Monday, March 19, 2012

Choosing Appropriate Upholstery Fabrics for Period Decorating: Part II

What makes a fabric durable?
Durability of upholstery fabrics is determined by multiple factors including the fiber type(s), how the fabric is woven, the design of the furniture, how the fabric is finished, maintenance requirements and type and frequency of usage.  

Commonly used Fabric durability tests and standards
 When considering durability ratings, terms you will find include Wyzenbeek and Martindale. These names refer to the two tests most commonly used to rate durability. In addition to testing abrasion (double rubs), these performance tests also consider seam slippage, pilling, crocking, tensile strength and usage, but they are neither comparable nor equivalent as the results do not correlate.

Heavy duty, for example, is a Wyzenbeek rating of at least 15,000, while a Martindale rating of around 12 to 18 is considered heavy duty.

In North America, the Wyzenbeek test is usually used. This consists a machine that pulls actual samples of the fabric tight rubs them with an approved fabric (usually cotton duck) in a back and forth motion. The number of double rubs counted before yarn breaks occur or noticeable wear is recorded is the abrasion rating.

In Europe, the Martindale test is used more frequently. In the Martindale method, the approved fabric may be worsted wool or cotton duck. and instead of back and forth, the fabric is rubbed in a figure 8 motion until wear is detected.

More about Fabric durability
In addition to yarn breakage, types of wear may include pilling and crocking.   

Pilling is when small fuzzy balls or nibs are formed on the surface of a fabric. This may be a normal part of wear but some fibers and weaves are more prone to pilling.  Fabrics made of angora, cashmere, and wool that have short or loose fibers are more likely to pill, as you may already know from having that happen to your favorite sweater.

Some manufactured fibers such as acrylic, nylon or polyester also have a tendency to pill. Most pilling is a result of friction which loosens the fibers. Loose fibers will tangle and form “pills.” Pilling can also be caused by improper cleaning.

To avoid pilling, look for tightly twisted yarns and fabrics with tighter weaves.

Crocking is the term used to describe what happens when dye from one dry fabric rubs off onto another dry fabric. Crocking occurs most often with linen, cotton and polyester fabrics dyed with black, blue or red pigments since more saturated colors make it a lot harder to remove all excess dyes during finishing of these fabrics.

There are other factors and treatments that can affect durability and may be added to increase the strength and durability of a fabric.  A latex backing applied to loosely woven fabrics, for example, will stabilize the yarns, minimizing their ability to rub and resulting in longer wear. To be continued...

To learn more about fabric terms and types of fabrics, see
Historic, Vintage & Reproduction Home Decorating Fabrics
-- A Musically & Otherwise Punctuated Glossary of Home Decor Textile Terms

How can I determine durability of a fabric
if the Wyzenbeek or Martindale rating is not available?

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Choosing Appropriate Upholstery Fabrics for Period Decorating

Choosing Appropriate Upholstery Fabrics for Period Decorating: Part I

We have written extensively about which types, colors and styles of fabrics are appropriate for certain historical period decorating styles (See the tab above to link to them).  This blog provides more general information about Upholstery Fabrics that you will want to consider when selecting your interior decorating fabrics.

Many of us restoring or adapting historic homes will want to use vintage or antique furniture that will likely require re-upholstering. Others may want to purchase new reproduction furniture, but may want to purchase their own fabric in order to use a more appropriate or higher quality fabric than the manufacturer may offer.

Upholstery Fabric durability
There are many different types of fabrics suitable for historically appropriate home décor use. Whatever your decorating style, it is important to know some basic facts in order to be an informed consumer and select the fabric best suited to your needs. Some fabrics last longer than others and will withstand more wear and tear while others are suitable only for uses that do not entail a lot of use.

When choosing upholstery fabrics for interior decorating one important thing you will want to consider is durability or strength, which is determined by standard industry testing methods. When thinking about durability the first thing most people consider is abrasion

It is important to remember that abrasion is only one of several factors that contribute to a fabric’s long term performance, but abrasion ratings are a standardized and commonly used way to measure and indicate performance so we’ve decided to start with those.

Fabric strength or durability is rated by “rubs,” which is literally a test that determines fabric strength by rubbing the taut fabric back and forth (a double rub is once in each direction) to simulate the wear a fabric would get from someone sitting on and getting up from an upholstered seat. 

In general, North America uses the Wyzenbeek test to determine durability. A rating of 3,000 double rubs is considered to be equivalent to one year of use as upholstery.

A fabric rating of 3,000 to 9,000 double rubs is considered light duty. Light duty fabrics are suitable for upholstery if the piece being upholstered is mainly decorative or only used occasionally, such as when guests visit or a chair that is more of a decorator accent and does not get regular and consistent use. 

Fabrics rated from 9,000 to 15,000 double rubs are considered medium duty and are versatile and appropriate for use in many rooms that get typically average use, such as a living room or family room.

If a fabric is rated 15,000 double rubs, it means it is considered heavy duty for upholstery use.  This is what you need to look for if the piece you are upholstering gets daily and heavy use or if you have pets or active children who will also be using it.   

For a fabric to be rated “commercial” it must have a rating of at least 30,000 double rubs.

If the double rub rating of a fabric is not available, there are other things you can do or look for to find out if a fabric is appropriate for your intended application.
That, dear readers, will be the topic of our next two posts.

What makes a fabric durable? More about Fabric durability testing.Types of tests.
How can I determine durability of a fabric if a “rubs” rating is not available?

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