Everything You Need to Know About Fabric Specifications

9 April 2018

fabric specifications textiles

Whether you're choosing fabric for a new sofa or you're producing a stunning cushion, understanding more about fabric specifications will help your creations last longer. From the way your patterns run through to how flammable your fabric is, there's a lot you need to know about fabric specifications.

Railroaded vs Regular fabric designs

When you're selecting a design, it's worth determining whether it has a 'regular' roll or if it 'railroads'. Fabrics that have a regular roll feature a pattern that moves upwards, with the top remaining perpendicular to the edge. Such patterns usually meet the needs of those who make cushions and throws. In contrast, when a designer 'railroads' their fabric, the pattern runs along with the roll. Visually, this means the top of the pattern is parallel to the roll's edge, making it ideal for larger items, such as furniture. Whether you choose regular fabric or railroaded, once the length comes to an end the pattern will repeat neatly. As such, you can continue perfecting your creation without losing its continuity.

Understanding different degrees of fabric durability

During the manufacturing process, each fabric designer will determine how durable their creations are. To achieve this, they use a machine that rubs against it and they don't switch it off until the fabric wears down. Designers call this the 'double rub test'. In order to meet specific standards, different types of fabric require different rub counts. The rub count is the number of times the machine can run backwards and forwards over the fabric before it wears down. To give you an estimate of the rub count each fabric type needs, here are some examples:

  • Heavy duty items such as couches that people will sit on regularly should have a rub count of 100,000. Usually, this applies to items that people sit in a lot in commercial settings, such as restaurants.
  • As for residential fabrics, they usually require a double-rub count of 30,000. Such fabrics will work well in busy family homes.
  • Items that are primarily decorative or belong to smaller households can benefit from fabrics ranging between 15,000 and 30,000 double rubs.
  • If you're choosing fabric for upholstery that will come into contact with people regularly, such as cushions, you can aim for a double-rub mark between 9,000 and 15,000. Avoid using fabrics below 15,000 for seating.
  • Delicate fabrics featuring double-rub counts of less than 9,000 are ideal for decorative purposes only. An example of this would be cushions you'll use to adorn a bed, but won't sit on.
  • When selecting your fabric, consider what you're using it for and keep durability in mind. A higher double-rub count may cost more but will save money in the long-term when it comes to repairs and replacements.

Colourfastness in response to light, rubbing, and wetness

When your fabric arrives, it will feature a vibrant colour that you will want to last forever. Unfortunately, colours do begin to fade. Depending on how long you want your efforts to live on, you should check out the colourfastness of each piece and how it responds to different irritants.

Colourfastness in response to light

For example, many colours will begin to fade in the light. Whether you choose a natural fibre such as cotton. Or synthetic fibres such as nylon or polyester, they all have a colour fading point. UV rays, sunlight, and the flashes from photography all have an effect, so you need to choose your fabric according to its future exposures. When producing fabrics, manufacturers use a grading system that lets you know how quickly they'll fade. The grades range from one to five. Fabrics with a 5 rating are robust and resistant to light, while those with a one will fade easily.

Colourfastness in response to colours transferring from one fabric to another

In the fabric industry, professionals refer to this as "Wet and dry crocking or rubbing." For example, when you wear a dark pair of jeans featuring heavy dye, there's a chance you'll transfer the colour to your fabric. This can happen both when they're dry and wet, which means you need to consider the risk of transfer when choosing fabrics for certain uses. Using a test method called ISO-105×12:2001, manufacturers will take a standard piece of white cotton and rub it against the fabric they're making in both wet and dry states. They'll do this a specific number of times, then compare the amount of colour that transfers to a chart. Again, a grading system indicates how likely it is that colour will transfer. At Grade 5, there's a low risk and at Grade 1 there's a high risk. Ideally, if you're using your fabric for upholstery purposes, you should aim for grades 4 or 5.

Colourfastness due to sweating

The nature of each person's sweat varies, meaning it can become alkaline or acidic. Similarly, pets and other areas of the environment expose fabrics to different antiperspirants that can damage their colour and design. Again, the grades a manufacturer measures colourfastness due to sweating against vary between one and five, with five remaining the strongest and one being the worst. If you want to see a minimal colour change due to perspiration of any type, aim for fabrics of quality four or five.

How flammable the fabric is

All fabric is flammable to a degree. However, how flammable it becomes especially important in certain environments. For example, using a fabric that's less susceptible to flames in a residential home or on an aeroplane is important, as there is a low chance of safe escape. A specific test determines how flammable a fabric is. The NFPA 701-89 requires manufacturers to expose the fabric to fire for twelve seconds and then they measure the following effects afterwards:

  • How big the flame is
  • The amount of charring left afterwards
  • Any remaining flaming residue

Like colourfastness, this then places the fabric's flammable nature into a grade category. While some manufacturers may describe their fabrics as non-flammable or as having a low flame level, it's worth bearing in mind that external factors influence this. For example, the fuel starting the flame, the presence of oxygen, and other combustible materials in the area all play a role. While it seems as though there's a lot to consider when choosing fabrics, always starting with your project's goal is the best way to guide yourself. From there, you will know which grades and patterns to aim for. Click here to see our range of fabric bean bag covers.

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