Textile Trivia: Upholstery Fabrics

Fiber-Seal technicians are among the most highly trained in the fabric care industry. Many of the questions listed in our Textile Trivia articles are taken directly from Fiber-Seal training quizzes. Upholstery fabrics make up a large part of the fabric care realm, and we can never talk enough about the ever-changing fiber combinations and construction of these upholstery fabrics. How many of the following Textile Trivia questions can you answer correctly?

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Yarn beaming machine at DuPont’s nylon manufacturing plant Source: Hagley Museum and Library

Synthetic Upholstery Fabrics


The origins of upholstery fabrics made from natural fibers can be traced back thousands of years to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, around 2000 BCE. These fabrics were typically made up of materials such as linen, wool, and animal hides. Synthetic fibers, on the other hand, have only been around for about a century. Do you know what the first synthetic fiber to be manufactured was?

Nylon! After over a decade of research and battles between rivaling chemical engineering firms, DuPont chemists and technicians unveiled the world’s first fully man-made fiber, derived mostly from coal, water, and air. In contrast to viscose rayon, which is made from chemically modified plant fibers, nylon upholstery fabrics boasted both better durability and a more stable supply of raw material. Quickly, the cheaper and more durable alternative to natural fibers made its way into textiles and fashion around the world.

NYlon fabric


Now that we know the origins of nylon as the first manmade non-cellulosic fiber, do you know what the first major use of nylon fabric was?

According to an article from the Science History Institute, nylon’s versatility as a fiber was first displayed through models wearing it as stockings at the Wonder World of Chemistry, and then again at the New York World’s Fair, demonstrating its durable and stretchy properties. The nylon-knitted stockings were stretched over leg forms to prevent shrinkage and steamed to heat-set their shape and size. Much due to the nylon fabric stockings’ strength and smooth, wrinkle-free fit, the first public sale of these stockings sold out of 4,000 pairs in just three hours. Only a few years later, however, nylon stockings disappeared from the market with the newly formed high demand for nylon application in the US military.

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Violet Grenda inspecting skeins of nylon yarn in 1938

Source: Joseph X. Labovsky Collection, the Institute Collections

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Photo of aniline leather from Colourlock

Leather Upholstery Fabric


Leather upholstery fabric has always been a very popular material for home and office seating and décor. Though ease of care varies, one type of leather is notorious in the fabric care industry for being difficult. What is it?

Aniline leather is a very soft leather that has no pigments or surface finishes. This is the most naturally absorbent type of leather and is extremely difficult to clean. Though many leathers lack the absorbency to warrant a protective treatment, aniline leather can benefit greatly from a fabric protection treatment to help prevent staining.

Common problems with Upholstery Fabrics


Have you ever noticed tiny little balls of fuzz forming on the surface of your upholstered sofa or chair? Some fabrics shed these small knots of fiber more readily than others, but there is one common characteristic that must be present to display this kind of shedding: there must be loose fiber ends on the surface. Do you know what the term is for this type of issue?

It is pilling! Pilling is a frustrating occurrence that can happen as soon as a few days after a brand-new upholstery fabric purchase. Typically, the shorter the fiber used to construct an upholstery fabric, the more prone it will be to pilling. Therefore, cotton, wool, polyester, and acrylic are more likely to display these little fuzz balls than longer fibers like linen and silk. Pilling on relatively weaker fibers like cotton and wool will break off the upholstery fabric easier than pilling on stronger fibers such as polyester or acrylic.

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If you got 3 or more correct, you are a fabric care expert! You are familiar with upholstery fabrics and have a basic understanding of fabric characteristics.

If you got 2 or less, you need to study more! Luckily, our other posts cover a variety of fabric care topics from how to remove pet stains to fabric protection.

fiber-seal can help!

The experts at Fiber-Seal are always on call to help you with all of your upholstery fabric care needs, as well as any other soft surface! Fiber-Seal is here to answer any of your fabric related questions, as we continue to be the number one resource for designers and clients when it comes to all things fabric care. Additionally, we offer fabric protection and cleaning services to keep furnishings looking fresh and new.

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