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DECOR : Not All Fabrics Are Cut From the Same Cloth

August 28, 1993|From Associated Press

Choosing an appropriate fabric type for upholstery, drapery, linens and other home uses boils down to three elements: fabrication (how it's made), fiber (what it's made of) and finishes (treatments after the fabric is woven). Many of the intriguing differences in the texture, weight and surface appearance of fabrics are due to fabrication.

The type and weight of the yarns used and the way the yarns were woven all affect how the fabric looks and performs.

Fabrics with a loose weave are translucent when held up to the light; these fabrics work well for window treatments or light-duty decorative treatments. For upholstery, you want a tightly woven fabric that regains its shape after it is stretched.

Many heavy-duty upholstery fabrics also are heavy in weight, but closely woven medium-weight and lightweight fabrics in a strong fiber may be suitable for seating pieces.

All fabrics start with fiber--tiny wisps of animal or plant matter or laboratory-made chemical substances. Fiber content is more than a beauty contest.

The inherent properties of these fibers help decide how strong a fabric is, how it drapes and feels and how it stands up to wear. The primary natural fibers used in fabrics are cotton, wool, linen and silk.

Following are some factors that may help you evaluate the fabrics that will work best for you:

* Cotton has long been considered the premier natural fiber because of its low cost and versatility. It is used extensively in both draperies and upholstery. Cotton fibers handle abrasion, accept dye beautifully and can be made shrink-resistant, stain-repellent, flameproof and water-repellent.

* Wool has a natural spiral that, when woven into fabric, creates air pockets that insulate against winter cold and summer heat, making it well suited for draperies.

* Linen fibers are very strong and accept dyes and finishes well. The unevenness of linen yarns gives linen fabrics a textural richness, and the waxy finish of the fibers wards off dirt and adds luster. Linen makes a good drapery fabric because it holds its shape well. Linen wrinkles easily, however, and needs careful cleaning.

* Silk is a very strong fiber, although it is very susceptible to sun damage. Silk is as elastic and resilient as wool and dyes so well that it picks up the most subtle shades of color. In addition to these practical properties, silk's fineness, high luster and superb drape enable it to be made into the finest fabrics, from velvets to chiffons.

* Synthetic fibers may be used alone or blended to produce a fabric with the best qualities of several fibers. Some synthetics are based on natural substances. They start out as cellulose and protein materials and are then processed with chemicals to produce fibers.

* Rayon, the original artificial silk, is one such fiber. It takes dye well and has a fine drape; it often is used for upholstery fabrics and draperies.

* Acetate has a better drape and a more lustrous look than rayon. It often is blended with other fibers to improve crease retention and sunlight resistance.

* Other synthetics are purely manufactured; nylon was the first such fiber. Its strength, resiliency and elasticity continue to make it useful as a blend in drapery and upholstery fabrics. Nylon also deteriorates when exposed to sunlight.

* The primary strength of polyester lies in its ability to blend with other fibers, imparting qualities such as wrinkle resistance, resiliency, cleanability and an ability to retain pressed-in pleats.

* The most significant trait of acrylic is that it can be spun to resemble natural fibers, but with the added strength and lower cost characteristic of synthetic fibers. Acrylic shares wool's texture, colorfastness and resiliency.

* Fabrics made of glass fibers are durable, stable and easy to maintain--a good choice for draperies.

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