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There are many things to consider when it comes to choosing the right upholstery fabric. Far beyond personal taste and aesthetics, upholstery fabrics need to perform. To which degree, comes down to the function of the piece of furniture your upholstery fabric will cover and the conditions it will be placed in. A sofa in a household of kids and pets will require a very different fabric compared to an occasional chair in your bedroom. Often times, it is about striking the right balance between looks and performance.

Upholstery labels (found on the back of fabric waterfalls) usually contain all the necessary information for you to make an informed decision about the durability of a piece of fabric; this includes Martindale test results, light fastness and composition. Below is a guide to help you understand the information on these labels. Or just ask one of our knowledgeable consultants – they can help find the perfect upholstery fabric for your project, which not only suits the aesthetics of your space but will perform as desired.

George in Noho from Textilia

Noho fabric by Textilia

What is the Martindale test?

The Martindale test measures the durability and resistance of fabrics through abrasion and rubbing. It helps us to understand how fabrics will perform under certain conditions and indicates their suitability to different applications.

Roma Equator Mokum High 15

Roma chair & Lacrosse stool by Kovacs covered in Equator by Mokum

How does the Martindale test work?

Fabrics are put through a rigorous test where abrasive material is rubbed continuously over them in a figure eight until they first show signs of wear and tear. Performance is determined by the Martindale cycles. The higher the number, the more the abrasion cycles completed, which tells us how durable the fabrics are.

Below is a quick and easy guide to what the numbers mean.

20,000 cycles and under

Anything fewer than 20,000 cycles is best for light decorative usage and occasional furniture that is not sat on every day.

20,000 – 50,000 cycles

20,000 – 50,000 cycles is great for everyday residential use such as sofas, armchairs and recliners.

50,000 cycles and above

Fabrics that measures at 50,000 cycles and above are extremely hard wearing and suitable for commercial heavy duty use, such as cafes and restaurants.

Atelier Wools

Atelier wool range

Why is fibre composition important?

When shopping for upholstery fabric, the Martindale test isn’t the only measure of performance you should look for. If your new piece of furniture is going to be in direct sunlight, then it’s important to consider fibre composition along with any light fastness results (usually a rating of 1-8). Fibre composition also plays a big factor in the look and feel of your fabric.

Synthetic/Man made

Synthetic fibres are great for durability and performance in sunlight. These fibres include polyester, acrylic and nylon. For the ultimate in fade resistance, look for fabrics specifically designed to resist fading such as the Sunbrella range.

Natural Fibres

Natural fibres are beautiful and soft to handle such as cotton, linen and wool but some are prone to fading in direct sunlight. These fibres are excellent environmentally, less processed and create a wonderful aesthetic. They should however, be kept out of direct sunlight where possible.

Blended Fabrics

It is always a great idea to choose a blended fabric that has both synthetic and natural fibres. For example, a fabric with the composition 60% polyester and 40% linen will have the strength of polyester fibres to resist fading in the sun while keeping the look and feel of natural linen.

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