How to choose upholstery fabric?

Designing, making or restoring home furnishings is the ultimate way to make your space your own. Get the results you want by choosing the right fabric for each task.

When choosing a fabric for your project, it's important to consider where how the item will be used, and where it will be placed in your home. These factors will help you choose a fabric you love, that will stand the test of time.

How a fabric wears?

The double rub test

The industry standard for testing fabric durability is the Martindale or "double rub" test. This test applies friction to the fabric in a controlled way, and measures how long it takes before the fabric starts to show wear.

Upholstery Fabrics Buying Guide

Double rub score

Intended use

Example pieces

Up to 10,000


Throw cushions

Decorative accents

10,000 to 15,000

Light domestic

Formal dining chairs

Bar stools

Bed headboards

15,000 to 25,000

General domestic


Pouffes and footstools

Beanbag covers

Over 25,000

Heavy duty domestic to industrial


Outdoor furniture

You can find a fabrics double rub score on the end of the bolt.

Upholstery Fabrics Buying Guide

What a fabric is made of?

Synthetic vs natural fibres

Whether fabric is synthetic or natural will have an effect on how it wears, looks, and feels.

  • Synthetic
    • These man-made fibres are generally strong and wear well.
    • They are easier to clean than most natural fibres.
    • Synthetic fibres are usually more affordable than natural ones.
    • As they are made of plastic they are not as environmentally friendly as natural fibres.
  • Natural
    • Natural fibres are more breathable and soft than synthetics so can be more comfortable to sit on, especially in warmer weather.
    • They usually have a more luxurious feel than synthetic fibres.
    • Many natural fibres are very absorbent. This means they take dyes very well and come in an array of vibrant colours, but it also means they can stain easily and be harder to clean.
    • They can be prone to fading, so should be used for pieces that will be positioned out of direct sunlight.
  • Blends
    • Many fabrics have a blend of natural and synthetic fibres. This combines the best qualities of each of the fibres.

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Upholstery Fabrics Buying Guide

Fabric Types

All of these fabrics come in a range of weights and treatments, so remember to look at the weave, feel the texture, and check the double-rub score on the end of the bolt to determine whether a particular choice is suitable for your project.

  • Chenille
    • Upholstery chenille is tightly woven, which gives it a plush, textural look, with a soft feel.
    • It can be made either from natural or synthetic fibres so it is available at a range of price points.
    • Use chenille to create an inviting casual look on larger pieces of furniture, or for decorative accents.
  • Cotton
    • Pure cotton is rarely used in upholstery as it needs to be blended with other fibres to give it durability and make it less susceptible to wrinkling, staining and fading.
    • Cotton holds dye well, so it comes in an array of beautiful colours.
    • It is also breathable and soft to the touch, so it makes extremely comfortable furniture.
    • Use heavier weight cotton for covering couches, chairs and other furniture, and lighter weight cotton for soft furnishings.
  • Faux Leather
    • Faux leather is cheaper than natural leather while retaining a similar look.
    • It is made of polyurethane, vinyl, or PVC. Of these three, polyurethane is the more environmentally friendly option as it will biodegrade.
    • Faux leather is easy to wipe down, so is great to use in spaces where spills and stains are likely to occur.
    • It can crack and peel if exposed to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, so use it for pieces that will be positioned out of the sun.
  • Jute
    • Jute is a natural fibre that has a rough, rustic look and feel.
    • It can be used for covering furniture, and is also used in various weaves and thicknesses to make rugs, table runners and other soft furnishings.
    • Use it in combination with wood, leather, and other similar materials to create a natural earthy atmosphere.
  • Leather
    • Made from animal hide, leather is a natural upholstery material.
    • It is prized for its soft, supple feel, and distinctive aroma.
    • If properly conditioned and cared for, leather is a very long lasting material, that will develop character as it ages.
  • Linen
    • Linen is a natural plant based fibre that is both strong and soft.
    • It is often blended with cotton. Linen gives cotton greater strength, and cotton gives linen greater flexibility.
    • While it may not have the extended durability of some synthetic fibres, linen is the longest wearing plant based fibre, and will stand up to moderate household use.
    • Linen has 'slubs' in its weave, which are slightly raised bumps made by the unevenness of the woven fibres. This creates a textured look, and works well in rustic and relaxed spaces.
  • Microfiber
    • Microfiber is a densely woven synthetic fiber with a suede look.
    • It has the benefits of synthetic fabrics, including being inexpensive, easy to clean, and fade resistant, while also being comfortable and soft.
    • Use microfiber fabric to create a modern casual look for couches, armchairs and chaise lounges.
  • Olefin
    • Olefin is a strong synthetic fibre that is colourfast, and resistant to stains, abrasion, and fading.
    • This tough fabric can withstand heavy use, and can be used for both indoor and outdoor furniture.
  • Silk
    • Silk is a natural fibre that can be spun and woven in a wide variety of ways to create fabrics as different as burlap, velvet, and brocade.
    • While it can feel luxurious and look beautiful, silk is not hard wearing. It is prone to staining, and is easily damaged by moisture, light, and abrasion. As such, it is better used for decorative accents and formal pieces.
  • Velvet
    • Velvet can be made from a range of natural and synthetic fibres.
    • It is soft to the touch, and gives a feeling of soft opulence.
    • The durability of velvet will vary according to the fibres from which it is made, so check its composition before you buy.
  • Wool
    • Wool can be woven in to a huge variety of weights and finishes from tweed to felt, jacquard, and twill. This makes it one of the most versatile natural fibres to upholster with.
    • Depending on its weave and finish, wool can be remarkably durable, and withstand moderate domestic use.
    • Wool can be somewhat difficult to maintain as it is not colourfast, needs to be dry cleaned, and can attract moths. Blending it with synthetic fibres can mitigate most of these problems.

Polyester, rayon, and nylon are commonly used in upholstery fabric blends. They reduce the cost of natural fabrics, and help make them more durable and stain resistant.

Once you know how a fabric will perform, and whether it's suitable for your space, you can have fun playing with all the colours, textures and prints available.

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Want to look at more Sewing & Quilting options?

Check out Spotlight's range of sewing & fabric ideas online, visit your local store or contact one of our experts for assistance.

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