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Home Décor Fabrics 101:  8 Essential Terms

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As a fashion fabric or quilt fabric enthusiast, you may be familiar with a wide range of terms or ratings to do with fashion and quilt fabrics.  These may include “selvedge”, “grain”, and various generic fibre types, screen printing vs. digital printing, etc.  However, when you step into the world of Home Décor fabrics you may see terms or ratings popping up with which you are less familiar.  This article aims to provide an overview of some of the terminology to make you a better Home Décor fabric shopper and sewist!

Abrasion Ratings

Fabrics for upholstery are often rated for abrasion.  If you are investing in custom upholstery, you want to make sure that the fabric you are using will stand up to wear-and-tear over time.  

There are two different standardized tests for rating fabrics for abrasion.  We find that the Wyzenbeek method is a little more commonly referred to.  In this test, the fabric to be tested is stretched flat and then (depending on the fabric being tested) an abrasive fabric such as Cotton Duck or wire mesh is rubbed against it until the fabric fails.  The fabric is considered to have failed if two yarns break, holes form, or there is extensive pilling.  Each back-and-forth rub is called a double rub.  Some common minimum standards for abrasion using the Wyzenbeek method are 15,000 double-rubs for residential use and 30,000 double-rubs for commercial use.  These standards help provide the confidence in the lifespan of your new home décor fabric.

The other standardized test is the Martingale method.  This method also takes a piece of fabric stretched flat, however with this test a piece of worsted wool cloth is rubbed in a figure eight until the fabric fails.  Each figure eight is counted as a ‘cycle’.  Some common minimum standards for abrasion using the Martingale method are 20,000 cycles for residential use and 40,000 cycles for commercial use.

Abrasion vs. Pilling

Abrasion and Pilling are terms that are often used together but may not be related.  Pilling is where fibers pull up from the fabric and create little ‘balls’.  It is possible for a fabric to have a high abrasion rating, but poor pill resistance and the reverse can also be true.  The amount that a fabric pills may be related to the fibers used in making the fabric.  Pilling resistance can also be improved with finishes applied to the fabric.

Width vs. Cuttable Width

I think most of us can easily understand the concept of fabric width.  This is the distance from one edge to the other.  You may have come across the term ‘cuttable width’.  Why would this be different?  In some cases, it is impossible to use (i.e. cut) the full width of the fabric.  An example would be an embroidered fabric.  It is impossible for the embroidery machines to embroider right to the edge of the fabric, so some of the width of the fabric is unusable.  The same may be true for some printing or laminating methods where the printing or lamination cannot cover the full width of the fabric.  Cuttable width is an important measure if you are making a large project that requires multiple widths of fabrics such as wide drapes, bedding, or large upholstery projects.

Fire retardant

Some home décor fabrics are rated as Fire Retardant.  These fabrics are generally used for commercial purposes due to requirements for the industry such as hotels, care homes, etc.  Some fabrics are naturally fire retardant due to the fibers that they are made from.  Some are fire retardant due to a chemical treatment.  Fire retardant ratings vary regionally and there are several industry standards, so if you are interested in fire retardant fabric, it is best to do more research.

Nap/Directional Prints 

Let’s start by talking about nap.  If you’ve ever run your hand over velvet or corduroy, you will have experienced “nap”.  The fabric may feel smooth as you run your hand in one direction, but rougher when you run your hand over it in the other direction.  If it feels smooth your hand is running ‘with the nap’, i.e. you hand is travelling in the same direction as the velvety yarns.  Not only do fabrics feel different based on nap, they also look different.  If you hold a napped fabric up in one direction it may look smooth and shiny, but the same fabric held in the opposite direction can appear more textured and shadowy.  When making a project, it is important that the nap of all of your pieces is running in the same direction.

If you can understand napped fabrics, the concept of directional prints is a breeze.  Some prints have a very random, chaotic placement of motifs.  With other prints, however, the motifs are all facing the same direction.  Picture a print that consists of row upon row of stacked teacups.  If you were using a print like this to make drapes or furniture, you would want to make sure that all of the teacups were facing right-side-up.  Many home décor fabric printers will give you a hint about directional fabrics by printing “this way up” arrows on the selvedge.


The concept of fabric being ‘railroaded’ is related to nap and directional prints.  For most fabrics, the pattern or the nap runs WITH the lengthwise grain of the fabric.  For other fabrics, which are called “rail-roaded”, the nap or pattern runs across the width of the fabric.  Consider a striped fabric.  Most striped fabrics will have the stripes running along the length of the fabric, which make them perfect for drapes.  There are, however, some fabrics where the stripes fun across the width of the fabric, and these would be considered to be “rail-roaded”.  These fabrics are often used for upholstery as the fabric efficiency may be improved by the fabric being railroaded.  Another common example of fabrics being railroaded are extra-wide fabrics for drapery and bedding.  Most home décor fabrics are approximately 54” wide, but some can be 108” wide or more.  Again, these extra-wide railroaded fabrics may improve efficiency by eliminating the need to join panels together i.e. the WIDTH of the fabric is wide enough to be used as the LENGTH of the drape.

Vertical/Horizontal Repeat

Vertical and Horizontal repeat are used to describe patterned fabrics such as prints, jacquards, or embroideries.  Vertical repeat is the measure of the pattern along the length of the fabric and Horizontal repeat is the measure of the pattern across the width of the fabric.  These measurements are very important for drapery and upholstery that use multiple panels of fabric.  For example, if you are making drapes with a fabric printed with large medallions, you would want to make sure that the height of the medallions was consistent across the width of your drapes.  In most cases, this will require purchasing more fabric.  The same concept applies to large upholstery projects.

UV Hour Rating (Colourfastness)

UV hour ratings generally apply to fabrics for outdoor uses, i.e. fabrics that will have direct exposure to UV rays.  The rating indicates the number of hours of exposure before the fabric will show obvious signs of fading.  Please keep in mind that UV rays are still harmful to fabric that have high UV ratings, so it is best to take in your patio cushions when not in use in order to keep them looking newer longer.

We hope this article has helped you learn more about home décor fabrics.  Please let us know if there are other home décor fabrics terms that you have seen or heard that we can help with.


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