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What is upholstery fabric?

The core of what we do at Plumbs is upholstery, but what do we mean when we say ‘upholstery’, and what are we looking for in the fabrics we use?

For all you need to know about upholstery fabrics, read on.

Upholstery’s origins

The rise of upholstery really began during the 18th century, when the Elizabethan elite craved comfort, a clear resistance against the hard, wooden bench seating of the Jacobean era.

Upholsterers were then enlisted to add those essential ‘soft touches’, like padding, cushions and springs, to furniture. Those who took on this practice were considered the crème de la crème of interior decorating at the time, primarily because the final product was so expensive (the most common upholstery fabrics - embroidered cotton, velvet and linen - were not mass-produced and, thus, cost a pretty penny).

Luckily, the public’s appetite for comfort has accelerated rapidly over time - greatly aided by the rise of living room culture. As a result, we are now overwhelmed by ever-softer fabrics at a much more reasonable prices.

How to choose upholstery fabric

aquaclean sofa

With more than 60 years of experience in the furniture business, we know a few things about which upholstery fabrics work.

Of course, while there are good things to be said about all kinds of fabrics, there are a handful of features we recommend reviewing if you’re in the market for a good quality textile.

Stain resistance

For all your best intentions to keep food and drink away from your sofa, it only takes one splash of red wine to incur an expensive cleaning bill.

That’s why it is a good idea to invest in synthetic blends, like microfiber, as they are designed to easily wick away spills and stains. We also recommend our Aquaclean range if your sofa provides both a resting spot for pets and a playground for small children.

If you would prefer a natural blend for your sofa, however, patterned fabric is a wise choice; patterns are great at covering up accidental spills and unsightly smudges.


In the textile industry, durability is measured by ‘the rub test’ (which involves a machine rubbing a material back and forth until it shows signs of wear). Materials with low rub counts (>10,000 rubs) are typically reserved for decorative functions, such as scatter cushions and throws. You’ll know these types of fabrics as they are delicate and luxurious to the touch – silk and chenille, for instance.

Materials with high rub counts (25,000 rubs+), like polyester and synthetic viscose, are best applied to frequently used furniture. Luckily, at Plumbs, we combine aesthetics with practicality; our velvet Amalfi boasts a whopping 60,000 rubs.


You might think that synthetic fabrics are the least likely to cause allergies, but natural fibres like cotton, linen and silk are all hypoallergenic, too.

To be sure, always double-check the label for ‘hypoallergenic’ before buying your upholstery fabric and, if in doubt, choose a fabric with short fibres if you do suffer from allergies, as they are less likely to gather dust, dirt and pet hairs.

With more than 800 fabrics from leading design houses, you’re sure to find something comfortable and long-lasting at Plumbs. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for online? Our expert consultants are on hand to help you find the best upholstery fabric for you, in the comfort of your own home.

Sophie Page
Sophie Page

Sophie is a great granddaughter of the founders of the business - so fabrics and furniture are almost part of her DNA! Her interests include home interiors and upcycling, and her favourite show to watch after work is The Repair Shop. Some of the topics she covers on the Plumbs blog include sofa reupholstery and furniture protection.

UK-wide service
UK-wide service
Family business
Family business
Free in-home consultation
Free in-home consultation
Over 800 fabrics
Over 800 fabrics
Quality guarantee
Quality guarantee

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