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Using Fabric in Home Decorating

Updated on July 27, 2017

Fabrics are the third layer of design when it comes to decorating your home--right after paint and flooring. In my opinion, fabrics are what create the personality of a room. Fabrics provide texture and visual appeal that complement paint, wallpaper and accessories. If you begin your room design with a neutral wall palette, you can layer on the color with upholstery, curtains and pillows.


Choosing Fabrics

This capsule could also be entitled, “Which came first, the paint color or the fabrics?” As with the chicken and the egg, it is impossible to state categorically which should come first. If you are a fabric junkie like me, you will probably be inclined to use fabrics as inspiration for other design elements in your room. Conversely, you may have a paint color that speaks to you. In which case, you can coordinate fabrics around that central color.


Obviously, you wouldn’t want to use a chiffon or charmeuse as upholstery fabric. Typically, you want to look for fabrics that stand up to daily wear, resist fading and are easily cleanable. While certain apparel fabrics can be used in the home, it is best to stick with fabrics specifically manufactured for home decorating if you are unsure. Consider the following types when selecting fabrics to use in your room.

Acrylic: Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that is known for its soft hand and wool-like texture. Acrylic fabric is resistant to sunlight, does not shrink and retains color, making it a perfect choice for home decorating. It can have a woven appearance or fiber loops that add to its softness. Chenille is a common acrylic fabric that is used for upholstery, bedding, slipcovers and decorative pillows.


Polyester: If you are looking for a comfortable and functional fabric, think about polyester fabrics. Microfiber is the perfect example of a polyester fabric used in the home. The identifiable feature of this synthetic is the extremely small diameter of individual fiber strands. Microfiber is commonly produced from polyester and nylon resulting in a lightweight, comfortable and durable fabric that resists wrinkles and stains.


Silk: A natural fabric that has been cherished for centuries, silk offers richness and elegance to any room in your house. Silk is a popular fabric for window coverings and will hold up well, if properly lined and interlined. Sun exposure will dry out the fibers, causing them to break down over time. Tafetta and dupioni are highly popular in home decorating, imparting a luster and depth that man-made fabrics simply cannot match. Silk is not the best fabric for upholstery, due to its delicate nature, but can be used for accent pillows in living areas and comforters, shams and pillow covers in the guest bedroom.


Linen: Another natural fiber popular with interior designers, is linen. If you don’t mind the wrinkles, linen can be used as an upholstery fabric, and for curtains, pillows and bedding. Cut down on the wrinkles by choosing a linen/synthetic blend. Just be aware that this fabric stains easily and must be professionally cleaned. High quality linen is extremely strong and durable, holding up to years of use. Linen is light and airy and looks good in a wide variety of interior styles.


Cotton: Cotton, a perennial favorite in home décor, comes in various weaves, weights and styles. This comfortable, breathable fabric runs the gamut, from polished chintz in English Country design to durable twills and canvas in suburban family homes. If you are concerned about stains, look for a cotton blend or have your 100 percent cotton upholstery treated for stain resistance.


Choosing Colors and Patterns

Fabric pattern and color selection strikes fear in even the most seasoned decorators. Fabric choice is one of the most highly subjective decisions you can make when coming up with your room’s design direction. The best advice I can give you, is just to go with your first instinct. Pick one favorite fabric and go with it. Study its predominate colors, varying intensities and scale of the pattern. Next, choose two or three secondary fabrics with different pattern styles and sizes. The only rule here is to make sure your color story remains consistent. In addition to a mix of color and pattern, inject different textures as well.


Common Uses

Curtains: When choosing fabrics for curtains and drapes, it’s a good idea to take a sample and hold it up to a window in your room. Pleat it at the top to see how it hangs and drapes. You can also check it against your walls, floors and upholstered pieces. Use a large fabric sample, if possible. Two yards will give you a good indication of drape and is enough yardage to envision a full curtain panel.


Upholstery: Selecting upholstery or bedding fabric should be based on the amount the room is used. If your kids and pets rule the roost, go with sturdy woven fabrics like chenille, cotton twill or denim. Another good idea, if the budget allows, is to purchase slipcovers in the same or different color to extend the life of your furniture once the original fabric begins to show signs of wear. Save the silks and velvets for the formal sitting room or seldom-used guest rooms.


Pillows: Throw pillows can literally change the look of a room. They are a super way to give your room an inexpensive update or seasonal transitions. If you were conservative with your window and floor coverings, paint and upholstery choices, pillows can be the wow factor in your room. Be daring and choose fabrics you wouldn’t normally think to incorporate into your room’s décor. It’s a great way to experiment with color and texture.


Wall Covering: Ok, I know this isn’t a common use, but using fabrics to cover walls (and ceilings, for that matter) is a long held practice in many countries and cultures. Besides, it is a fun departure from wallpaper and paint. Wider home decorator fabric lends itself to covering a wall. Start with the headboard wall in your bedroom. You’ll be amazed how fabric visually and literally warms up a room. Lightweight fabrics work best for wall coverings if you apply them using the starch method (similar to wallpaper application). Weightier fabrics should be attached over a layer of batting using staples secured into strips of luan installed along the ceiling and base molding.


Final Thoughts

If you still don’t feel comfortable selecting, measuring for or buying fabric for home décor projects, hire a professional to help with the selection process and hire a workroom or upholsterer to fabricate the designs.

Home decorator fabrics can be expensive. To save money, shop discount fabric stores and look for sale, close out and discontinued fabrics.

You Can Do It!

Tell Us How You Choose Fabrics for Your Home

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    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 4 years ago from Arizona

      Urban Accents, I love the canvas panel room divider! I would suggest adding batting and stretching fabric over the panels and securing with staples around the panel edges. If you're really ambitious, you could add tufting with fabric covered buttons. Finish the raw fabric edges with coordinating ribbon or other trim. You just want to make sure you don't cover the hinges, which would make them inoperable. It would be easier to take the hinges off and cover the room divider panels then reassemble.

    • Urban Accents profile image

      Benjamin 4 years ago from New York, New York

      I'm curious of the best way I could wrap fabric around pre- fabricated room dividers I feature on my website, . I'm trying to come up with ideas on how shoppers can customize the blank canvas screens.

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 5 years ago from Arizona

      Robert, I'm so glad I could be of assistance with your urban renewal project. Very admirable! We need more forward thinkers willing to take a chance on our inner-city areas. Good luck with your project -- I'll be interested to hear of your progress! I am also thrilled to be working with you in the apprenticeship program. Very exciting stuff! Thanks for the vote and share!

    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Lindacee, I am so excited to be working with you for this program. Not only because you are a great writer, but because your tips are exactly what I need! My brother and I just purchased a rundown house in an urban community hoping to fix it up while learning how to improve the city. Your tips will certainly assist my brother and I in designing, decorating, and cleaning our new "crib". Thanks for writing! Voted up and shared.