Know fabric basics when choosing a sofa for humid Yucatan

How do you know when the upholstery is durable enough? Ay, there's the rub!

Synthetic fabrics have gotten better at resembling real cotton or linen. Photo: Courtesy
Synthetic fabrics have gotten better at resembling real cotton or linen. Photo: Courtesy

One of the most important and expensive pieces of furniture in the home is the sofa.

You want to get the longest life from this investment, so it should not only stand the test of time from a décor perspective but also from a durability standpoint. Before you purchase your next piece of upholstery, here are some tips.

The first consideration is the grade of fabric. Fabric grades are a rating system unique to each manufacturer. These grades range from A, which is the least expensive, to F, the costliest.

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A grade of fabric does not always relate to how sturdy or durable it is. A more durable fabric tends to cost more, but so do fabrics that are more delicate. A grade of fabric relates more to how much it cost to acquire or produce that fabric.

For instance, a fabric that is more complex in its weave or has a higher thread count will be more expensive than one that is less complex or lower in count. Some fibers such as polyester are less costly than others such as silk. Make sure when you are selecting the cover for your upholstered goods, look beyond the grade. The grade does not necessarily equal a longer lasting fabric.

The second consideration is whether the fiber of the fabric is synthetic or natural. Covers made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk and linen are a lot more fragile than synthetic fibers. They will fade, stain and stretch much easier than synthetic. Beautiful though they may be, they are not necessarily the best investment for our climate and lifestyle. Synthetic, on the other hand, are perfect for our ocean-side properties. Covers made from synthetics simulate the look of natural fibers yet have the durability we need. They have also come a long way over the past thirty years. Synthetic covers come in a variety of looks that you would swear are leather, silk, cotton and linen. When we show our customers synthetic fabric samples, they cannot believe they are not natural.

The final consideration is a fabric’s abrasion data or double-rub count. In North America, materials are put through a standard durability trial called the Wyzenbeek test. A calibrated machine moves a testing pad back and forth (a double rub) over a swatch of the fabric until it is worn out. The higher the double-rub count, the more durable the material. Domestic fabrics are rated between 10,000 and 25,000 double rubs. Any fabric over 15,000 double rubs is considered suitable for high-use areas such as family rooms. Occasional-use furniture such as side chairs can use a material with a double rub of 3,000 to 9,000.

Durability is critical to long-lasting furniture, so make sure to ask the salesperson about the grade and type of fabric and its double-rub number.

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