence. Of course for truly great interior designing will have to rely on experienced, designers with good tastes and reputation.
UPHOLSTERY VS CURTAIN WEIGHT:
Furnishing fabrics are often marked with either UPH (upholstery weight) or CTN (curtain weight) - these are divided into 2 separate categories online. What do they mean?
You can generally use curtain fabrics for cushions also, some heavier cottons I would even say you could use for kitchen chairs etc as they can be spot cleaned but they will not last as long as a fabric that is designated upholstery.
Generally if you see a mix, you will be getting the best attributes of the fabrics listed rolled into one.
When selecting a curtain color, think about whether you want your window curtains to blend in with the decor or be a focal point for the living room. If you elect to have them play a more muted role, select curtains that are similar to the wall color or trim color of the space.
Natural Light: In or Out?
One of the first considerations for curtain fabric should be the amount of light the room gets and whether you want to let the light in or block it out? If you want to block out light, try a heavy fabric with a tight weave or a blackout curtain fabric, like the Jessica fabric collection.
Blackout Drapery Fabric
It’s also common to want your window treatments to provide some insulation against the cold. A heavier weight fabric with a tighter weave will be better at keeping the cold out than a sheer or open weave fabric. Blackout fabrics often feature insulating properties as well. You can up the insulation factor of any fabric by adding a flannel interlining to the back of the curtains. The interlining will also protect the fabric from UV rays of the sun and add more body.
UV Rays & Colorfastness
The sun’s rays can be really harsh on fabric. You don’t generally think about interior fabrics needing to be UV resistant, but curtains can see a lot of sunlight streaming through the windows. That’s why we recommend thinking about the colorfastness of the fabric you choose for curtains.
This isn’t an issue in every window, so you’ll want to think about your home, which direction the windows face and how much natural light they let in, and decide if this is a concern for you. In general, south-facing windows will see the most sunlight during the day.
If UV exposure is a concern, look for curtain fabrics with UV protective qualities. Solution-dyed and vat dyed fabrics will be the most colorfast and printed fabrics the least. However, you can always add a drapery lining to the back of the fabric to protect the decorative fabric itself from UV rays. Curtain lining is also great for making fabrics a little more opaque and for adding more body for fuller looking drapes.
abric Width & Repeat
Large-scale pattern Jennifer Adams Home Henley Henna Red
Especially when on a budget, it’s important to consider how many yards of a given fabric your curtain project will require. Fabrics with a thinner width or large repeats could mean you’ll need to do more seaming in drapery panels and order extra fabric to pattern match.
Typically, you want to use the length of the fabric as the length of the curtain so you might need to seam two or more panels together to get the appropriate width for your window. If your fabric has a pattern, note the pattern repeat. For the best looking shades you’ll want the patterns to match at the seam point, and a large pattern repeat can mean you’ll need to order extra fabric to get a good pattern match.
So keep in mind, when selecting fabrics for a design project, the color, pattern, weight, hand and drape, are all important traits that can make or break a room’s overall appearance as well as it comfort factor. And the quality of those fabrics is all too apparent in the overall success or failure of a space.
How to Choose the Best Upholstery Fabric for Your Sofa (or chair, chaise lounge, bed headboard)
First, consider how you live and who will use the piece - sofa/armchair? This will help guide you on the type of material to choose. You may love the look of a silk velvet, but it will quickly get destroyed in a house with kids or pets. Pieces in high-traffic areas, such as family or living rooms, will need durable fabrics and easy maintenance, while furniture that doesn't get as much wear and tear, such as a bedroom settee or headboard, can utilize any type of fabric.
A common mistake people make, is not considering how a fabric or leather may age over time. Check the label and ask questions at the showroom to find out about the material’s content and cleaning needs, then think about how much maintenance you’re prepared to do to protect your selection. How will it look in five years? Will you still love the leather as it develops a nice patina from everyday living? Will you vacuum the upholstery fabric regularly? Will you close the drapes when away or not using a room to avoid some of the fading that naturally occurs from exposure to sunlight?
The Best Upholstery Fabrics for Homes with Kids and Pets
Today’s engineered textiles look increasingly like their natural counterparts, but can withstand wear and tear much better. And many natural fabrics are nearly as durable. It all depends on what you choose.
There are plenty of upholstery materials that match good looks with durability. Homes with children and pets—and maybe red-wine lovers—consider the easy care of a faux suede or the durability of an indoor-outdoor fabric. Consider also slip-covered upholstery (popular with Asians); and distressed leather is great—you don’t have to worry about the occasional scuff or scratch. If you have a busy household, stay away from delicate or textured options, like silk, which could pull and aren’t as forgiving when it comes to stains.
How to Pick a Luxurious Upholstery Fabric
If messy children and pets aren’t a worry, then you can really flaunt your freedom and choose things like fluffy Tibetan wool or Belgian linen, Mulberry silks and the like. While linen is very durable, in lighter colors it doesn’t offer the level of stain resistance that a kid-friendly household might need and may not have a crisp, wrinkle-free look after a lot of lounging.
Consider the type of chair you are upholstering be it a chaise lounge or a wing chair. If you’re upholstering a curvaceous piece, stick to solid-colored fabrics. Patterns or textures with a distinctive direction may not upholster well. A pattern that looks great on a bolt of fabric may not look great once it is cut up and put back together on a sofa, particularly if it's a tricky, ornate shape. Take the size of the furniture into account, too. Consider larger pieces, such as a sofa, in a rich solid color or classic neutral so you won’t tire of it over time. Liven things up with smaller pieces—for instance, a great statement chair in a bolder shade or pattern. Think about the other furnishings in the room as well—especially the other upholstered pieces. You'll want to make sure the colors, textures, and patterns compliment each other
An easy way to be sure you’ll like an upholstery material on a certain chair, and like how it feels when you sit on it, is by going with something you see in the store. If you fall in love with a fabric that’s not shown on the floor, ask for a swatch, if a sample length is not possible, you can drape over a furnishing to get a better idea of how it will look. If you go with a custom option, make sure you see a large swatch of any patterned fabrics so you see the full motif and its complete color palette. A little due diligence will help you avoid any big disappointment when the piece arrives.
You're not limited to the fabrics in the store, especially if you have a regular expert upholsterer. Consider unconventional materials such as vintage blankets or kilim rugs for example. You might get a great conversational piece if you pair a bold choice of fabric on a traditional piece such as a wingback chair or camelback sofa.
Since the beginning of the Christian Era, the West imported silk from China and Persia. Under Justinian, the processing of this yarn came to Byzantium, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, a city with whom Venice had a strong trading relationship.
Venice had gained special privileges from Byzantium, such as the freedom of tax-free trading of all sorts of goods from the East. For this reason, it had the exclusive right to import luxury products such as spices, ivory and silk fabrics.
In addition to the trade of fine fabrics, local production of raw silk and its weaving later started, even if initially limited to simple patterns, without any embroidery.
Silk weaving techniques improved through time thanks to contact with other civilisations, mainly Chinese and Arabic, that had already been processing the fine yarn for centuries.
In particular, some fundamental processes for the production of clothes of gold were revealed to the local craftsmen by Antinope, an expert Greek weaver. He arrived in Venice with the court of the emperor Henry IV, who went there at the end of the XI century to venerate the relics of St. Mark’s body.
It is said that the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire fell in love with the noblewoman Polissena Michiel during his stay in Venice and he wanted to gift her with a beautiful silk and gold robe. For its realisation, he commissioned Antinope who, employing local artisans, taught them the technique.
Another important contribution dates back to 1269 when the Polo brothers returned to Venice from their first journey to China. From this country they brought back several goods and fabrics, introducing Venice to certain technical weaving solutions and the typical Chinese decorations with plants and animals.
During the 1300s, there was a change in the decorating style, which left behind the old patterns, very regular and symmetrical, and started experimenting with lively and realistic images, decorated with botanic elements. Traditional Chinese allegorical symbols were adopted, including the lotus flower and leaves, the peony and fantastic animals, together with those of Christian symbolism such as the calf, the peacock and the parakeet, with vegetable connecting elements.
Also, the numerous skilful weavers who went to the Laguna from Lucca, between 1307 and 1320, largely contributed to the development of the Venetian silk art, especially regarding velvet making, of which they were true masters.
At the end of the 14th century, Venice witnessed the rise of velvet becoming one of the most requested luxurious fabrics. In particular, there was a type of decorated velvet called “afigurado”, in which the decoration is characterised by strong chromatic combinations and oriental elements such as the jagged leaf or the crowned palm frond. Artists like Jacopo Bellini and Pisanello contributed to the creation of such decorations.
A typical Venetian speciality was the alto-basso or controtagliato: a velvet, generally of an intense scarlet red with a surface made of various levels of thickness, decorated with concentric roses alternated vertically and horizontally with heraldic crowns sustained by the junction of two twisted branches.
This velvet, which remained unchanged for four centuries, became the status symbol of the highest social and political classes; the stoles worn by senators and the state prosecutor were made with it.
In the Elizabethan era of history, levels of comfort significantly increased. Heavy curtains were draped over bedheads and around four poster beds to prevent drafts. Mantelpiece drapes were also very popular, and all types of draperies became more and more elaborate - even for windows. Tall windows were framed with window headings, deep swags and tails. These were often heavily trimmed, surrounded by intricate wooden cornices.
Upholstery fabrics for sofas started to catch on and became popular in great English houses. Upholstered settees were ordered so that multiple people could sit together in comfort, and this became the prototype for the modern-day sofa. Upholstery were then materials used in the craft of covering, padding, and stuffing seating and bedding. The earliest upholsterers, from early Egyptian times to the beginning of the Renaissance, nailed animal skins or dressed leather across a rigid framework. They slowly developed the craft to include cushions, padding, and pillows—stuffed with such materials as goose down feathers and horsehair.
The medieval upholsterer, who was primarily concerned with fabrics, made mattresses and hangings. In the 17th century beds were draped with sumptuous fabrics and ornate trimmings; as these beddings became less fashionable, chairs and sofas were in turn elaborately upholstered with velvet, silks, and needlework.
Springs, which permitted soft, bulky shapes, were first used by upholsterers in the 18th century; helical by the mid-19th century, they were later flattened for maximum resiliency. Upholstery techniques were revolutionized in the 20th century with the introduction of molded sponge rubber, dirt and liquid retardants, plywood, naugahyde, and synthetic fibres, which created new springing, cushioning, and covering materials.
At the same time, furnishing textiles underwent substantial changes, as well: during the 1600s, windows had a single curtain, usually made of saye, a typically English woollen fabric, very often green. Besides, cloths were laid on tables and upholstered chairs had covers made of leather, needlework or a “Turkey-work” woollen fabric, owing this name to its motifs, similar to Turkish carpets.
During the Elizabethan Era, to accomodate large Elizabethan skirts, the farthingale chair was introduced - a chair without arms with a piece of leather stretched across the back and nailed on each side. Elizabethan upholstering materials included: leather, brocade or embroidered cloth, and velvet trimmed with a heavy fringe. Stuffing could be anything from sawdust, grass or feathers, or deer, goat and horse hair.
Sofas still didn’t exist before now - seats for more than one person were usually benches that could be pushed against the wall.
Renaissance style (14th to 17th century)
Belive it or not, upholstery took a while to catch on - anything slightly comfortable was often disregarded and was felt to be effeminate. Jacobean furniture was still similar to Elizabethan, with a few adjustments along the way. Furniture was still made from oak, and blocky due to the carpenters using carpentry tools to make it.
Renaissance furniture was first produced in Italy during the 15th century. Trade brought wealth to Italy, and the growing bourgeoisie was able to afford better and bigger housing. Also, they significantly increased the demand for high-quality furniture.
The Italian style of furniture also spread to other parts of Europe. Craftsmen from other countries traveled to Italy to learn its form and techniques, and some Italian makers were invited to other European nations by the local courts. In many places, the designs were adapted to better suit the local taste and requirements.
In the 18th century, though, people preferred to protect their luxury upholstery fabrics and to uncover them only on special occasions, with tough and usually check-patterned covers. Window curtains became two for each window and were woollen, red or green, though the single curtain was reintroduced toward the end of the century. It was made of wool, a mixture of cotton and linen or, in the wealthiest houses, of damasked silk, and often had blue and white stripes.
With Charles II on the throne, the Puritan regime ended, and the decorative arts began to flourish in England. People were getting used to the comfort of upholstered furniture, and the first fully upholstered chair was built in 1705. This chair was referred to as a “sleeping chayre” - you could rest your head on either the sides or the back. Daybeds grew in popularity and custom cushions were everywhere.
Tapestry and fabric factories began to spring up in London and Paris, and the upholstery business began to boom.
Silk damask, wool moreen, elaborate embroidery were used more and more in upholstery. Cushions were made of horsehair with linen lining and down. Beds were one of the most upholstered pieces in the house: bedsteads were totally covered in soft fabrics such as velvet.
The age of the designer
By now, upholstery was very much integrated into the furniture-making process, and as comfort improved, the drop-in seat was invented. This meant that the seat could be upholstered in any fabric. Designers selected which colours and fabrics to use, which set the trends and colour palettes for the season. The Age of The Designer had begun.
Louis XVI’s chairs were upholstered in pastel blues, pinks, and yellows. Thomas Chippendale’s camelback sofas were some of the first to be completely upholstered, except for exposed legs. George Hepplewhite published a book to offer guidance in interior design, colour palettes, and how to arrange a room. His seats were overstuffed, finished with brass nailheads, and covered in fine haircloths and silk.
Throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the furniture industry flourished, and standards of workmanship improved. While prices were still extremely high and only available to nobility during the early history of upholstery, great craftsmen were honing their trade and creating entirely new pieces.
Victorian opulence reigned supreme in the 19th Century. Two major innovations brought about modern upholstery. The first was the steam powered engine, which provided cheap power to machine looms so that machine woven fabrics could be mass produced. The second was the steel coil spring, which revoultionised seat cushions.
Bold, Rococco revival styles were popular - rich, jewel-coloured upholstery such as velvet, was paired with gilded, painted, or black lacquer frames. Shiny silks, leather and brocades featured button tufting. Cornucopia-armed sofas often featured matching, upholstered round cushions on either end. Fringing and tassels were used with abandon.
The 19th century saw the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, with innovations like machine-woven fabrics, chemical dyes, and of much brighter colours on wallpapers and textiles. The birth of printed cotton, the “chintz”, meant a widespread of linings and curtains with floral patterns on a light-coloured ground. But this, as paintings prove, was the century of red velvet upholsteries, too.
And if in the 1930s the colours of interior textiles were soft, with no or only a simple pattern, from the 1960s the motifs of upholstery fabrics became outlandish and vividly coloured. From the Eighties, though, carpets and curtains began to disappear. The introduction of steel coil springs and other modernizations made higher-quality furniture possible for more people at a more affordable price.
And the Geffrye Museum has managed to sum all of this up… and even a lot more.
20th century style
Styles from Mission to Art Deco and Mid Century Modern were born. The invention of Nylon was a durable alternative to silk - resistant to normal wear and tear that affected more traditional upholstery. Other inventions, from bent steel to fiberglass to molded foam cores, revolutionised furniture design and brought about many of the modern designs in furniture we still see today.
As innovation in technology drives innovation, upholstery and furnishing fabrics become more sophisticated, beautiful, functional and durable.
Check out our full range of designer fabrics here.
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