Choosing an Upholstery Fabric

Choosing and Upholstery Fabric

Choosing the right fabric for your upholstery commission can be overwhelming. It can also be quite an investment so you certainly don’t want to make a mistake and end up with a fabric that is not durable or that doesn’t complement the aesthetics of the room. There are many factors to consider with this decision, so here is our guide to help you make the right choice!

This banquette seat was made bespoke and the fabric was chosen for its design and durability It has 100000 rub and has a stain repellent finish <br>Credit iDUpholstery


When thinking about fabric choice, one of the most important things to consider is how the item of furniture will be used on a daily basis. For example, a heavily used piece of furniture for such as a family sofa should be commissioned in a durable hardwearing fabric.

Durability is shown by the Martindale rub test. The Martindale abrasion rub test is a measurement of the durability of fabric according to the amount of times discs can oscillate sandpaper or wool across the fabric before it starts to show distress. The rub test score is internationally recognised and measures the durability of upholstery fabric for general domestic or contract use.

Fabric is categorised by a numerical score to show how durable it is. Here is a general guide to the rub test results and the furniture that each score is suitable for:

  • 10,000 – suitable for decorative purposes, for example a chair that is never/very rarely sat on.
  • 10,000 – 20,000 – suitable for occasional chairs/light domestic use items.
  • 20,000 – 25,000 – suitable for general domestic use, such as headboards and dining chairs.
  • 25,000 – 30,000 – best for items that are very often used, such as family sofas.
Sofa recovered in a vibrant velvet with a high rub test of 60000<br>Credit iDUpholstery

Fire Retardancy

All upholstery fabrics, both domestic use and contract use, must comply with the current fire safety legislations. This means that if you are buying upholstery fabric, you must check whether it’s fire retardant or if it needs to be treated with an FR coating or used with an FR liner. Your fabric supplier is the best place to ask regarding their fabrics. If your fabric needs to be sent away to be treated it’s generally around £4+VAT more per metre. Your upholsterer will most likely supply a barrier cloth and prices can vary.

Pets & Children

If you have pets and/or children it’s also worth looking at an easy clean fabric or one that has a stain repellent finish. Let’s take cats as an example, weave fabrics are not well suited as claws can easily get entangled and the material can pull. In contrast, velvet is well suited to cats, especially when combined with a stain repellent finish.

Style & Shape

Shape/size plays a vital role in dictating what fabric is best. For example, if your headboard is wider than standard fabric width it’s better to choose a fabric that can be run (turned on its side) rather than having visible joins. This can also apply to items such as wide window seats.

It’s also important to consider the style of the item, and whether it has notable design features. For example, a chair with deep buttoning can impact the way certain patterns look, so in this instance, I would recommend against using patterns like a close stripe. Plain materials or random patterns can look much more aesthetic in situations like this.

Room Style & Colours

This is generally the fun part: finding a fabric which works with your current room scheme or creating a whole new room aesthetic! What is the style you are trying to achieve for your room? Bright and bold or very natural neutral colours? If we are working with existing curtains I usually find a fabric the colour of the curtain and then add in complementary colours to items such as the footstool or scatter cushions. Generally people chose a plain fabric for larger pieces like sofas and bolder prints for occasional chairs and footstools, but there are of course no rules on this!

Credit iDUpholstery

There are so many different types of fabric available for upholstery…weaves, velvets, linens and cottons to name just a few, and you will be able to get a feel for style works best in your room. Order small samples initially and once you have some favourites order large returnable samples and drape them around your room. It’s important to look at them both in daylight and in the evening under different lighting conditions so you can ensure your commission will look great whatever time of day it is!

We have an incredibly popular sourcing service so we can help you with everything we have mentioned above, all you have to do is look out for your samples arriving in the post and have fun trying out the different combinations! Don’t have any idea what you are after? Even better as we can help get you to know and match your style and requirements to our wide range of fabric choices! Drop us an email on or send us a message on Instagram (@idupholstery) to get this exciting process started.