Follow the Pattern is a brand new column from furniture maker and upholstery expert (and Home52's Resident Design Wiz) Nicole Crowder. Nicole is here to show us how to breathe new life into old furniture, reuse and repurpose materials, take chances with color and pattern—and develop a signature aesthetic. Today, she shares her best tips for sourcing the fabric of your dreams.
Working in upholstery, the number one question I get asked is: Where do you find your fabrics? It’s a question with an answer as deep as it is wide because, the truth is, you can find fabrics just about anywhere, even outside of traditional fabric stores, online sites, and showrooms. I seek out fabric wherever I am, from antique stores to my own closet (I have repurposed old clothes into table runners), but fabric sourcing is genuinely my favorite part of my work because I get to play with color and textiles and dream up something that has its own language.
When I am sourcing fabrics, I think about many things: What is the personality I want to lend to the chair, or other item, via the upholstering? What are the colors and textures I need? Do I want it to be contemporary, abstract or modern? Should the piece have flair or is it quiet? From there on, I start to think about what would complement the shape of the furniture frame. My personal preference is to go with larger prints vs. smaller prints because they’re more defined and have more presence. I think about whether I want to mix prints together, and whether I want them to complement or contrast each other? Pinterest is a great playground to start: pin a wide range of fabrics that you like and then play around with them to see which ones go together.
As much as I love sourcing in stores, sourcing online gives me the broadest spectrum of fabrics to discover and experiment with. Below is a list of some wonderful online resources from where I source and shop fabric for my projects.
- House Fabric
- Luna Textiles
- Greenhouse fabric
- Online Fabric Store
- Loom Decor
- Tonic Living
What type of fabrics are ideal for upholstery?
There’s a wide range of fabric that can be used for upholstery. If you are shopping at brick-and-mortar stores they’re easily identifiable, but if you are just rummaging through an antique or secondhand store or shopping online, you want to keep your eyes peeled for words like polyester, linen, leather, cotton, chenille, twill, jacquard, embroidery, and wool. All of these likely mean that the fabric is going to be a fit for upholstery. Rayon, stretch jersey, and silk are less ideal for upholstery because they are thinner, lightweight fabrics that may not have the structural integrity needed for long-term use. However, in my work, I do sometimes like to play with nontraditional materials as flourishes and decorative finishes: beads, paper flowers, and buttons, for example.
How much should I be spending on fabric?
You can find really great fabrics that are $10 and $20 a yard, but commercial fabrics can often be in a much higher price range ($100 per yard and above). The good news is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars for great quality fabrics. Several online retailers like fabric.com, House Fabric, Calico, and Joann offer a spectrum of upholstery-grade fabrics at great price points. And online shops like Spoonflower sell millions (literally) of designs from independent designers all around the world—you can even design, upload, and print your own custom fabrics. The main thing you want to look for, within your budget, is the weight and quality of your fabric, and whether it’s going to be durable enough for your particular project.
And speaking of…
What weight of fabric should I buy?
For most upholstery work, you want the weight of the fabric to be medium to heavy, if not heavyweight. That’s not to say you can’t use cotton or linen, which tend to be lighter fabrics, but it’s important that your fabric have the kind of weight that won’t easily tear, snag or wear down, especially if it’s intended for a piece of furniture with high-traffic use (used daily).
In the world of upholstery, “double rubs” is commonly used to note the durability of fabric. Double rubs typically start at 50,000 and go up to 200,000 and higher. Think of it as you do thread count for sheets—the higher the count, the higher the quality, and the more durable the fabric. If you have pets or children, or if the furniture is intended for high-traffic use, also opt for a performance fabric that is stain- and fade-resistant. That way, if you do get food or water stains, they won't seep into the fabric and set immediately, but roll right off.
How many yards should I buy?
When I’m fabric shopping, I like to buy no fewer than two yards for each of the fabrics that I am using. Two yards is a good amount for a small chair, like a simple dining chair, a pop cushion seat chair, or a small accent chair. You’ll likely have some fabric remaining—but if you mess up, you have extra to put to work. I tend to mix prints for my chair designs, so I use 1-2 yards of one style for the front of the chair and another 1-2 yards of another for the back.
Other questions to ask when picking out fabrics
- How many yards of fabric I need for my piece of furniture?
- Is this fabric eco-friendly or made from natural fibers?
- Are there natural solutions for eco-friendly fabric cleaning?
- Which fabrics are ideal for pets?
Overall, fabrics are meant to be played with, so experiment with different weights and textures to see what you most enjoy most, because like you, your furniture items are unique and will require a different style to suit their personality.
What other burning design questions do you have for Nicole? Ask in the comments below.