How To Specify Textiles Like An Interior Design Professional

When most of us go in to shop for our next upholstery project, we have some idea of what we’re looking for when it comes to textile design. 

We know we like linen and velvet. The color red is never allowed in our home, and microfiber just feels funny to us. Humans have personal preferences, and we can get caught up in what a textile looks like while missing so much of what makes up the actual material. 

If you’re ever turned over a fabric sample only to find a bunch of words, numbers, and acronyms on the back that look like a foreign language to you, well, you’re not alone. We understand the importance of selecting a material that you’re excited to put into your home while also believing each consumer should be equipped with the knowledge to shop for textiles with confidence. 

A lot of details go into the makeup of a textile. These are just a few questions designers keep in the back of their minds when selecting materials for their clients:

  • Is the fabric manufactured, or are natural materials used? 
  • How does the textile hold up to wear and tear?
  • What is the double rub count for this textile?
  • Is it waterproof or stain-resistant? 
  • Does this material have an antimicrobial finish?
  • Can it be used in a healthcare setting and my dining room seating?

The list goes on and on, and we know how overwhelming it can be to consider each of these details, so we’re going to let you in on how to specify textiles like an interior design professional. This way, when you’re ready to source material for your next project, you’ll feel empowered with information to make not only a beautiful but practical choice for your specific project. 

Shop for Textile Design Like a Designer

Chances are, you’re not going to need to worry about a lot of the questions mentioned above. Residential interiors have the least number of rules and regulations because they are private spaces. When selecting a material for a public space such as a hotel or library, there are a lot more factors to consider.

Product Details 

When you browse textile design online, we want you to feel good about making the right choice for your upholstery project. We’re sharing how we break down product information at Kovi to make it easy for you to dissect each product’s details before purchasing. Here are the specification details designers reference when sourcing a material:

Recommended Use: Not all materials are created equal. Some textiles are designed to perform as window coverings compared to bedding or furniture upholstery. This is why it’s important to filter your project requirements when sourcing material online. The recommended use category is meant to guide anyone shopping with any material specifications in mind. 

Type: We see material ‘type’ as an extension of recommended use. This is a quick snapshot of how the textile performs with water, stains, sun, and overall durability. It’s essential to scan this category if you need material in public spaces, high-traffic areas, and outdoors. Just because one of those categories does not align with your project, we still suggest you take the time to familiarize yourself with the material’s details.

Contents: It’s important to note what materials make up the textile you’re specifying. This can help you quickly identify if the fabric will work for your project. Based on where you live, certain materials will perform better than others. For example, both wool and velvet create a lot of warmth and will be best used in colder climates. If you live in a warmer climate, you will benefit from specifying linen or cotton materials. These textiles are known for their breathability and help keep you cool in a hot environment. If you find a fabric you like but aren’t sure how it will perform, do some research on the contents of the material. This will help you make an educated choice with your next upholstery purchase. 

Cleaning: The last thing you want to think about when shopping for textile is how you’re going to clean it if/when something stains the fabric. The reality is that many textiles are treated or created with cleanability in mind. We encourage you to shop for whatever material is best for your project while also caring for the textile over time. Before purchasing, be aware of what cleaning products can/cannot be used on your upholstery. In commercial or hospitality design, there are a lot of cleaning standards to uphold, and the textiles selected must be able to withstand the chosen cleaning agents. We like to think the same thing applies to your home. You have certain cleaning products you want to use and preferences for how you care for your home. Be sure to cross-reference this information before you fall in love with a material that won’t hold up to your cleaning standards. 

Durability: Multiple tests have been created to test the strength of a textile and material over time. One of the most popular testing techniques is called the Wyzenbeek test. You may have heard the phrase “double rubs” when referring to the durability of a textile. The Wyzenbeek test is the test that calculates a material’s double rubs by rubbing a material back and forth. A single-pass both ways is what creates a double rub. Once breakage occurs, the total number of passes that has occurred is the final double rub number. 

Repeat: The word ‘repeat’ sounds funny when referring to a pattern because, duh, of course, a print is going to repeat. This is important because a single pattern can have a border or alternate design element that will look different when repeated on one piece of furniture. Having the dimensions of the single repeat will help a designer understand how many times they can expect to see the repeat on their project. 

Direction: A fabric’s direction is a part of planning how you’ll upholster your furniture. When you view a fabric sample, you are given a visual representation of that pattern as a reference. Each fabric has its overall size and repeat size to consider when selecting your material. It’s important to note directions to anyone upholstering your furniture for you, so they don’t end up covering a material upside down or sideways to how you originally planned. We have also seen many DIYers accidentally switch up the upholstery direction on different parts of a single upholstery piece. The upholsterer recovered one couch cushion vertically and the another horizontally. This left us with a very inconsistent pattern and required many parts of your project to be redone. 

Width: Understanding the width of textiles is key to specifying materials, especially for a larger project. Let’s say you like the direction a material is displayed online, and you come to find out that the width of the textile is 48” W. In the event that your project is over 48” W, you will be forced to rotate or “railroad” the material so it can adequately cover the upholstered item. 

Stain Protection: Have you heard of or specified Crypton fabric or stain-resistant material? Both of these labels are used to signify a material that can stand up to spills and stains. Crypton is designed to repel stains while stain-resistant materials are often a treatment applied to the top of the textile for protection. This isn’t to say other materials cannot be cleaned if something were to tarnish the fabric. These particular textiles just so happen to have an extra layer of protection. 

Flammability class: There are multiple textile tests to determine how flammable or flame-resistant a material can be. Testing requirements can vary depending on where the material is being used. For example, California (a state with a higher rate of wildfires) refers to materials that pass a more strenuous testing process before being used in public spaces. The flammability tests are essential for textiles being used in childcare, healthcare, or government facilities. We recommend you familiarize yourself with which textiles you select have been tested and what flammability class they fall into. This is also to say you should think about where the materials you select are being used. Is there upholstery near your gas stove, fireplace, or outdoor grill? Take this into account when selecting your next textile. 

What Designers Avoid When Shopping For Textiles

Not to be dramatic, but there are some seriously poor-quality materials. We know how important it is to have a high-performing product that can hold up for years to come. Even designers have to learn the hard way by selecting a textile design or making upholstery mistakes that don’t hold up. Here are what designers avoid when shopping for textiles:

  • Materials from retailers that don’t include product details 
  • Retailers that don’t provide the option to order samples
  • Final sale textiles that you haven’t seen in person
  • Textiles that shed and cause a mess during the upholstery process
  • Fabric that has a large or open weave (unless used for window coverings)

Q & A

Question: What color materials are interior designers shopping for in 2022?

Answer: Designers have been specifying a textile design with more texture and pattern than we have seen in years! We believe this is in reaction to the neutral trends that have taken place over the last few years. Design lovers no longer want their spaces to look like anyone else’s. Taking the time to make their homes unique has become a symbol of taste and style. 

Question: How do interior designers shop for textiles?

Answer: Ever since 2020, interior designers have done the majority of their fabric shopping online. They order samples to mix and match in person before purchasing yardage to use on a project. Be sure to use the tips we included above when you design your next upholstery project. 

Question: How do I get a visual for how a textile will look on my upholstery piece?

Answer: You can either order a sample or ask the retailer if they have renderings or photos of past projects with this textile. We find that designers always take the time to specify the right materials to avoid project errors. This may feel like a pain upfront but can save so much time on the backend of a project! It’s important to provide our clients with great information and encourage each individual to research what materials work best for their needs. If you find that you need some additional support, we’re happy to help! 

Question: Where do designers source textiles?

Answer: There are a number of retailers out there that designers use to shop for textiles! Each shop can vary a bit on experience, quality, and price. It’s essential to have a budget in mind when shopping for material because it can vary quite a bit, even within one retailer. We appreciate our designers and are happy to assist you in selecting material for your next project! 

Question: How do I build my knowledge and understanding of textiles?

Answer: We encourage you to start by taking a look at the categories and information above and pick up a few samples to familiarize yourself with different material types. It can be a bit overwhelming to enter into the world of textiles, so take your time and have fun! This industry is constantly changing and growing, and there’s always more to learn.

Textile Design Expert

If you’ve made it this far, it’s safe to say that you’re well on your way to becoming a textile design expert! 

It might take some time to get comfortable reading the product descriptions and learning about the different testing procedures, but you’ll get the hang of it. We’re excited that more people are interested in growing their textile knowledge and are happy to share our passion with you!

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