Buying Guide: Fabrics and Textiles

From sofas to curtains, our homes are filled with fabrics and textiles - ensure you choose the right ones for you in our buying guide.


Buying Guides

Colours, patterns and textures will naturally take up most of your attention when it comes to selecting fabrics, but it’s worth considering the effect of each textile and what it can bring to the overall style and feel of your room too. From the iconic style of Designers Guild fabrics to the globally inspired prints of Andrew Martin the design can utterly transform a space.

This is also true of the type of textile used. On the surface, textiles might seem inconsequential, but on closer inspection can say a great deal – silk is opulent while knit is comforting and leather is utilitarian and cool. Rich materials like velvet and fur give the impression of a lavish interior, while simple rope detailing can reinforce a nautical theme. Flannel feels warm and wintery, while cool linen instantly transports us back to the long, hot days of summer.

fabric buying guide - throws and cushions

01.The difference between fabric and textile?

Typically thought of as woven fabric from natural materials, textiles are any material made from fibres or yarns and can take the form of cloth, knitted or pressed fabrics like felt. Fibres are long thin materials that have some desirable properties such as strength, abrasion resistance, flexibility, or moisture absorption, that work well on their own or when combined with another material.

Textiles is a term used by interior designers typically as a means to describe the raw material from which their chosen fabric comes from, where fabric is describes the final product in relation to the type, colour or texture of a material.

02.Interior fabrics

Fabrics come in a multitude of styles, qualities and finishes ranging from natural to synthetic materials and are a key element in soft furnishings design, including curtains, upholstery and cushions through to bedding.

03.Natural and synthetic fabrics

The qualities of natural fabrics are durability, softness, luxuriousness and resilience, where as man-made synthetic fabrics are more hard-wearing, easily washable, economical and offer improved properties when mixed to other natural fibres. Fabrics are broadly based in one of two camps, natural or synthetic fibres, and today’s manufacturing techniques mean there are many to choose from. The following details a summary of the most popular.

fabric buying guide - natural or synthetic

04.Types of natural fibres

Derived from the flax plant, linen is a tough yarn that is washable, hard-wearing and moth resistant. A key characteristic of linen is how easily it creases, so is not ideal for upholstery but drapes well, making it a good choice for curtains and cushions, particularly in warmer climates.

Harvested from the cotton plant, cotton is durable, washable, strong and does not easily fade, making it an ideal fabric for many soft furnishings like curtains and bedding, however it is not suitable for upholstery.

An animal fibre from the silkworm, silk is a delicate lightweight material with a lustrous appearance. Slubs are natural characteristics of silk and the material cannot be hand washed. The fabric will fade in direct sunlight.

Often considered the environmental super fibre, hemp is a plant-based material that is robust. Its strong weave makes it an ideal material for upholstery, curtains and other furnishings in heavy traffic areas.

Known for its eco credentials, strength and versatility, jute, commonly referred to as burlap or hessian, is often woven into carpets, rugs and upholstery. Increasingly used in accessories in chic style interiors due to its rustic properties.

An animal fibre fleeced from sheep, this material is renowned for its insulating properties and is a popular material throughout a home interior. Wool is versatile and can be readily blended with synthetic fibres for improved handling and resilience.

This fibre is obtained from the undercoat of cashmere and other types of goats. Commonly thought of as wool, it is in fact hair based and the quality varies depending upon the texture, colour, and length of the fibres. A delicate and luxurious fabric that is best suited to low traffic areas and handling.

Produced from the tanned hides of cattle, this natural material adds a richness and warmth to home interiors. Hard-wearing though prone to staining and scratching, this material may fade in direct sunlight. Not only reserved for upholstery, leather is increasing in popularity in wallcoverings and accessories.

fabric buying guide - natural fibres

05.Types of synthetic fibres

Polyester is a by-product and a wonder material that holds its shape and colour for a very long time. Economical and easy to clean, polyester is typically found in curtain materials and blended into upholstery materials due to its resilience and crease resistance.

A more durable version of silk with similar draping and lustre properties, the semi-synthetic rayon is also commonly referred to as viscose. Rayon also shares similar properties to cotton in that it is breathable and can be dyed, however it can be prone to shrinking or expanding when wet.

Created as an alternative to wool, acrylic is a soft, lightweight and durable addition to home furnishings. Shrink and moth resistant, it is an economical fabric that will take almost any dye and is a good insulator.

A tough and resilient fabric with high elasticity, the material has a silky finish. Most commonly blended with other materials, nylon is typically found in carpets and upholstery due to its high stain resistance and durability.

Faux leather
Faux-leather is man-made and is a cost effective alternative to leather. Available in a variety of hide finishes effects and weights, faux leather is non breathable, less durable but a more pliable fabric than leather to design with.

fabric buying guide - natural buying guide

06.Standard fabric widths

The most common width for fabric is 48 inches wide, however 40 and 42 inch widths are standard for many imported fabrics like Indian silks. Other fabrics like voiles or American fabrics may be larger. Gingham is frequently sold in 60 and 72 inch widths. Remember you may need additional fabric depending on your pattern repeat and to make allowance for cutting waste.

Fabric is stored on a bolt, which is often referred to as a bale or a roll. The fabric bolt, or hanging tag on it is where the manufacturer lists all the information you need to know about the fabric, including fibre content, fabric width, and whether the fabric has been prewashed. Pattern-repeat length is indicated on the bolt as well.

When buying your fabric avoid skimping on the fabric quantity, thinking you can always buy more at a later stage. The colour varies with different bales or batches; it may seem economical at the time, but will be impossible to match later.

07.Choosing fabrics

As always, think of the fabrics and textiles you’re considering in the context of your home and lifestyle. Is it mainly decorative or highly practical? Do you need your materials to be durable and long-wearing, or prefer soft, delicate fabrics to luxuriate in?

The answers to these questions should inform your choice – silk isn’t a practical material where children and pets are at play, the same way leather isn’t a good solution for a sunroom.

Swatches will help visualise how fabrics will look in your space, and are a great point of reference to compare against when making decisions about the other elements of your room.

fabric buying guide - choosing fabric