Microfiber is used in blends and mimic fabrics every day in the furniture industry. It’s an amazing material – softer than silk, with stain and insect repellent qualities. Many types of microfiber are available that now stand in for traditional fabrics like linen, silk and velvet. It’s now the standard for durability and pest control. One thing that many people don’t know is that it is a much finer fabric than silk. The standard for microfiber is that it must be less than 1 denier in diameter, smaller than a strand of silk. That’s why it feels softer. Because it’s a synthetic, it doesn’t stain or react so badly to chemicals like silk. It’s also so small dust mites and other pests can’t live in it, as their feet get caught and they die before having a chance to set up a home. This makes it perfect for allergy sufferers. The rest of the types of fabric I will discuss in this article are almost always made out of microfiber.
A velour microfiber chaise longue. (Porter International Designs, $225)
Baize was introduced to England in 1525. It is a coarse cross weave cloth, sometimes worsted, sometimes slightly fuzzy. Originally it was made from wool and cotton, but today it is also made from synthetic microfibers. It is used for pocket billiards, blackjack and other gaming tables. Baize was often used to cover doors to separate servant quarters in upper class homes. It was also widely used in upholstery during the mid 1900’s, especially on modern designs. It is a little rough but wears well and holds its shape, so it is best suited to sleek, linear designs.
An attractive baize loveseat. (Coaster Furniture, $480)
Top Grain Leather, Bicast Leather, Bonded Leather
What is the difference between these three types of leather? All of them are legitimately leather, but only one of them has all of the qualities that make leather one of the most desirable fabrics available: top grain.
The hide of an animal is thick and is not usually used whole. It can be split into two or three horizontal slices. The side with the hair attached is called top grain. Top grain is the strongest, most beautiful part of the hide. It is very expensive in comparison to every other type of leather cut. It grows more beautiful with age when properly cleaned and conditioned on a regular basis. It is also biodegradable if discarded.
Bicast leather is made from the cheaper inner layers of a hide and is bonded with a layer of polyurethane. You are touching plastic when you sit in a bicast leather piece, but it is durable enough. It doesn’t have the luxurious aging properties of top grain,nor does it feel quite as soft.
Bonded leather is very durable, and it is a leather-fabric composite material. It’s cheaper than either bicast or top grain and is a remarkable fabric. Cheap bonded leather can peel or crack, so make sure you are buying from a reputable brand if you choose to go with bonded leather. It has a soft look vinyl can’t match. If you are buying cheap, vinyl can be the best way to go, as synthetic are underrated for strength and durability.
Synthetics have been with us for over 100 years and have shown time and time again that they are with us to stay – at least in terms of items that need to wear well. Vinyl is no exception, and although it leaves many wishing for more comfort, it is weatherproof, child and pet resistant, and gives the sleek look of leather for a fraction of the cost. Plastics have come a long way since the 70’s, and what fabric manufacturers know about the chemistry of plastic today aids them in developing extremely durable and attractive fabrics. As far as the difference between most leather pieces and vinyl is concerned – there isn’t one. Most low to mid range leather is coated with vinyl to protect it from common rips in cheaper grain anyways! A heavy duty vinyl is strong and warmer than leather.
Another cloth often made from microfiber these days, one will sometimes hear the comment “It sort of resembles corduroy” when someone tries to describe faille. It has very thin lines and is called faille. It was made from silk originally and it gives off a bright sheen, which makes it especially attractive when it is used with lighter colors. Timeless and elegant, many sofas come through Furniture Works with faille fabric, in particular the raspberry colored “Emma” design from Porter International Designs, shown below.
A faille sofa. Up close, the lines and soft ribbing can both be seen and felt. (Porter International Designs – call us for current pricing)
Big fluffy piles of microfiber make up many of the corduroy couches on the market today, and it makes for a cozy and comfortable statement. It’s not common but it is available from most manufacturers in some form or another. It looks really good with Western or Country style décor but blends in lighter shades with elegant and sophisticated Transitional settings.
A corduroy sectional with thick luxurious microfiber fuzz. (Porter International Designs, Approximately $1315, call for availability)
It’s very rare to find a sofa made out of genuine suede, as it is very difficult to properly take care of suede. Microfiber suede is wildly popular, and many sofas come in a sueded microfiber. It leaves “marks” just like real suede, which makes it attractive to many people as they like the interesting effect. If this drives you nuts, stay away from sueded microfiber, and go with vinyl, baize or chenille instead!
This wonderful heavy fabric has a knitted appearance and is very durable. Depending on the pile, it may be sleek and fashionable, or plush and comfortable. This is a very common and popular fabric on a sofa and comes in many varieties. It is sometimes worsted and blended with multiple colors for a fantastic effect. It is warm, soft, and inviting, with an interesting texture that stands up to wear. Due to the accessable loops, it is not recommended for pets that dig or scratch.
A luxurious Art Deco style chenille set from Porter International Designs.
Few upholstery pieces are made from pure linen today, but it is available as a microfiber blend. Linen is strong, holds its shape and has been valued for many thousands of years. It makes for a slick modern sofa with a softer feel than baize.
Miscellaneous other fabrics
Mohair, cotton duct, brocade, silk, velveteen, goatskin, wool and other fabrics have been used in upholstery for a long time, but they are usually not seen today in new pieces. When hunting for a vintage sofa or chair, be careful to examine it carefully for stains or insects, which can be hard to remove. Because microfiber can replicate almost every type of fabric from the past, it is often worth it to recover a collectible piece.