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Learn About Different Cushion Fabrics and Choosing the Right Ones for You

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Just like shirts and slacks, an array of different fabrics can be used for furniture cushions and pillows.  Some patterns are woven, while others are prints.  Solids, stripes, and florals are the most likely patterns you will find, along with a few geometric and abstract ones. 

Some fabrics are good for indoor use, while others are designed specifically for outside.  Coincidentally,  others can be used both indoors and outside.  If all these issues confuse you, keep reading to learn more about cushion fabrics used in today’s indoor and outdoor cushions and pillows manufacturing.

To keep things in perspective, we will discuss four common fabrics offered by cushion makers today, along with some terminology used in the industry:

Lets start with some terminology:

Plain Weave Fabric

Like many fabrics, plain weave fabrics are woven on a loom.  The warp and the weft are names given to the yarns that go down the length of the loom and across the loom, respectively.  The selvage is the name given to the edges of the fabric where its thickness is doubled and finished, so it won’t fray.

 Fabric Width and Pattern

Selvage to selvage refers to the width of the roll of fabric.  A typical roll of fabric is 54 inches wide, or as they say in the industry, it’s 54 inches selvage to selvage.  Fabric patterns repeat along the fabric at fixed intervals.  They can repeat both along the length and along the width.  It’s common for the pattern to repeat up the roll rather than from selvage to selvage (side to side). When the pattern repeats up the roll, we say that the pattern is railroaded.  Depending on the job, it is usually better to use railroaded patterns because there is less waste and less work to cover larger areas.

For example, imagine a fabric where the length of the stripes runs from side to side (i.e., the stripes are railroaded up the roll) and another where the length of the strip runs up the roll (i.e., the pattern is selvage to selvage).  If you wanted to cover a 60-inch long seat cushion with a 54-inch wide fabric with stripes running the length of the cushion, then you would want to use a fabric that was printed up the roll.  Otherwise, if you used a railroaded fabric, you would have to piece the fabric together to get the stripes to run the entire cushion length.

Stripes are one thing, but florals and other patterns may have different repeat patterns in both directions.  Cushion makers know what to do to most effectively and efficiently use the fabric pattern available.

Whether the pattern was printed up the roll or railroaded or the pattern’s repeat is very long compared to the cushion size, a cushion maker may have to charge a little more because more fabric may need to match up the pattern effectively.  In extreme cases, as much as 50 percent more.

Indoor Fabric

Indoor fabric says it all about where you can use this fabric.  Typically this is a plain weave fabric constructed of cotton or a blend between cotton and polyester.  Other higher-quality blends use silk and other specialty yarns.

Indoor fabric will typically be a little lighter than other fabric types.  As a result, it does not sustain its durability like other fabrics.  Indoor fabrics are generally printed fabric, meaning that dies are used to print the image of the pattern on plain white cloth.  The inks used do not stand up very well in strong sunlit rooms or outdoors before they fade or deteriorate by the elements.  Because they contain cotton, extreme care must be taken to clean and dry them.

Shrinking or disfigurement may occur, and bleeding of the colors may also become a problem depending on the inks. Indoor fabrics are not designed for outdoor use.  Indoor cushions used outdoors will tend to mold and mildew much faster than fabrics designed outdoors because of the materials used.

Key Advantages

  • Pattern choices
  • Softer, lighter fabric textures

 Key Disadvantages

  • Shrinkage or disfigurement after they get wet
  • Staining
  • Prone to mold and mildew when used outside or on covered porches
  • Fading
  • Not always colorfast

 All-Weather Fabric

All-weather fabric is a great transition fabric used indoors and outside.  This common fabric, also known by spun polyester fabric, is a very economical choice to use in the home or on the patio.  It’s probably one of the most popular fabrics used for patio cushions today, where the customer can choose from various fabrics.  The reason is that all-weather fabric uses a 100 percent polyester base fabric upon which hundreds or thousands of printed patterns are available.  Although not necessarily as soft as an indoor cotton-based fabric, most people will choose this fabric because of the wide variety of pattern choices and its acceptable softness.

The printing process is like the indoor fabric, except the inks used are designed not to be as easily marred by outdoor weather conditions.  They don’t fade as fast, and water won’t bother polyester or the inks.

Key Advantages

  • Good economical choice for someone who takes care of their cushions and keeps them out of the full sun when not in use for long periods.
  • Marginal fade resistance due to sunlight but much better than indoor fabric
  • Wide selection of patterns
  • Good water-repelling qualities
  • Very acceptable fabric texture and softness
  • Good mold and mildew resistance
  • Colorfast
  • Durable

Key Disadvantages

  • Will eventually fade

Sunbrella Fabric

Glen Raven Custom Fabrics, LLC commercially markets the popular Sunbrella® fabrics.  Sunbrella fabric is known as a solution-dyed acrylic yarn woven into the lovely colors and designs you see in advertisements for cushions, awnings, and the boating industry.

Unlike indoor and all-weather fabric, the manufacturer must weave the Sunbrella patterns; they are not printed.  As a result of using acrylic yarn and weaving the patterns, you end up with a super high-quality, durable outdoor material that laughs at the sun and rain.  You see, the special acrylic yarn is solution dyed, meaning that the dye color is in throughout the yarn fibers and can’t be released by water or the deteriorating sun’s rays.

If there is one, the downside is that there are not as many choices of floral patterns that we all love so much.  This is because the limitation is that the patterns have to be woven, whereas patterns on indoor and all-weather fabrics are printed with ink. Printing a pattern using a template is much easier than weaving one.  Given the higher quality acrylic yarns and complicated weaving process, Sunbrella fabrics demand a higher price tag.  If your looking for a high-quality fabric and can afford the higher price tag, this is the one you want to pick.

Key Advantages

  • Colorfast
  • Better stain protection – You can use water, bleach, and soap to clean Sunbrella fabric.
  • Water Resilience – It naturally wards off the water.
  • Resists mold and mildew
  • Excellent durability and resists cracking
  • Soft
  • Excellent resistance to fading
  • 5-year manufacturer warranty
  • Quick Dry

Key Disadvantages

  • It’s expensive
  • Can create static electricity

Olefin Fabric

Olefin fabric is a lesser expensive but good quality plastic fiber fabric with great resilience and strength. In manufacturing, this fabric is solution-dyed, like Sunbrella; it has the dye color though out the yarn fiber. Olefin yarns are woven into patterns, not printed.  It is generally available in a wide range of vivid colors.

Key Advantages

  • Colorfast
  • Cleans up easily
  • Highly Stain Resistant
  • Very strong yet lightweight
  • Wears well.
  • Good water resistants
  • Resists mold and mildew

Key Disadvantages

  • Its heat sensitive
  • A limited selection of patterns

As you have learned, not all fabrics come from the same loom.  Some are good for indoor use only where, while others are good for indoor and outdoor use.  Contact your cushion supplier and ask them about their fabric choices.  Choosing the right fabric will make a difference.

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