Selecting Fabrics for Decoration
When choosing a fabric (also know as textiles) for decorating purposes, one of the first things to consider is its suitability. You may need to choose fabrics for furniture upholstery, wall treatments, beds linens, window coverings, cushions, bed coverings. Fabrics can add warmth and color and ambiance to a room while bringing in different patterns and textures.
- Batiks are made using a wax-resistant dye technique that originated in Java. To make batik, fabric is painted or stamped with melted wax. The fabric is immersed in a dye bath and the waxed areas resist the dye. the wax is removed using heat, typically from an iron. Batiks have very Eastern, casual look that goes well with bamboo and rattan furniture. The colors are usually strong and deep, primary or earthy, and can evoke the feeling of a bungalow in Bali. batiks are traditionally thinner fabrics, such as cotton or silk, that are great for throw pillows, bedspreads, or unlined curtains blowing in the breeze. These fabrics are not generally strong enough for upholstery. The batik effect is also replicated by machine; this can be done on heavier fabrics suitable for upholstery.
- Brocade has a raised pattern, often floral, woven into the background fabric, typically silk. Early brocades were made in China. Persia, now Iran, has a long history of making beautiful silk brocades, often with gold and silver threads. Brocade was particularly popular in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europe in the grandest of situations- in palaces and royal courts. Brocade was originally hand-embroidered, but is now almost always machine-made using a jacquard loom attachment, which gives it the look of hand embroidery. It is very elegant, special, and a rather fancy fabric. You might find brocade on curtains, valances, table skirts, a fancy bed canopy, or on a fine French chair. It is not suitable for constant wear and tear.
- Burlap is a coarse, loosely woven fabric usually made from jute or hemp. It is very basic; the stuff sacks are made of. It is very basic; the stuff sacks are made of. It is used in the construction of upholstery to cover the springs of a piece of furniture. Burlap can add great texture when it is applied to a surface-stretched over a simple wood table, for example-and painted. Burlap is also printed or painted to be a primary fabric. It has a rustic look.
- Calico is a plain-woven cotton fabric often printed with a small-scale floral design. The word comes from Calicut, a city in southwestern India from where calico was originally exported. Calico has a simple charm suitable for a country house. You could use it on a bedspread, an upholstered headboard, or a bed skirt. It can also be used for curtains-windowsill-length calico curtains could go in a country kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom.
- Chenille is an elegant and stylish woven fabric made from silk, cotton, rayon, or wool yarn that has protruding pile on all sides. Chenille is one of the best upholstery fabrics as it feels good and is durable. The word “chenille” is French for “caterpillar”, which is an apt description of the yarn. It is an all-around great fabric that goes with a wide variety of looks and can be dressed up or dressed down. Banquettes, chairs, and sofas can all be upholstered in chenille.
- Chintz is a cotton fabric that originated in India in the 1600s. The name is derived from the Hindi word “chint”, meaning “spotted”. Originally used in eighteenth-century English and European houses, it also found great favor in the U.S. In the 1980s there was a chintz craze-it was being used everywhere, from beds to sofas to lampshades, and all at once. These days, it is still widely used, but with greater moderation. The fabric often has a printed floral design but can also be a solid color. It is almost always glazed, which protects it from dirt and gives it a shine. For pattern and color, in a room with a classic look, there is nothing prettier than a printed chintz. It can be used for almost anything: curtains, upholstered furniture, pillows, bedspreads, and bedskirts. Solid chintz is often used as a line of color to trim lampshades, bedskirts, tablecloths, and curtains. Chintz can used for upholstered walls or paperbacked and hung as wall covering. The fabric can be either hand-blocked or machine printed; hand-blocked is more expensive. Chintz will eventually lose its glaze from wear and cleaning, but nothing is nicer than an old faded chintz. Vintage chintz can be through antique textile dealers.
- Corduroy is a heavy fabric with vertical ribs or cut pile. It is commonly used for clothing but is also a great upholstery fabric. The ribs add an interesting design element and texture, and the fabric is soft and durable. The ribs can vary in width from narrow to quite wide. You might use corduroy with wide ribs on a sofa in a traditional library. Corduroy can also be used successfully in a contemporary setting.
- Crewelwork refers to cotton or linen fabric embroidered with wool, typically in floral patterns. The word comes from the late Middle English word crule, meaning “yarn”. Its origins are English dating approximately the early seventeenth century. The embroidered design does not cover the entire fabric, so the cotton or linen background will show through. Crewelwork can be used for upholstery, curtains, or as a bedspread. Since the embroidery work generally creates a large-scale pattern, you would not want to obscure the pattern with tufting or channeling in upholstery. You might also consider using crewelwork on a throw pillow or as a wall hanging. It is still handmade today, and if you are interested in doing crafts at home, there are kits for making crewelwork. Also, there are some beautiful antique pieces of crewelwork.
- Damask is a woven fabric with pattern that is generally matte against a shiny background. It is screated using a jacquard loom attachment. The pattern and the background are often the same color, but have different weaves. The name comes from the city of Damascus, Syria, where the fabric was first made. It is traditionally made from silk, but is now found in cotton, linen, rayon, or a combination of fibers. It is elegant, formal, and classic. Damask works well for lined curtains and for upholstery. As with brocade, you use damask in a formal room that does not get a lot of wear and tear.
- Gingham is a lightweight cotton with a pattern woven into the fabric but is also found in stripes and plaid. It has an informal country look and can be used for kitchen curtains and, of course, for tablecloths. Loose seat cushions on a wooden chair can be made from gingham. It also works for upholstery, a headboard, or throw pillows.
- Hand-block prints are made with the centuries-old technique of printing fabric with wooden blocks. Each color in the design requires a separate woodblock. The vertical repeat can be any size on a hand-block print, unlike fabrics printed by machine. Hand-blocking is very time consuming; therefore fabric made this way is generally more expensive than prints produced by machine. Printing by hand shows imperfections and inconsistencies that add to the unique quality of each piece of cloth. The tone and depth of the dye will vary depending on how hard the printer presses down, and there will always be slight variations as the design is repeated along the length of the fabric. If budget allows, these fabrics are works of art.
- Horsehair cloth is a strong fabric that is woven with horsehair filler and a cotton or linen warp. In French it is called le “crin”, which means “horsehair”. Crinoline used for women’s petticoats in the nineteenth century originally made with horsehair, and horsehair is still used today as padding for clothing as well as in upholstery. Horsehair cloth for decorating is either a solid color, striped, or patterned with a small motif. Horsehair cloth is very chic, stylish, and durable. It comes in a narrow width so multiple seams are often required when using it for upholstery. Unlike chenille, it is not soft and cozy but rather stiff and formal. Upholstered on a bench or the seat of a chair it looks great- you might cover the seat of a settee with horsehair. You would not use it for curtains or anywhere fabric needs to drape well.
- Lace is an ornamental openwork fabric made originally from threads that are looped, knotted, and twisted by hand using tools such as needles, bobbins, and bones. Starting in the late eighteenth century to early nineteenth century lace also was made by machine. Belgium and Italy are both known for their early contributions to the history of lace starting in about the fifteenth century. Lace was originally made as a trimming for clothing and later for decorative items such as curtains and tablecloths. Early lace was made from linen, then cotton was used, and now it is made with both natural and synthetic fibers. It can be incredibly delicate, or it can be heavier, made with thicker threads. Lace makes beautiful sheer curtains and table skirts. It has a feminine, delicate look.
- Leather is an animal skin that has been tanned. Though not technically a fabric, it can be used to upholster anything from sofas to screens. The process of making leather involves curing, then tanning the animal hide, which softens and preserves it. Leather can also be used as a wall and floor covering, as well as to cover desktops and for bookbinding. It can be embossed and painted. A leather chair is synonymous with a traditional library. Upholstered leather furniture is often finished with a nail head trim. With leather, you would not use gimp, which is a braided trimming used as an alternative to a nail head trim, because they are two very different looks. Upholstered leather can be tufted or buttoned.
- Mohair is a woven fabric made from the hair of the angora goat. The world mohair is thought to be derived from the Arabic world “mukhayyar”, meaning “chosen”. The fiber from the angora goat has been used by people for thousands of years. Mohair is often combined with cotton or linen and is thick and durable and can be expected t wear well. Mohair is plush and dyes easily to deep colors. It is used for upholstery on sofas and chair seats and can be dressed up or dressed down. Mohair velvet was used on old movie theater seats.
- Moire is a watered effect created by pressing fabric through heated rollers making a wavelike pattern. It has a formal and rather fancy look.. Moire is most often on silk, but can also be on cotton or rayon. Fabric with the moire effect is used for upholstery or for lined curtains as well as for soft goods such a as pillows and table skirts.
- Muslin is a very basic cotton fabric with a plain weave that is sometimes printed or dyed. The name comes from Mosul, a town in northern Iraq where the fabric was originally made. Muslim has a simple, clean look. It is what upholsterers put under the primary fabric of a chair or sofa to contain the filling. Muslin is lightweight and can be used for slipcovers and soft goods such as a bedspread, bedskirt, throw pillow, or table skirt. Simple muslin curtains or a window shade suit a country house or a pared-down setting very well.
- Paisley is a design of swirling and colorful abstract shapes. It is believed to have originated centuries ago in northern India from the tree of life motif. The design was exported and eventually reproduced outside India. The name paisley comes from a city in the southwest of Scotland where weavers made woolen shawls called paisleys, with the distinctive pattern woven into them. The paisley design can be printed on or woven into a fabric and is seen in many color combinations. Brightly colored paisley was particularly popular in the psychedelic 1960s and ’70s. The paisley design adds a great pattern and color to a room.
- Palampores are hand-painted or printed panels of fabric often with the tree of life motif. They came from India and the name palampore is thought to be an English twist on the Hindi word “pa langposh”, meaning “bed cover”. They became popular in England and Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The palampore is thought to be the precursor to chintz, with its floral prints. The design and colors of palampores are exquisite, and the scale of the design is large. In general, a large-scale print should be reserved for curtains of a certain size, wall hangings, or bedspreads-places with one flat plane where the whole pattern can be seen. The pattern will be lost if the fabric is used on smaller items. Antique palampores make wonderful wall hangings.
- Satin is one of the basic weaves and produces a fabric that is smooth and glossy on one side and dull on the other. Satin is typically made with silk and was first developed in China centuries ago. It is also made with cotton, linen, or synthetic yarns, which run across the width of the fabric to make it stronger. The filling yarn skips up to ten or more warp yarns, which run the length of the fabric, thus creating a smooth appearance. The shine gives satin an opulent, fancy look. It can be used in in a formal situation for curtains, but you wouldn’t use it where it will get a lot of wear and tear. Satin, which is glossy like satin and constructed with a similar weave, is made of cotton. satin is often used as a lining material for curtains. Besides the satin weave, the other basic fabric weaves are taffeta and twill.
- Taffeta is a basic weave of fabric where each filling yarn passes alternately under and over each of the warp yarns, which run the length of the fabric, producing a crisp simple weave. Taffeta is often made with silk and has a lustrous texture. The name taffeta is derived from the Persian word “taftah”, meaning “to twist” or “woven”. One thinks of taffeta bows on little girls’ dresses. It is a luxurious fabric with a certain stiffness that can drape beautifully. Taffeta is used for both lined and unlined curtains, table skirts, and throw pillows. Besides taffeta, the other basic fabric weaves are twill and satin.
- Tapestry has a ribbed surface with a design, often pictorial, that is used for wall hangings or as an upholstery fabric. Technically, tapestry is hand-woven, but today there are machine-made tapestries, which are very useful for upholstery. Centuries, tapestries were one of the only alternatives, besides a mural, to decorating a wall. In drafty medieval castles, they were both decorative and helped with insulation. In the fourteenth century, tapestries were made in Arras, French Flanders, and later in Tournai, Belgium. Gobelins, Beauvais, and Aubusson were ateliers in France that produced many tapestries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tapestry fabric is durable, tough, and stylish. It has a heavy look. The scale of the design in today’s machine-made tapestry is much smaller than the big handmade pictorial tapestries so popular in the past. Tapestry fabric can be used widely. It is great on upholstery such as sofas as well as on smaller pieces and throw pillows.
- Toiles are cotton or linen fabrics often with bucolic scenes, figures, and landscapes printed on them. Toile was first made in India and imported to France in the late seventeenth century; those prints were called Toiles d’Indy. In the late eighteenth century, a Bavarian, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf, sarted manufacturing toiles in Jouy, a town near Versailles, that were similar to the Indian prints. Toile de Jouy became instantly popular, and those prints are still reproduced widely today. Toile prints are most often executed in basic colors such as black, green, blue, deep yellow, and red on a white or off-white ground. Some of the prints record historic events, such as the discovery of Pompeii. In the 1920s a toile was printed featuring Charles Limdbergh and hid first solo flight from New York to Paris. Toile has a cozy, old-fashioned, French country look and can be used for everything from wall covering to upholstery curtains, to bedskirts and tablecloths. It lends itself to smaller rooms and is particularly great in a bedroom with eaves and sloping walls. An entire bedroom can be covered with a toile print from wallpaper to pillow shams and upholstery for a very cozy, stylish look.
- Twill is a basic fabric weave where the filling yarn that runs the width of the fabric goes over and under two or more warp yarns that runs the length of the fabric. This creates a diagonal pattern. Twill fabric can also have a herringbone pattern. Any fiber can be used for a twill weave. Denim is a particularly common twill weave. A twill weave is soft and durable. The other basic fabric weaves are taffeta and satin.
- Velvet has a soft pile on one side created by loops in the warp yarns, which run the length of the fabric. Velvet can be made from silk, cotton, rayon, linen, and mohair, among other fibers. It can have crushed pile or be embossed. It can have stripes or a pattern. Silk velvet is very precious, dressy, luxurious, and a bit fragile. It can be used for upholstery or even as the fabric on a stretched lampshade. Linen velvet has a ribbed texture, is less expensive than silk velvet, and is a good all around choice that you can dress up or dress down. Cotton velvet doesn’t look particularly dressy and is not as distinctive as silk or linen velvet. Mohair velvet is known to be durable and was used on old movie theater seats. All types of velvet are great for use on upholstery, curtains, table skirts, and throws pillows. Velvet has a luxurious look with rich colors. There’s nothing more luxurious than chocolate-brown silk velvet!
- Cotton comes from the white fluffy fibers inside the cotton boll, which is the pod also containing the seeds of the cotton plant. The word cotton comes from the Arabic “qutum”. The ancient Egyptians were known to have worn cotton as early as 2500 BC, and there is evidence that cotton was grown in India before that. When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, the process of separating the plant seeds from the fiber was made about fifty times faster, and the production of cotton became a big industry. Cotton is the most widely used textile fiber today; it is lightweight, easy to wash, and used to make everything from jeans to the best chintz prints.
- Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant, and has been produced for thousands of years. When the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs were opened, explorers found the mummies wrapped in linen that was remarkably good shape. To make linen, the flax plant is pulled from the ground and taken through a multi step process to extract the fiber from the rest of the plant material. The flax seeds are used to make linseed oil, which is used in paints and linoleum, among other things. Linen holds dye well and gets softer with washing.
- Silk, made from the cocoons of the silkworm, was first cultivated in China between 3000 and 2500 BC, and for more than a thousand years the Chinese kept its production a tightly guarded secret. Around 300 AD silk was first produced in India, then in about 550 AD two monks are said to have brought silkworn eggs to Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s court, subsequently establishing the silk trade in the Middle East. Sericulture is the name for the production of cultivated silk, which begins with the hatching of a silkworn. The worm eats mulberry leaves until it matures and begins to spin a cocoon for metamorphosis. The cocoons are heated to kill the worms and stop the metamorphosis process. They are then soaked in near-boiling water to loosen the filament. Once loose, the filament is wound onto a spool and twisted with other filaments to make a silk yarn. One filament can be up to nearly a half-mile long. Raw silk has not been processed to remove the coating of sericin, which is a naturally occurring compound protecting the silk filament. Raw silk has a rougher texture than silk that has been processed. All silk, however, has a lustrous texture and can be dyed rich and beautiful colors. It is used to make the finest textiles from velvet to brocade to taffeta and also fabrics for everyday use such as long underwear.
- Wool is technically the hair from sheep, camel, angora goat (called mohair), llama, alpaca, or Kashmir goat; but the word wool is usually understood to mean fiber from sheep. Sheep have been bred for their wool for thousands of years. After sheep are shorn, the wool is washed to remove wool grease, also known as lanolin, which is used in cosmetic products, and suint, which is the dried sheep sweat. The wool is then spun into thread. Wool is naturally flame-retardant, warm, and absorbent so it can be beautifully dyed. Many rugs and upholstery fabrics are made with wool as it has great warmth and texture. Wool ages well, and indeed antique wool rugs are thought to improve with time.
- Acetate is made from cellulose, which is the primary building block of plants. In 1905 the Swiss brothers Camille and Henry Dreyfus developed a commercial process to make cellulose acetate, which was used in celluloid plastics and for movie film.. About ten years later, acetate was developed into a fiber that could used to make textiles; it was developed shortly after rayon, which was the first synthetic fiber to be produced in the United States by Celanese Corporation. Acetate fibers dye well, blend easily with other fibers, and drape well. The fiber can be made to be very soft or to have a crisp feel.
- Acrylic is a versatile group of synthetic fibers made from a polymer of acrylonitrile and one or more other components. Acrylic was first mass-produced in 1950 by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. It is resistant to stains, mildew, and fungus, as well as wrinkles. It is easily blended with other fibers and is used in a wide variety of textiles.
- Nylon is a widely used synthetic fiber that was first commercially produced in 1939 by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. It is a very strong fiber that resists shrinking, which is why it works so well for women’s stockings and bathing suits. It also is widely used for household textiles, often blended with other fibers. Many wall-to-wall carpets are made with nylon. A consideration with nylon is that it does not hold up to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
- Polyester is a fiber made from mixing alcohols and carboxyl acids. First produced in the United States in the early 1950s by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, polyester doesn’t wrinkle, is inexpensive, and is stronger than natural fiber. Cotton, wool, and rayon are often blended with polyester in fabrics for household use. Polyester can sometimes have a sheen, but doesn’t always. There are many attractive fabrics with polyester contents, which is something to consider in rooms that will get a lot of wear and tear.
- Rayon is made from cellulose, which is the primary building block of plants. Produced in 1910 by the American Viscose Company, it was the first synthetic fiber made. There are a number of types of rayon, but the most common is viscose rayon. To make viscose rayon, wood chips are treated until they turn into a thick liquid, which is then formed into fibers. Rayon is extremely versatile and can be made to feel like cotton, silk, wool, or linen. It drapes well, and is very absorbent so it dyes well. It is often blended with cotton, linen, or wool. It shrinks and stretches sometimes more than cotton does, so fabrics with sometimes more than cotton does, so fabrics with rayon should be dry cleaned unless they have been specifically treated to withstand laundering.
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