"While the aesthetics are of course a significant part in the final decision, also considering the fibres’ inherent qualities can greatly add to not only the desired feel of your interior, but the durability of your furnishings long term."
Under the microscope: pairing fibre characteristics to interiors
Selecting the type of fibre for your upholstery and drapery can be a complex and overwhelming task. Initially, we tend to place more importance on the aesthetics of fabric such as colour, texture and pattern, without much deliberation on the characteristics of the fibre. While the aesthetics are of course a significant part in the final decision, also considering the fibres’ inherent qualities can greatly add to not only the desired feel of your interior, but the durability of your furnishings long term. Here, we provide you with a brief overview on the characteristics of natural vs synthetic fibres and their response to humidity, light exposure and care. Additionally, this resource will assist you in the process of evaluating the environmental conditions of your interior for best fabric selection.
- A universally admired fibre for its strength and durability.
- Reasonable UV resistance, however a quality lining should be used for further protection from direct sunlight for drapery applications.
- Being an absorbent fibre, cotton can move with changing humidity levels. Ask your supplier for a ‘pre-shrunk’ or stabilised option during the sourcing stages of your selection, as this will greatly reduce movement.
- Cotton is susceptible to mildew, and while anti-mildew finishes can be applied, if the environment you wish to use this fabric is often humid and possibly damp, then cotton may not be the best choice.
This durable, soft textured fibre is perfect if seeking a natural look and adjusts beautifully to temperature changes. Cotton is suited to warm and moderate climates, however it is imperative that a lining is used to reduce colour fading around the edges of Roman Blinds and drapes. This will also help to insulate interiors effectively during winter. If direct sunlight is an issue, or you reside in a very cool climate, cotton may not be the best selection.
- Praised as the strongest of the natural fibres, and its durability is increased if blended with nylon for upholstery.
- Regarded as a luxury fibre due to its imperfect coarse texture and lustre.
- Also an absorbent fibre that moves with humidity changes.
- Only resistant to moderate sunlight and therefore a lining should be used for drapery, and for upholstery, attempts should be made to avoid direct sunlight.
- Can be affected by mildew which over time will cause the fibre to deteriorate.
- Sensitive to air pollution.
This fibre creates a serene natural atmosphere and brings gentle filtered light into a space. It’s also a heavy fibre that drapes stunningly, moves gently in airy interiors, and creates an inviting tactile and causal look in upholstery. A curtain lining can be used to add durability to this fabric for cooler climates, and is regarded as a great insulator to deter heat in moderate to warmer temperatures.
- A reasonably strong fibre that can endure some abrasion, particularly when used with a backing fabric.
- Incredibly fine texture and smoothness, dyes beautifully, and is regarded as the most exclusive of all natural fibres.
- Potential to move with the changes to humidity as it is an absorbent fibre.
- Strong sensitivity to UV light degradation, and therefore should not be placed in direct sun light at the window.
The most luxurious of the natural fibres, silk will add opulence and grandeur to a space. Silk creates a dramatic billowy shape and puddles elegantly on the floor as drapery. Due to its sensitivity to heat and UV light, this fibre is not always the most practical choice. You can however protect the fabric by adding a lining for upholstery and drapery, this will improve durability and increase protection from sunlight.
- Incredibly soft handle and beautiful lustre, giving this fibre a luxury finish.
- A very versatile fibre and can be adapted for fine and heavy fabrics.
- Can be affected by mildew.
- Sometimes poor UV resistance and should always be lined when used as drapery, aim to avoid exposure to direct sunlight when used as upholstery.
- This fibre moves with changing humidity and is very absorbent. Movement in this fibre can be minimised when blended with other stable fibres.
Viscose is originally derived from natural sources such as wood pulp and then synthesised into a man-made fibre. Viscose is soft and breathable, and when blended with other fibres can enhance its strength, softness, lustre and create a variety of fabric textures. Some people love the vintage patina that a viscose velvet will acquire overtime. However, while this is a versatile fibre that is suitable for drapery, upholstery and adapts to changing temperatures, it can be difficult to clean as it is a dry clean only yarn type, and may show marks from pressure and liquid spills. These factors are deemed natural characteristics of this fibre, adding character and movement over time and accordingly textiles with a high viscose composition are better used in lower traffic areas within the home.
- Naturally this fibre is inherently temperature adaptable, flame retardant, anti-static and dirt repellent, in both home and commercial spaces contributes to improved air quality by absorbing and storing VOCs.
- Very durable when used in tightly woven constructions as an upholstery.
- Ability to stretch and return to its original form due to this fibres’ fine molecular structure - giving it strong elasticity.
- While wool is suitable for drapery and provides excellent sound absorption qualities, it is sensitive to UV light degradation unless protected from direct sunlight. A composition with a blend of synthetic fibres can reduce this sensitivity and avoid the fibre becoming brittle, and as with other natural fibres, a drapery lining is recommended to further improve its exceptional insulation properties and to protect against light and heat damage.
- Cloth moth larvae can affect this fibre, along with bacteria and mildew.
Although this is a durable fibre, pure wool compositions can often be difficult to maintain. When blended with synthetic fibres, the fabric is then easier to clean and is less prone to pilling. Wool is an excellent insulator and can keep a space cool in summer and warm in winter, however humidity may affect its longevity. This fibre is best used in dry environments, and positioned where the fabric face is not exposed to direct sunlight.
- Durable and high resistance to abrasion when produced for upholstery.
- A strong and stable fibre that’s non absorbent.
- Handle is excellent and drapes incredibly well.
- Versatile and can be manufactured in both fine woven sheers right through to heavy upholstery.
- Strong UV resistance gives significant colour fastness, and generally not affected by mildew or pollution.
An excellent fibre for providing great insulation in interiors, and is resistant to mould and mildew. This fibre drapes beautifully as curtains, and the handle is similar to wool, giving itself a rich, comforting texture for upholstery.
- Incredibly strong and stable, and is often blended with other fibres for upholstery to improve durability.
- Generally not affected by mildew.
- Versatile and can be manufactured in both woven sheers right through to heavy upholstery.
- Sunlight can affect this fibre if exposed to direct UV light over a long period.
- Handle is excellent and drapes incredibly well.
- Durable and strong resistance to fabric abrasion, and easier to clean and maintain.
- A stable fibre with good UV resistance, and generally not affected by mildew or pollution.
- Versatile and can be manufactured in fine woven sheers and heavy upholstery.
- Excellent resistance to wrinkling and easy to maintain.
- Doesn’t adjust well to changes in humidity as a non-absorbent fibre.
This fibre is best used in high use living areas and bedrooms, and recommended to be avoided in kitchens as it can retain odours. This affordable fibre is extremely durable and easy to clean, making it an ideal effortless option.
It is generally acknowledged that selecting natural fibres for your furnishings are the superior choice. However, it is evident that synthetic fibres do play an important role in the manufacturing process, and blending natural and synthetic fibres can enhance fabric handle, longevity and strength against climate parameters in a space. Blended fabrics can combine the best inherent fibre characteristics of both the natural and synthetic worlds. Additionally, there is less maintenance required in synthetic, or blended compositions and generally more range in patterns and textures on offer. After evaluating these many considerations, the defining factor may be your aesthetic preference, and opting for a particular look may instantly outshine all other options.