Understanding Fabrics and How to Use Them

By Amy Locke Director, Interior Design, Hatchett Hospitality | August 20, 2010

The look & feel of various materials can vary the look & feel of your hotel space. Fabrics set the mood for any hotel space – with color, pattern, and texture. Sometimes they lead the decor, while sometimes they simply play a supporting accent role. Certainly today there is an almost limitless variety of fabrics to help create your desired look.

It all can be a little overwhelming and confusing. So let's review some basics that may help you make better decisions about fabric selection and usage for your property.

Fabric Types

Fabrics, sometimes also called textiles, are flexible materials that consist either of natural or artificial man-made fibers – referred to as thread or yarn – which have been woven, knitted, crocheted, knotted, or pressed together.

The most common fabrics and fabric terms used in our industry are:

  • cotton – made from a short plant fiber, it's among the most popular fabrics because it is easily washed and resists fading plus other signs of wear. However, it wrinkles and becomes soiled easily, so a cotton/polyester blend is often preferable.
  • polyester – a strong and durable man-made fiber, it is wrinkle-resistant, can be washed without requiring dry cleaning, and dries quickly – but stains don't remove easily. Polyester blends are usually seen in drapes, bed spreads, and sitting areas.
  • nylon – a strong and lightweight man-made fiber, it is easy to wash and care for. It is resilient, has a silky texture, resists moisture and stains, dries quickly, and holds color extremely well.
  • silk – one of the strongest natural fibers, it's spun from the fibers in the cocoon of a Chinese silkworm into a smooth, soft, shiny fabric that is not slippery, unlike many synthetic fibers. However, it is delicate and difficult to care for – for example, it will wrinkle and stain easily – so it's better suited for accent uses than high-traffic areas.
  • rayon – often called "art silk," it is semi-synthetic and a wonderful alternative to silk because it has silk's shiny texture but is more durable. A drawback is that it will wrinkle.
  • satin – this word refers to a weave which has a glossy surface and a dull back. When made from long fibers such as silk, nylon, or polyester, the resulting fabric is called "satin" while when made from short fibers such as cotton, the resulting fabric is considered a "sateen."
  • microfiber – this refers to fabrics that are made using extremely thin synthetic fibers, most often polyester. The exact shape, size, and combination of synthetic fibers depends on the desired characteristics of the final fabric, including softness, durability, absorption, water repellency, and wicking properties, or breathability.
  • wool – a protein animal fiber, the word typically refers to hair from sheep. Fabric made from the hair of goats is called cashmere or "mohair"; hair from animals in the camel family is called "vicuna," "alpaca," or "camel"; and hair from rabbits is "angora." Wool is very versatile because it can be made into materials that range from very coarse such as used in carpeting to very fine such as used in Merino fabrics. It has a high ignition temperature and a low flame spread, so is favored for fire-sensitive environments.
  • linen – with two to three times the strength of cotton, it is among the strongest vegetable fibers. It can withstand high temperatures plus resists dirt and stains, so is easy to care for. However, it wrinkles easily – which some people consider part of its charm. It is expensive so is used in limited quantities.
  • acrylic – a synthetic fiber, it was created as an alternative to wool and is also used as an alternative to cashmere. It is soft, comfortable, durable, holds color well, plus resists shrinkage, stains, wear, and wrinkles.
  • Olefin – a synthetic fiber, it is comfortable, durable, holds color, and is resistant to stains, sunlight, and mildew. It is ideal for high traffic areas.
  • Jacquard – fabric with a complex, ornate pattern woven or knit into it, such as tapestry
  • blend – a fabric which consists of two or more fibers. If a particular fabric isn't right for a certain situation – such as silk in a high traffic area – consider using a fabric blend of that product as an alternative – in this example, rayon would be a possible silk substitute – because the blend will typically be more durable that the 100% pure version of the fabric.
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