Material facts: how to choose the right fabric for your Cosy Home projects

Cosy Home guide to making your own soft furnishings

If you’ve decided to tackle some projects around the house this year, you might be considering making your own curtains or cushions. Many sets of instructions or patterns, though, simply tell you to, ‘take the fabric of your choice’, so how do you know that to choose? Here’s the Cosy Home guide to what fabric to use where.

Before choosing any type of fabric, think about the wear and tear it’s going to get. Curtains in a formal dining room shouldn’t need cleaning very often, so it’s fine to use a non-washable, dry-clean-only fabric such as silk. For a children’s room, bathroom or kitchen, you might like to choose something tougher and more hardwearing.

Some fabrics aren’t suitable for projects like cushions that are going to see a lot of use, as they don’t wear well.

Joining several different types of fabric together for applique work or patchwork can look very effective, but remember that the final result probably won’t be machine washable.

Finally, modern fabrics such as artificial silk or satin will be cheaper and easier to care for than the real thing, but you will sacrifice a little visual appeal.

Types of fabric

A selection of cotton fabrics and lace

* Brocade – the name ‘brocade’ refers more to the style and pattern of the fabric than to the material it’s made from. Brocoade fabric has a raised pattern that looks almost embroidered, and is generally very thick and stiff. The patterns are actually woven into the fabric. Traditionally it’s made from silk, but modern easy care versions are now available. This fabric is often used for formal curtains and upholstery and tends to be hard wearing. It may be hard to sew on a domestic sewing machine due to its thickness. It doesn’t normally wash well; most brocade is dry-clean only.

* Canvas – a sturdy, heavy duty fabric traditionally used for making sails. Modern canvas is normally made from cotton or linen. It’s great for creating a beach-hut or New England feel in a room – make cushion covers from coloured canvas and curtains with eyelet holes for a simple, uncluttered look. It’s washable, but has a tendency to shrink on first washing, and can be heavy to work with.

* Corduroy – a sturdy cotton fabric made of raised stripes and furrows. It’s normally used for clothing, but as it’s heavily textured it can be used for cushion covers or to add interest to soft furnishings. It’s not normally used for curtains as it’s too heavy. It’s available in different widths of stripes, and it’s very hard wearing, although the raised stripes may have a tendency to wear unevenly. Most corduroy is machine washable, but may shrink on first washing.

* Cotton – a natural and incredibly versatile fabric. Cotton has many guises, from the cotton towelling used for towels and dressing gowns to fine, delicate cotton used for shirts. Generally, it takes colour well, is soft, breathable and washable. A good choice for many household projects.

Denim can be a good choice for home furnishing projects.

* Denim –  a type of heavyweight cotton fabric mostly used for clothing. It’s available in different weights, and can make a quirky material for home furnishing projects such as cushions. It fades in direct sunlight, but is otherwise very hardwearing. Normally machine washable, but will shrink on first washing.

Faux fur will help create a range of effects from luxurious to funky

* Faux fur – made from synthetic fibres to resemble animal hair, this material is currently very popular for making cushion covers. Great for adding some interest to a plain sofa, and also ideal for making your own sofa throws. It’s available in a range of bright colours as well as naturalistic fur patterns. It normally washes very well and retains its size and shape, but it may be hard to work by domestic sewing machine due to the thickness.

* Felt – can be made of acrylic or wool fibres. It’s a thick, matted material often used for craftwork and soft toys. One of the main attractions is that it doesn’t fray, making it ideal for applique work. Wool felt doesn’t wash well as it shrinks badly.

* Linen – a natural fabric made from the fibres of the flax plant. It’s available in a range of weights, from heavy linen suitable for upholstery to the fine lawn used for handkerchiefs. The thicker varieties are hard wearing. It tends to shrink when first washed, and like other natural fabrics has a tendency to staining, but it can give a cool, crisp feel to a room.

Natural silk is beautiful, but can be delicate

* Silk –  a natural fabric produced from the cocoons of the silk worm, silk is smooth and luxurious. It’s expensive to buy, and normally dry-clean only. It also fades and eventually rots when continually exposed to strong sunlight. It’s slippery to work with and can be tricky to handle, but it produces beautiful results.

* Velveteen and velour – plush fabrics made in imitation of velvet. They can be made of cotton or a silk/cotton mix, but many modern varieties are made from polyester. This washes well and is fade resultant, and is less prone to becoming worn and shiny that a natural blend.

* Velvet – woven fabric with a dense pile, giving it a luxurious feel. It can be made of synthetic or modern fibres,  and gives an opulent feel to a room. A good choice for thick, insulating curtains for draughty rooms, or for cushion covers.

By Sara Walker

(Top image credit: Shutterstock)


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