Fabric Fantasies In Your Home – Traditional furniture upholstery can be a mine of pitfalls for the amateur. Furnishing fabrics are expensive and mistakes can quickly swallow up your budget. Even the simplest type of upholstery involves fixing a covering fabric over a tightly stretched calico which itself covers padding of some kind and possibly the addition of springs.
The variety of furniture shapes and styles is almost endless. There are fully upholstered pieces – some with wooden arms, some with exposed timber frames, some with loose cushions, others with fixed cushions, or any combination of these. Some furniture pieces have shapes which create particular problems and awkward corners to work around.
Upholstery is a distinct craft, requiring special skills, knowledge, materials and tools. For a traditional upholstery project, a professional upholsterer is usually the best choice. However, if you are really interested in learning the craft, find out what courses are available in your local community.
Investing a little time learning the tricks of the trade will save you much time and trouble. You will find out the best materials to use, what tools are needed and where to buy them; and, most importantly, you’ll have ongoing instruction and support as you work your way through a project.
Decorating with fabric is a bit like painting a beautiful picture in your room. Instead of mixing colors on a canvas you create the effect you want with the colors and patterns of your fabrics. When it comes down to it, no-one but you will know about the hours you spent replacing the ‘insides’ of your chair, but they will certainly notice the color and style of the covers you have chosen.
Choosing the right fabric for the job and the room is crucial to a successful project, but the great variety of fabrics available can be daunting for the home decorator. The four natural fibers – cotton, wool, silk and linen – are all widely used in home furnishings:
– Cotton, which is mass produced and generally economical, is a popular choice for curtains, slipcovers and cushions;
– Wool is very hard-wearing, flame resistant, light and relatively waterproof. It is popular for furniture coverings;
– Silk is the glamour fabric but because of its relatively high cost is usually reserved for trimming, cushions or luxury pieces;
– Linen is one of the world’s oldest domestic fibers and because of its long-wearing qualities has always been a popular choice for home furnishings.
Many man-made or synthetic fibers are also available these days and are often blended with natural fibers. This reduces the fabric cost as well as taking advantage of the good wearing and washing qualities of polyester and viscose.
The choice of color and pattern for a particular covering project will be determined by a number of factors. Are you decorating a whole room or will your new cover have to fit in with existing pieces? Is your room big enough to cope with that large splashy floral or will it be overwhelmed? Do you already have a strong pattern in that room? Do you need to warm up a room with yellows, pinks and reds or do you need to cool it down with a blue or mauve?
Remember that colors can be affected by the light in a room, both natural and artificial. Before buying meters of fabric, take home a sample piece, drape it over your sofa or chair and leave it there for a day or two. Then you can judge the effect of the light in the room and how you think it will fit in with curtains, wallpaper and other colors and patterns in the room. Generally the larger your room the more you can get away with in color and pattern. There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule of thumb, it will help you to avoid decorating disasters.
Matching patterns where fabric pieces join can be a nightmare. If you are not experienced, or endowed with the patience of job, you are probably best to stick to plains or all-over small prints, which do not need matching. Stripes do need careful matching but provide their own easy-to- follow guidelines. Florals or medallion patterns are more difficult because the motif has to be centered on seats and backs, wasting a lot of fabric. Checks are the hardest of all, having to be matched in all directions at once. Check before you buy whether the fabric you like will present matching problems. Lay two lengths side by side as though they were joined, then move one slightly up or down. Now stand back and see the difference. You can do the same test if patterns are to meet ‘end-to-end’ or ‘side-to-end’.
Golden rules for choosing fabric
1. Be sure that the fabric you choose is suitable for the job you are doing. Don’t let your enthusiasm cloud your judgement.
2. Be sure your purchase is economically sound. Don’t overspend on areas that don’t warrant it but do buy the best you can afford, especially for high-use areas. If you have fallen for an incredibly expensive cushion fabric that you really can’t afford, perhaps you could use just a little of it as a feature and team it with a less expensive background fabric.
3. If you are going to sew soft furnishings at home, be sure that your sewing machine is up to the job. Remember, you may have to sew through four and five layers of fabric.
4. Make sure you check on wearability, stretch and colorfastness before you buy. Generally the tighter the weave, the less the fabric is likely to stretch out of shape.