Tips on Picking Out Furniture Fabric

Many people are wary to buy secondhand furniture because they don’t care for how the fabric looks. It also doesn’t help that upholstery isn’t something many people know much about anymore. Fixing up an old chair or couch can be an opportunity to delve into a whole new world of fabric. There’s basically any look or fabric you can imagine, and if you can’t find it, then someone will surely make it for you. Provided you can afford the price tag that comes with a custom job, of course — they aren’t known for being cheap. 

A new fabric on your chair or couch can have many advantages. Make sure to consider these factors before you buy your fabric.

1.    Durability

With furniture, making it last should definitely be a top priority. After all, this is something you want to survive for years, maybe even decades. And reupholstering it every spring will get old, fast. For this, your best course of action is to look for bottom-weight fabrics. This might sound weird, but it really just means stuff you would make pants out of. Options such as duck, sailcloth, or denim are all bottom-weights. Lighter weights, such as medium or top-weight fabrics, can also work, but they won’t last as long.

2.    Cash

Most people assume simply buying fabric isn’t going to be that expensive. And with a little bit of shopping around, it won’t be. If you’re looking for a good comparison, a quality piece of fabric will be similar to the cost of 1-3 gallons of gas.

However, if you want to go all out, you can certainly find places that will be more than happy to take a ridiculous amount of money. That’s one reason you have to be very careful buying online. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase a fabric I hadn’t been able to physically feel beforehand. If you can’t find what you want locally, any reputable fabric place should be happy to send you swatches.

3.    Style

Even if you’re buying locally, it’s still a good idea to get a swatch. Colors can look very different when they aren’t under the bright fluorescent lights of a store, and you might find the color you thought you had isn’t as appealing in your own home. On the other hand, you might find the color you picked out is more than perfect for what you’re looking to do. In that case, you might actually want to end up getting more, and possibly redoing even more furniture.

On top of the color, you also need to consider the type of fabric when you’re determining your style. A leather couch might look out of place in a bohemian room, while a satin couch might not be your first choice but might surprise you by fitting in perfectly.

4.    Care

Think about how much work you want to put into maintenance of this fabric. Is it something that can handle a few spills, or will it need immediate special attention? And more importantly, are you willing to give it immediate attention? Some of this is being honest with yourself, but it’s fine to admit you don’t want a high-maintenance fabric. Of course, if it’s for a piece of furniture that won’t be used all the time, you might be willing to risk it.

5.    Lifestyle

If you spend most of your day at an office and come home to a quiet night of adult-ing, you can probably choose whatever fabric you like. But add dogs, cats, kids, dust, dirt and smells into the mix, and you suddenly might not want a lovely, cream-colored leather sofa. Keep your lifestyle in mind when you choose fabrics, and maybe consider something that’s a bit more stain-resistant if you’re worried about it getting messed up.

All of these things are important when you pick out fabric, but you also have to simply choose something you like. Reupholstering isn’t as scary or challenging as it seems, so long as you’re careful and take the time to learn a few new skills. A few good choices and some solid research, and you’ll have a whole new skill set in no time.


Megan Wild loves fixing and flipping used furniture and making it into something completely unique. You can check out examples of her projects on her blog, Your Wild Home.