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Everything You Need to Know About Ordering Fabric by the Yard With Confidence

Words by Olivia Lidbury
a blue chair sitting in front of a painting

Photo courtesy of Dedar.

Linen, cotton, jacquard, damask, toile…

There could be an encyclopedia devoted to the different types of fabrics on the market. The choice is abundant, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

When it comes to interiors, the two main fabrics to know are drapery and upholstery. Drapery is largely composed of multi-purpose, medium-weight materials such as linens, cottons and rayon, which can be used across curtains, cushions, headboards and ottomans. Upholstery fabric meanwhile, is often woven and remarkably heavier to the touch. Its thickness and stiffness is well-suited to anything you would sit on—like armchairs and sofas.

Want to make your own custom dreams come true? Treat this as your crib sheet for what textile to use where, and how to tackle a pattern repeat like the pros.

What fabrics are right for my space?

Take into account your lifestyle and what function you need the fabric to perform. Will it be upholstered on an occasional chair or a breakfast banquette seat where there are kids in the mix? ​​Do you need a ‘performance’ fabric, woven with clever technology that can repel stains and stand-up robustly against everyday wear and tear? How resistant do you need your fabric to be around sunlight, water exposure, or pets? These factors should inform your choice.

a close up of a brown fabric texture
KravetPerformance Chenille FabricSHOP NOW
a close up of a brown and white striped fabric
Rose TarlowGigiSHOP NOW

How can I assess a fabric’s durability?

Never heard of Martindale versus Wyzeenbeek? No stress; there are several industry techniques that determine a fabric’s durability, ‘double rubs’ being the most common. Sitting down and getting up from a chair for example, counts as a double rub. A double rub count of 15,000 is perfectly suited for light-use items, such as dining room chairs, but for a family sofa, look for something that's 20,000 and up.

a beige background with a white border
Rose TarlowGlacisSHOP NOW
a close up of a white carpet texture
SchumacherMargarete Bouclé FabricSHOP NOW

What about windows?

Most fabrics, from light linens to heavy velvets, will suit window treatments, as they don’t require the same structural integrity as an upholstery fabric. For blinds and curtains, you might want to entertain a fade and wrinkle-free option, as well as those with light-filtering characteristics. Is it important to be able to wash your curtains? All these factors will help create a shortlist.

a close up view of a gray fabric
LizzoLienzo FabricSHOP NOW
a brown and white fabric with flowers on it
SchumacherLe Castellet FabricSHOP NOW

How much will I need?

For a straight-forward sink skirt or cushions, you can probably measure this up accurately yourself. But for everything else, our procurement team is here to help. Upholsterers will know how many yards are needed for a chair simply on sight—many can offer estimates via email with a few photos and measurements. For curtains, you’ll need to allow several extra inches per pair for them to frame the actual window area and overlap generously when closed, as well as considering where they will finish.

a close up view of a brown carpet
SchumacherAtticus Wool FabricSHOP NOW
a brown and white checkered fabric
SchumacherElton Cotton Check FabricSHOP NOW

What if my fabric has a pattern repeat?

A fabric with a pattern will generally require more yardage than if using a plain textile. And the larger the pattern, the more you’ll need. For example, if you’re ordering fabric with a large print to sit centrally across a cushion, and you have six cushions to cover, you’ll need six ‘repeats’. In the description of all fabrics, manufacturers will note the measurements of the repeat—both vertical and horizontal, this refers to the amount of space from where a pattern begins, then begins again.

a rug with a bunch of flowers on it
SchumacherIndian Arbre FabricSHOP NOW
a close up of a brown and black striped fabric
Rose TarlowToscaSHOP NOW

Which way should the pattern be laid?

This point sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to overlook. While this doesn’t apply to plain fabrics or those with continuous dots or squares, most patterns have an orientation, eg: horizontal or vertical. Try flipping a print which runs down the roll across seat pads, and it’ll look strange. This is where the term ‘railroading’ comes in: railroaded fabric is produced with the pattern running perpendicular to the bolt, so essentially it is horizontal. This gives you (or let’s be honest, your upholsterer) greater freedom to play around with widths.

a close up of a tiger print fabric
Brunschwig & FilsTiger Velvet FabricSHOP NOW
a close up of a blue and white striped fabric
SchumacherAntique Ticking Stripe FabricSHOP NOW

How do I care for fabrics?

This is very subjective as there isn’t one method which suits all, so always look at the care instructions for your specific fabric. Some materials can be spot-cleaned with gentle household sprays. Always, always check the label first.

a close up of a brown carpet texture
SchumacherTeddy Wool Boucle FabricSHOP NOW
a plaid pattern with a brown, blue, and tan color scheme
Lee JofaNevis FabricSHOP NOW

Still have questions? Get access to any to-the-trade fabrics and wall-coverings in the entire industry, from samples to ordering.

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