As you begin an upholstery project, it may be tempting to run down to the local fabric store to check out some samples or even pick up the fabric you need to get started.
While convenient, upholstery fabric stores often aren’t the best option for designers, especially if your project requires higher quantities of fabric and a greater attention to detail. As designers know, proper planning is everything, which is why it’s important to consider your buying options first before purchasing upholstery fabric.
Here are some situations where upholstery fabric stores may not be right for your project, and some alternative solutions for getting the textile you need.
You Have Higher Quantity Requirements
It’s happened to all of us. You buy an amount of fabric only to realize it’s just short of what you actually need to complete a project. The danger in this scenario is that you head back to the fabric store only to discover all of the remaining fabric has been sold or is on backorder. Now, your project is at a standstill, or worse, must be restarted from the beginning.
Retailers typically have far fewer quantities of a specific type or design of upholstery fabric than a supplier or distributor. That’s because retailers tend to cater to the home market or the do-it-yourself market rather than commercial projects.
One important note: Before you turn to a supplier, you should make sure the company you are considering does not have minimum order requirements. Some suppliers put minimum order requirements in place on designer fabrics, so if you need to place an order, you may need to work with a distributor or supplier that does not have these requirements.
You Have A Budget
Nearly every project has a budget. However, if your project requires a large amount of upholstery fabric, such as reupholstering an office full of furniture or creating an outdoor oasis for clients, your budget will likely play a central role in where you purchase your fabric.
Fabric stores are typically your most expensive option. Even if you are able to find cheap upholstery fabrics, the quality is oftentimes inferior.
Your other options are a distributor or supplier/fabric manufacturer. Both will offer better costs for upholstery fabric by the yard or wholesale fabric by the bolt. However, a distributor will mark up prices before selling the fabric to an end-user.
A fabric manufacturing company or supplier will offer the best prices since you are purchasing the fabric directly from the company without going through a distributor, who essentially acts as a broker.
You Need Customizations
Very few fabric retailers, whether in a brick and mortar location or online, offer customization options. If you are considering customizations like these below, you’ll want to instead turn to a supplier for help personalizing your order.
- Custom Colors: With a spectrum of colors from which to choose, you can easily customize your project with a unique hue that represents your client’s aesthetic tastes. However, it’s important to never rely on the manufacturer’s website for color since dye lot variations are common in the textile industry. Instead, request a free swatch so you can see the color in person.
- Custom Printing: There are two types of printing services available: Rotary/flat bed printing and digital printing. Rotary/flat bed printing is a direct-to-fabric printing technique where the image is engraved on precision-cut stencils, also known as screens. Multiple screens can be used to create a multi-color design. Digital printing, also known as direct-to-garment printing, is any ink-jet-based method of printing colorants onto fabric. This process allows for smaller minimums and eliminates screen charges.
- Upholstery Backing: When choosing upholstery for pieces of couches, chairs or other furniture pieces, you will have different considerations than if you’re choosing upholstery fabric for draperies. The slightest change in fabric weight can make a difference in what your final product looks like. Manufacturers will often add backing to fabric to help prevent seams from slipping and to increase durability. For furniture projects, latex backing is commonly used since the coating helps prevent soil from sifting through the fabric.
- Protective Coatings: These customizations can help keep your project fresher and cleaner longer. A popular protective finish is called nano-coating, which is a very thin transparent plastic polymer film coating that helps repel dry particles, waster, oil and dirt. Other options include Scotchgard and Alta treatments. Some manufacturers also offer antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal treatments that prevent the buildup of bacteria, fungi and dust mites.
You Are Fulfilling A Commercial Project
If your project is commercial, you may need upholstery fabric that includes a fire rating. Some fabrics sold in stores already come with flame retardant. But you will likely be limited in your selections and won’t have the option to add this coating that must be sprayed on the fabric.
In California, all furniture must comply with TB117-2013. This regulation requires that upholstery fabric pass smolder cigarette tests.
Upholstery fabrics used in public places must also meet fire safety laws as outlined by the National Fire Protection Association and California law. Fire retardant applications can be sprayed on or brushed on to help limit the spread of a fire.
You Have Questions About The Fabric
Fabric store owners are often knowledgeable about the products in their stores, but with hundreds of fabrics that come in and out of stock, they likely won’t be experts.
Where you purchase your upholstery fabric can impact the type of customer service or product information you’ll receive. An upholstery fabric manufacturer or supplier is much more likely to have extensive product knowledge. This is important, since the slightest differences in fabric like weight or weave patterns can impact how your product looks and feels.
It’s also a good idea to work with a domestic supplier to have your questions answered since there will be no language barriers and fewer time zones to overcome. You’ll get the added benefits of no customs to deal with and shorter shipping times as well, allowing you to deliver your creation to clients sooner.