How to Choose Upholstery Fabric (Hint…it’s not rocket science!)

Not an endorsement, just loved the image!

Congratulations! You’ve just purchased (found, or were gifted, had dumped on, had left behind, etc.) a be…a…u…tearful couch/love seat/chair/vintage settee, again…etc. And you absolutely…HATE IT. So, the million dollar question where to start when you choose upholstery fabric.

The answer is, I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s right for YOU. But, I do have what you need to know to make some informed decisions. Don’t forget to check out my recent (still ongoing) series You Made That Outta What? to help you sift through different fabric types to get a handle on their strength, versatility, and appropriate usage.

Whether you’re having it done or doing it yourself, you’ll want to read this. 

When you buy a house, the first thing your realtor will remind you is LOCATION. LOCATION. LOCATION. Some day, you’ll want to sell that house. The right location can seal the deal or be the deal breaker.

Being a HUGE proponent of don’t curb/refurb, that truck is more of a treasure hunt for me. What others see as trash, I see as opportunity. Your home is no different. The shape of your furniture, like the heart of a person, is its identity. And like a person, its identity is not defined by its outward appearance, but rather by its inner strength. So unless that couch is a total lost cause, and even then, tread lightly, give it grace and see it for its potential. I mean you wouldn’t toss Fifi to the curb just because she was a brat and tore into the garbage head first and came out smelling like last week’s tuna, would you?

Then give your furniture a second glance and remember what you love about it. Its time to rekindle that special love or bond with that sweet thing you brought home to Momma. So there’s something about her, right? She’s a bit rough around the edges. Maybe she’s been road hard and her feet are just ragged; but clean her up and hellooooooo Beautiful! (We’re talking about furniture, just so were clear folks!

Maybe she’s just been loved too hard and her guts are spilling over. Maybe she’s just been around the block a few times. Come on, give her some grace. 

So, I hear you. You’re saying to yourself,

“It’s overwhelming! Where do I start?” Remember Location…blah blah blah? Let’s examine the 3 W’s:


What is its function?

Where will it reside?

Who will be using it, and how often?

What is its function?

Is it functional, or what my momma called “sittin’ shoes? If your chair is off-limits now, you can splurge on a beautiful jacquard or a nubby chenille, perhaps even a bright, bold solid woven. You can enjoy beautiful, intricate patterns and bold, sexy colors that are trending now. Choose a fabric that is medium or even lightweight upholstery because it’s not going to get mileage anymore.

On the flipside, if this is a family free-for-all, then go for heavy duty, something that can take a beating. Here’s where you really want to avoid patterns and texture, because over time, they will show all that lovin’. Basic wovens, cotton duck, denim, twill, outdoor fabric even. Medium to heavy weight will out perform showy fabrics not designed for all that love and affection. This is not the place for a silk Dupioni or that exquisite embroidered pattern you fell in love with the last time you were here.

(And if you’ve never been here to the warehouse, OMG! Get busy and get here!)

This was a family chair. When I needed to choose upholstery fabric, I chose a small print in a medium weight cotton duck. We went with an Alabama color scheme, but you could use Houndstooth Grey piping instead of red.

Lovey up there in blue missing her seat, well she’s still living large in the family room. But thanks to a major face lift including a new cushion, she’s back in the saddle again!

Where will it reside

This is similar to the first consideration, but more with regard to sun exposure, moisture, humidity, that sort of thing. If your piece is outdoor, in a damp environment, in front of a window all day without the shades drawn, consider an outdoor fabric. La Playa for example, is good for 1600 hours of sunlight. Most outdoor fabrics are water resistant, mold and mildew treated, and can take heat. Expanded vinyl is a great choice as it’s already water resistant, mold and mildew treated, and can withstand thousands of butts on seats over time.

There is however, a trade off. Outdoor fabric is light duty. So if this will be in the high love section, defer to above, go with a heavier duty, and treat it with a UV Sunblock by Forcefield.

When you choose, ask who will use? (It’s a critical consideration when you choose upholstery fabric.)

I suspect by now you have noticed a trend. Ding Ding Ding! You are correct. So again, it’s a matter of wear and tear. I think we’re good on that.

In all circumstances, use an appropriate Forcefield treatment to extend the life of your fabric.

Can we talk about pillows?

Here’s where design wins with functional furniture. Again, not the place for delicate fabrics in the family room, but you can have fun with pattern and color. Treat with a protector, and clean spills when they happen. That’s not Fifi’s job. Choose washable fabrics where possible and use an insert with a zipper cover. Don’t forget, Custom Sewing can do that!

A final note:

Knock Knock.

Who’s there?


Aunti who?

Did you remember your antimacassar today?

What is an antimacassar?

Yes, it’s that lacy thing Granny has on her chairs, probably on top of the plastic, too.

True, but it’s really a cover, made today in the same fabric as your furniture piece, designed to take the abuse that wear, tear, hair, I wasn’t aware the arms and back weren’t a TV tray/special seat just for me or the cat/dog/guinea pig/small children, etc. My advice, have several on hand. They will save your sanity. Tell ya what, how about I teach you how to make them in a future post? Deal?

You’re welcome.

Sew’n piece my friends ♥