Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

I’ve had fabric on my brain lately, as I just ordered window treatments for my home office (yay!), and I’ve been selecting upholstery fabric for some new furniture pieces. We have lots of exciting things coming up! Anyway- I noticed many people are tackling similar projects right now…. window treatments, furniture upholstery, bedding updates, etc. As a designer, I feel like I can help shed some light on making educated fabric selections. There are so many options on the market, it can be tough to know what fabric is best for which project, how it will wear, and how to determine if it is durable. Click through for a new Designer Trick post, all about choosing fabric!

Intended Use

First- determine how you and your family will interact with the fabric and where it will be installed. Are you fabric shopping for a window treatment or for a new sofa? If you’re searching for upholstery fabric, consider how your family uses that particular piece of furniture… is it a decorative chair in a corner that hardly ever gets used, or will your kids or pets jump and wallow on it? There are no wrong answers! It’s best to be honest with yourself, so you can choose a fabric that fits your needs and will withstand the test of time. For example, if you fall into the “kids and pets will use this often- it HAS to be durable” category, a silk or velvet fabric wouldn’t be a great option. Velvet is prone to crushing, and silk has to be professionally cleaned. A performance fabric or something more durable, like leather, would be a better option.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -


All fabric manufacturers test their products, and one of those required tests is the rubs test. This is how many times a fabric can be rubbed (back and forth) before it begins to show visible wear. Manufacturers use a machine to test rubbing, abrasion, and the overall wear. Taking note of the double rubs count on a fabric is super helpful in understanding the durability. Upholstery weight fabric is typically 15,000 double rubs or higher. Anything above 25,000 – 30,000+ is amazing for durability, and is rated for commercial spaces at that point. The higher the rub count, the more durable a fabric is, and the more it can be used before you begin to see wear & tear. I always look for this number when selecting a fabric. It’s typically listed on the backside of swatches, online, or you can ask the retailer.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -


Material plays a big role in fabric selection… what is the fabric constructed of? We need to know this because different materials have pros and cons (durability, cleanability, aesthetic, etc). Often times, the material is a blend. Blends are wonderful, because they can offer better durability or enhance the look and “hand” (which is the designer term for the feel & touch of the fabric). It’s important to research what material best fits your scenario. For example, if you prefer a casual home, linen is a beautiful drapery material. However, if wrinkles bother you, you wouldn’t be happy with linen, as it naturally creases and wrinkles. A linen blend might be a better option, or a different material altogether.

These days, engineered fabrics have come a long way. Have you heard of performance fabrics? I’m sure you’ve heard of brands like Crypton, Sunbrella, Bella Dura, Inside Out, etc. These companies have created fabrics that hold up better than your standard fabrics. You can spill wine (or other liquids) on these performance fabrics, and the liquid beads up. They’re often stain & fade resistant, and are highly cleanable. They’re a great choice if you’re looking for extreme durability.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

Cleaning & Care

When it comes to cleaning, it’s important to understand how to care for your fabric. This might also influence your decision to choose a specific fabric in the first place. If a fabric needs professionally cleaned, does that pose a problem for you? Would you prefer something you could easily toss into your washing machine? Is hand washing something you’re fine with? Would a wipeable performance fabric be your top choice? I’m typically attracted to low maintenance fabrics, or I strategically position the finicky fabrics in areas of my home that don’t see as much use. Should you spill something on your sofa or drapery, it’s important to have the appropriate cleaner on hand… some require water based agents only. Just be aware and prepared, because the time will come!

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

Design & Aesthetic

Lastly, once you determine what type of fabric best fits your situation, you can begin to narrow down your choices based on the fun part of the equation: color, pattern, and aesthetics. Do you like bold colors & playful patterns? Are you trying to make a statement? Are you into sophisticated and textural neutrals? This totally depends on your personal style and the overall feel of your home. I always recommend taking a swatch home before deciding (just like paint). Check it out in your home, compare it to existing pieces of furniture, and see how it interacts in your home.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -


What makes a good drapery fabric?

I’m partial to fabrics constructed of natural materials, when it comes to drapery- like linen and cotton. Blends are also nice, if you’re worried about wrinkling or durability. Sometimes linen will be mixed with a bit of polyester or cotton to combat that. Lighter weight fabric often works best- especially if you’re having a lining sewed in (which I always do).

Are there fabrics that aren’t optimal for upholstery projects?

Yes- you should choose an “upholstery weight” fabric. Upholstery fabric is typically heavier and more durable (again- think about the double rubs), as opposed to lightweight fabric that would be better suited for bedding or drapery.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

What are “natural” fabrics?

Fabrics made of linen, cotton, hemp, silk, cashmere, wool, jute, bamboo, mohair, and leather, are all natural fabrics. They’re derived from nature.

Is the rub count accurate, in terms of durability, and where do I find that information?

Yes- all fabric manufacturers test their fabric, and attach a rub count to the material. I’ve found this information to be very accurate, and I always check the rub count and grade before making my decision. This information can typically be found on the backside of the fabric swatch, online in the specifications section, or you can ask the retailer if you’re shopping in person.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

I’m working with an interior designer and the fabric choices that were presented to me are tiered- or have “grades” that influence the price. What is the difference and why are similar options more expensive?

Great question! This is standard when working with a designer, firm, or even when purchasing from a big box retailer (like Pottery Barn). The grades of fabric can represent many things: durability, desirability, color, quality, etc. As a designer or retailer, you’re able to offer an entire line of fabrics that typically have a letter attached to them, that reflects the grade. For example, a grade D fabric would be more expensive than a grade A. As a client, you really don’t have to worry about the grades, unless you’re sorting by price. I would encourage you to ask your designer more about the differences between the fabric options presented to you, and how they price out. Here’s an example (and a bit of a spoiler)… I just ordered a new sofa- I opted for a beautiful mohair fabric over a performance linen. Mohair was a higher grade because it was more durable, higher-end, and is often very desirable (in terms of design). Both are great fabrics, both are totally different, and one cost more to manufacturer- this is why it has a higher letter (G compared to B). The price tag reflects that, so as a consumer- I’ll pay more for the grade G mohair fabric than the grade B linen. Does that make sense? Basically, the grades help designers and retailers group fabrics by price.

Designer Trick : Choosing Fabric -

I hope this post was helpful! Pin it for later, if you think you’ll be choosing fabrics in the future. It might come in handy! If you have missed any of the posts in this series, fee free to catch up below! So far, in the Designer Trick series, I’ve covered the following:

I’d love to hear more topic ideas for future Designer Trick posts. Any ideas? These are fun for me- I always feel good when I share educational content. I’m officially signing off for the weekend, as I need to get store things finished- so we can launch!! I’m also looking forward to putting up our Christmas tree this weekend. If I can squeeze in some baking time, I’ll be a happy lady! I hope you have a wonderful day and lovely weekend ahead, my friends.

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  1. Thank you for the helpful info, Sarah. Could you also post about your favorite places to source fabric online? Would love to expand my typical searches.

    1. So happy it was helpful, Ale! I’d be happy to share some of my favorite online fabric resources: eBay, Calico Corners, Decorators Best, Fabricut, Etsy,… I list more in this post, as well!

  2. So many things to consider! I remember seeing the rub count on fabric swatches and wondering how big a difference 10,000 rubs would make? 🤣 #dork I love looking at fabric! I, of course, find it nearly impossible to decide. You know my “leave no stone unturned” search strategy. Also, my preferences are always in the higher grade section. Speaking of…mohair sofa?! Window treatments for your office?! I smell some secrets brewing!
    Have a lovely productive weekend! What are you hoping to bake? (Your g-ma’s sugar cookies?) I may try a practice pumpkin roll for fun. See you Monday!💜

    1. Lol!! That is totally an Emmett thing to do. He’s all about numbers, math, engineering, etc. I toured a textile factory with some other designers and the double rub abrasion testing machine is actually super fun to watch (if you want to see the machine in action)! Ohhh yes, I always end up gravitating toward the higher grades, and then I look at my budget and think, “Whhhyyyy?!” haha! Good fabric is expensive. Not too many secrets brewing… just a couple fun partnerships coming up in January! I’m working with Calico Corners for my office drapery- I figured if I got a head start, it would motivate us to hurry and finish the dining room, then jump to my office renovation. Ha! I ordered this beautiful sofa from Maiden Home, in MOHAIR, for our living room (because we’re shifting furniture around). I am SO excited. It has been pretty busy over here, but all fun things :) I think it’s too early for g-ma’s sugar cookies… I usually wait until December for those. I was thinking cookies of some sort though- maybe her fudge recipe or something. Happy pumpkin roll practicing- that will be fun & delicious!! Have an awesome weekend. xo

  3. Melanie T says:

    Great topic! My highest priority in choosing fabric for upholstery now is UV resistance. I have had to recover my rattan pieces in our 4 season porch and another wing chair and ottoman in another room due to fading. I replaced the covers for the rattan with Sunbrella, which has so far been a great choice. I love all of the large windows with south and west exposure in our home but I have learned to consider fabric content first when making choices for window treatments and furniture.

    1. Yes!! Such a great point, Melanie! UV resistance and anti-fade fabrics can be very helpful if your space gets a lot of direct sunlight (and for outdoor furniture, obviously). Sunbrella makes incredible products- that was a great choice for your covers. Some fabrics don’t do well in sunlight at all, so taking note of the material is super important. Excellent talking point, and thank you for sharing! Have a wonderful day :)

  4. Oh my goodness, I love that you posted this! Last night I found the most beautiful, durable upholstery fabric for my dining room chairs!! I actually think I may keep the dining set now that I found that fabric…it’s one step away from being put to the curb. Lol. I have a love hate relationship with this set, for various reasons, but the main one is the hideous fabric for the cushions. It’s neutral enough, but just not my thing and looks very dated. These tips are awesome: I have several pieces that need some reupholstering, and I love that you gave enough information that I’d feel more confident in making that jump to actually do it. Got any tips for leather? Or is that something you’d recommend a professional handle? As always, your post is timely, relevant and informative. Thank you for the tips Sarah!

    1. Really?! Perfect timing! I know about your love / hate relationship with your dining set. Lol! I feel like an upholstery update would really change the way you feel about it. Fabric can be so transformative. I’ve found leather to be fairly easy to upholster- as long as you’re not doing anything too detailed. I left our leather dining chairs to the professionals, because I wanted a double welt around each seat. Leather is super durable though- it’s an amazing upholstery choice :)

  5. Jordan Thomson says:

    What a timely post for me! I just found some great dining chairs on Facebook that need some new seat covers. I was kind of thinking black velvet, but thanks for steering me away from that, haha!

    1. Yay!! Congrats on your chairs, Jordan! If you’re into the velvet look, try finding a performance velvet, velvet blend, or something similar but more durable- like mohair. Performance velvets are amazing!

  6. Great post, Sarah! You mentioned you always line window treatments…is that for durability, drape or light control? Or another reason? And this may bear into another post since it’s not all about the fabric, but we have black out honeycomb blinds in our primary bedroom and of course, they’re not “fully” black out so I’m thinking about adding drapes to cover the light leaks. However, the window is not centered on the wall (ugh) and wall isn’t flat, as there’s a bump in that goes from the top of the bed wall to almost the window, if that makes sense. No idea why it’s there, but I would imagine they have a “good” reason. ;) Complicating matters is we’d like to use a more “sound proofing” fabric like velvet so the visual weight of drapes there would be noticeable. Anyway, are there specific tricks to mounting drapery hardware, as well as the actual drapes over uncentered windows. Another complicating issue is that the window goes all the way to the end of that wall then so it would allow very little room to have a drape “bunch” evenly on either side because the left side has a fair amount of wall space between the bump in and the window. Hope that’s not too confusing. I may have confused myself! As for other designer trick posts, this may be a weird one, but “how to google/Pinterest search” would be super helpful to me. Since I’m not a trained designer, I don’t necessarily know which key words would work best to narrow down the results, as well as show me more relevant links. Example “kitchens with space between ceiling and top of cabinets”, showed me all kinds of kitchens and on most, the cabinets went to the ceiling so um, not helpful! Anyway, that may be a difficult one to do. I’m giving you all the hard questions today. Sorry about that! Hope you have a great weekend and good luck w/ the holiday decorating & baking!

  7. Helpful, thank you! As for other topics: these may not be Designer Tricks, or useful for many people, but right now three things on my mind are: (1) choosing/ordering custom frameless mirrors for my bathroom (for various reasons this feels like the best option even though I know there are so many great ready-made choices), updating our garage (including epoxy floors…we think), and (3) changing our guest room into an office w/a sleeper sofa. Well, that last topic might be on many ppl’s minds these days. :)

  8. Great post! Very helpful information. I learned a couple of things about fabrics and the rub count. Pinning this post for sure! Sounds like you have plans going for your office…cannot wait to see! Have a great weekend. Looking forward to your new business!

    1. I love hearing that, Danna :) So far in my home office, the only thing I’ve designed is the window treatments (which are SO beautiful… can’t wait to see them installed!), but I’m hoping that will give me the motivation to start designing the built-in next. Haha! Hope you had the best weekend filled with great weather and relaxing! xo

  9. Emily Confer says:

    Loved this post! I’m very new to decorating and know nothing about fabric. I’m curious what the next steps are though. Do you just find a designer and give them the fabric and everything comes together? Forgive me if that’s a naïve question, I’m so new to this! Wanting to figure out curtains or drapes in our master and I have no idea where to start, let alone what the difference between curtains and drapes is.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Emily! I’m currently working on some drapery posts (as I’m in the process myself again), but in the meantime check out the following: What It’s Like To Work With An Interior Designer, that can shed some light on the overall process, if you’re working with a designer. You can also order custom window treatments yourself, if you know what you’re doing… hire a seamstress or workroom, provide the fabric, and give them exact specifications. Another route you can take is to order custom window treatments from a website or retailer- like Calico Corners or Blindsgalore. Hope this is helpful! xo