A designer’s guide to fabrics, by KOTHEA
KOTHEA is a leading supplier of fabrics to interior designers with a range that includes an excellent selection of textured fabrics: linen weaves, sheer voiles, faux leathers, Italian silk velvets, mohair, cashmere. Here Mark Gee guides you through the process of selecting the best types of fabrics for all applications.
Q. What is the difference between fabrics for upholstery and fabrics for curtains?
A. Designers often blur the line between upholstery fabrics and fabrics for curtains. Recently we have had orders for mohair velvet for curtains and even more unusually, faux leather for curtains. And for delicate silks for upholstery. However, we would normally say that a curtain fabric should ‘hang’ well and an upholstery fabric needs to be sturdy enough for domestic or commercial environments.
Q. Is silk suitable for curtains?
A. Silk can degrade in sunlight and sunlight can cause colours to fade, although we say silk is generally suitable for curtains. Many commercial interior designers use our faux silks, which look virtually identical to real silks but are more durable and colour-fast.
Q. What is an FR number in relation to fabrics?
A. FR relates to Fire Retardancy and is a key legal consideration for designers. Designers should be aware of the different requirements for specifying fabrics for hotels in comparison to fabrics for private residences and the different requirements for wallcoverings, bed covers or cushions. A fabric which either passes or can be treated to pass CRIB5 will meet most criteria for upholstery. For domestic use only, upholstery fabrics should pass a cigarette or match test.
Q. When do you need a barrier cloth for upholstery?
A. If a fabric is made of 75% natural fibres and passes the cigarette test, in a domestic environment you may not have to FR treat the fabric, provided you use an inter-liner called a barrier cloth. You should consult the local fire officer or a FR treatment company if you are in doubt.
Q. Can fabrics be treated for fire-resistance?
A. Where there are more stringent requirements in contract applications, you may need a CRIB5 certification. Fabrics can be treated with chemical impregnation or by adding a back-coat. Specialist firms including TEK Hygiene, Textiles FR and Essex Flameproofing are well-known for offering these services.
Q. Any tips for selecting colour?
A. A designer normally comes to us with a colour palette and at KOTHEA we are happy to suggest fabrics to complement or tonally match a colour scheme the designer specifies. Often designers and clients view digital images for colour inspiration, but colours can differ on a smart phone or PC screen from a physical sample. We have learned not to rely on an electronic device or app to analyse colour and prefer using a designer’s creativity for inspiration.
Q. We know that you provide a great deal of fabric for top-end yacht designers; what constitutes luxury in fabric?
A. You might say that luxury fabrics are made of high quality fibres (Grade A vs. Grade C cashmere hairs for example), a dense fine weave or fabrics which are specially designed in limited edition. It’s a difficult question; just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps luxury fabrics need to be in the hands of the client to be truly appreciated.
Q. What are the advantages and disadvantages of leather?
A. With processed leather hides you are limited to the size and shape of the hide whereas with an alternative fabric you are only limited by the width of the fabric as the length is ‘unlimited’. At KOTHEA we offer many extra-width fabrics. Our faux leathers have many superior characteristics such as durability, abrasion and sunlight resistance, ease of cleaning and other positive properties. Some consider real leather hides to be more environmentally friendly as they are of natural origin, but the tanning process negates this theory.
Q. Where can you use leather?
A. Processed leather hides and faux leathers are interchangeable in many instances but faux leathers are more widely suitable for a variety of applications. We have, for example, supplied KOTHEA faux leathers for clubs and bars as well as for doors and wallcoverings in marine environments.
Q. What are the advantages of wool?
A. Wool can refer to any animal hair, including sheep, goat, camel or rabbit. Natural fibres such as sheep’s wool have a degree of inherent resistance to fire and are very durable. They are also warm and can normally be easily cleaned. More expensive fibres include Vicuna, Cashmere and Kid Mohair. Apart from their rarity, they are sought-after for softness and warmth. KOTHEA‘s cashmere throws and mohair fabrics are often supplied to boutique hotels and private villas.
Q. Which fabrics are most hard-wearing?
A. Densely woven, heavier fabrics tend to be harder wearing, but it is important to consider the ‘rub test’ results for fabrics to know if they are truly suitable for heavy usage. Some KOTHEA velvets and some man-made vinyls which look like real leather are extremely hard-wearing with scores of over 100,000 rubs. Domestic fabrics often have a rating of 20,000 rubs.
Q. Are there new trends in fabrics?
A. There have been tonal colour trends over the years reflecting the onset of minimalism. The ubiquity of taupe remains to a degree. Acidic, stark colours of a few years ago reflected a fad. Taupe has now morphed into a wider palette of neutrals. 2014 was popular for greys, steel-blues and teal. But trends and fads come and go before coming around again. You might argue that there are general trends in interiors, and that fabrics must keep in stride with these trends, rather than initiate what is in vogue.
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