A to Z of Interior Design: F is for…


n. Cloth, typically produced by weaving or knitting textile fibers.

Fabric means much more than cloth, in practical terms it refers to anything made of or covered with cloth, such as curtains, blinds, table cloths,napkins, towels, upholstered furniture, carpets,  rugs, runners, bed spreads, cushions and throw overs (phew… did I miss anything?).

For an Interior Designer it is essential to get the use of fabric right as it influences so much in a space, through its colour, pattern and texture. A room can be completely transformed just by changing the fabrics and nothing else.  Fabric also plays both a functional role in an interior environment as well as an aesthetic role. In order to ensure that a fabric performs to expectations, both aesthetics and functionality should be considered; does it need to be hard wearing? Will it stain easily? Will it block out enough light? Will it improve the acoustics of a space?

As an interior designer it is essential to be aware of the many different types of textiles available today and where they originated. It is also vital that the properties of each type of fabric are understood as this knowledge of suitability and application within an interior informs design decisions.

These are the main types and properties of textiles used within interior design:

Cotton is the most common type of fabric used throughout home furnishings.  It is used for bedding, window treatments, upholstery and accessories. It is hard wearing, can be ironed at a high temperature and is easy to wash. Some cotton fabrics crease heavily but mixing with a small percentage of synthetic fibres such as polyester helps to avoid this problem. Cotton is measured by using the thread count system. In general, the higher the thread count, the softer the fabric feels, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the sheets will last longer. Around 400 thread count is usual for hotel linens.

Silk is obtained most commonly from the cocoons of the larvae of the silk worm. Silk is a highly attractive fabric as it holds the most saturation of dye to produce vivid colours. Silk is easy to iron and drapes very well. Silk can fade in the sunlight but looks best used with interlining (for added fullness) which helps to avoid this. It is suitable for window treatments, lampshades, accessories, and can also be applied to walls as fabric panels. It can be used for occasional upholstery which will hardly be used, lampshades and cushions but is not hard wearing enough for general upholstery. Silk is a very luxurious fabric and looks particularly stunning when used for interlined curtains which are pooled on the floor (overlong) with silk tassel tiebacks or holdbacks to scoop the fabric back and complete the look. Their slightly creased look combined with their light reflecting properties sets them apart from all other fabrics.

Linen is made from flax fibres and can be woven into either very fine fabric or robust, heavyweight cloth; both of which are suitable for home furnishings. Linen has a crisp and textured feel which is attractive, but it can crease heavily. It can be washed and ironed at a high temperature. It is often used for curtains, blinds and upholstery. It is best mixed with a synthetic fibre such as viscose which gives the desired appearance of linen with added durability and less creasing.

Wool comes from the fleece of a sheep. It is then spun in to yarn to be knitted in to fabric. Wool is soft and comfortable and can be spun in to fine or very chunky yarns. It used widely for upholstery but can also be used for throws, curtains, blinds, and cushions. It is quite hard to wash but is very hard wearing and very crease resistant. It is most useful in creating a rustic or ‗chic country‘ look or, when using a fine wool such as Merino, as beautifully draping curtains in a contemporary interior scheme.

Felt is fabric which is made from wool by boiling pressing and bonding wool fibres. Felt is soft, takes dye very well and is available in many different colours. It is a particularly popular choice for interior accessories such as cushions.

Leather is the tanned hides or skins of various different animals, mainly cattle. Leather is a popular choice for upholstery as it is extremely durable and may last up to four or five times longer than fabric upholstery. However, unless it is very high quality, leather is not as soft as some fabric and requires a certain level of maintenance. Aniline, Nubuck and suede have little or no protective coating therefore require care and attention whereas protected leather is more durable. The protective coating can in some cases make the leather feel cold and a little artificial.  Before specifying leather within a design scheme, it is important to consider lifestyle as leather can be damaged through cat scratches, scuffs, rips and ink stains. Protection creams and repair kits can help to combat this although serious stains such as ink are impossible to remove. Suede is especially difficult to clean and every scuff mark is virtually indelible.

Polyester is a blend of naturally occurring chemicals such as Cutin mixed with synthetics. It is primarily used for bed sheets, curtains and blinds polyester fibres are used as cushion and pillow fillers. On its own Polyester has a less natural look than fabrics such as cotton and linen but compensates by creasing much less. It is therefore often used mixed with a natural fibre such as cotton which creates a fabric with a natural appearance yet with added crease resistance.

Rayon was the first man-made fabric ever produced. It is made from a mixture of natural and synthetic components and is also referred to as Viscose Rayon. It can be produced to imitate silk, wool, cotton or linen. Rayon has a high lustre and sheen and again is often mixed with natural fabrics.

Acetate is made from cellulose acetate and the production method is similar to that of viscose although different chemicals are added. It looks a lot like silk but has the advantage that it will not fade in sunlight. As it is a lightweight fabric it is best interlined when used for window treatments. Acetate is often added to cotton, silk and wool to create lustre, sheen and drape-ability.

Nylon is made from petroleum. It is durable, drapes well and is easy to wash. It is often blended with other fibres to add these qualities to the fabric. It is used within carpeting, upholstery, rugs, window treatments and bedspreads.

Velvet is a luxurious fabric which is soft and often has a high sheen. It is ideally made from silk, but recently synthetic fabrics are available in the form of polyester, nylon or viscose. It can also be made from cotton with a heavier pile but this does not have the lustre of silk or synthetic velvet. Velvet is particularly commonly used on upholstery (particularly successful on headboards) but can also be used for heavy curtains, throws and cushions. When ironing velvet it is important to iron in the direction of the pile. When used for upholstery the fabric should be used with its pile running in one direction only. Velvet is difficult to clean but can be dry cleaned if necessary.

Information kindly provided by The National Design Academy taken from the Professional Diploma in Interior Design.

1 Comment

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One response to “A to Z of Interior Design: F is for…

  1. I love using velvet fabric to re upholster some of my furniture items – but like you said the biggest issue with it – is it is so hard to clean. Especially if you use it with furniture as it’s impossible to get a chair dry cleaned!

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