How to Choose the Right Fabric & Examples of Each Type

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With such an enormous selection of fabric available, how do you know which to choose?  To make sure that your design project is successful, we first need to consider your lifestyle and what function the fabric will serve.  There is nothing more disappointing and frustrating than a fabric that doesn’t perform as expected.

Consider the following:

How are you using the fabric?

Window treatments, drapery, seating upholstery, pillows, accents, bedspreads/comforters, and walls all have different functions and require different types of fabrics.  It seems obvious that a soft drapery and a heavily used sofa can’t use the same type of fabric…but you would be surprised how often people forget this important consideration!  

What level of durability do you need?

Are there children or pets in the home?  Will the fabric be used in an eating area? Accidents happen and we need to choose fabrics that clean easily and wear well in these situations. 

Examples of Fabric Types and Their Characteristics

Some examples of the different types of fabrics and what they are best used for may help you to narrow down which type is best for your particular project. These common upholstery fabrics are available in a large variety of weights, colors, fibers and treatments from which to choose.


Chenille is an excellent fabric choice for a home, especially for items that will get heavy use, such as a couch or chair in your living room. This fabric is similar to velvet and it has a cut pile that aids in comfort and it is resistant to abrasions.

Faux Suede/Microfiber/Ultrasuede

These three different types of fabric are very similar to each other. You will likely find these fabrics as polyester multi-weave fabric and most often, they have a surface abrasion treatment to give it a slightly fuzzy pile to mimic pure suede fabric. These types of fabrics are an excellent choice for a heavy use family room and one with pets. They are very strong, abrasion resistant and really easy to clean as well.


Velvet has a very dense cut pile that makes is soft and luxurious with a sheen to it. Velvet can withstand heavy use and it’s very attractive in any project in your home. You do need to keep in mind, that if someone spills something on it, it needs to be tended to immediately for best results. Dining room chairs are often upholstered in velvet with a waterproof and stain-resistant treatment on them to solve the cleaning factor.


These two fabrics are textured and woven and they hide stains and wear very well. You can use them on any project, but it’s best to choose the higher quality end of the scale to reduce pilling and fabric pulls.

Faux Leather

Faux leather fabric is easy to clean and this makes it ideal for children’s furniture and any other high use furniture. It does have a drawback because you need to clean and condition it so it doesn’t develop cracks over time.


This fabric is a heavier fabric choice made of yarn dyed fibers to create beautiful and intricate patterns boasting texture and style. It works well for home use in decorative pieces or moderate use pieces.

In our Arizona climate, sun and heat is very damaging to fabrics.  We need to consider using sun resistant fabrics, tinting windows, adding linings, or blinds/shades/shutters to avoid shortening the life of your fabrics.  Fabric stain protection is also recommended on many upholstery fabrics – I always prefer that it is manufacturer or professionally applied to preserve any warranties, but DYI products can work, too – just be certain to test it first in an inconspicuous area.

Also see my article on Pet Friendly fabrics.  There are SO many stain repellant and washable fabrics available now – the choices are fantastic!

In summary, it is usually the best practice to choose the type of fabric for your specific project and then you can choose a color or pattern and coordinating fabrics to go with the original one as well. Keep in mid that your color choice depends on your use in a room. Natural beige colors are great as a neutral color and they hide dirt very well. Beige can be added to any type of decor and will blend in with your current style. Choose lighter solid colors to create an airy and inviting mood in your spaces and darker colors or patterns are good at hiding dirt and wear. You may instead choose a bright color or a fun and bold print to make a statement in your room.

Note that price and quality ranges of fabrics can vary widely – so establishing an appropriate investment for your project is essential to making a great choice. Choosing the right fabric and following the proper cleaning and care guidelines will enable you to enjoy your furnishings for years to come.

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