Whether you think of yourself as more ‘crafty’ than ‘seamstress’, or if you make your living turning bolts of cloth into things of even more beauty, you are probably in your happy place when surrounded by yards and yards of woven or knitted fabric. The sort of person who gets a secret thrill when you find the cotton to match a fabric perfectly on your first try (not that this will stop you from testing a few others, just to be sure).
People who love physical fabric seemed to have been slower to take up buying their material online than other areas of textile craft. Part of this is because often fabric is chosen by drape and by feel more than it is by color or type. However this is starting to change as we start to see changes in how an online fabric store will describe their wares.
Shopping With Purpose
Of course, it is always easier to purchase fabric if you go in with a clear idea of what you will be making or how it will be used. Trying to choose fabric that ‘might’ be suitable because you like the price rarely ends well.
If you are working off a pattern, note the suggested material type and the recommended width. However, for many people the projects they are working on require creating their own patterns to reupholster chairs, make curtains , design soft furnishings or even make lampshades – but the same rule applies, know how much fabric you need, and what type of fabric will work for your project.
Although you may be used to going into a store and touching the material, with the online shopping experience shopping for purpose becomes easier. Although in the early days of online fabric stores there was often missing information, sometimes not even including images of the fabric, modern online fabric shops include all the information you could possibly need.
Being able to sort fabric in stock by color, by type or by manufacture means that you can easily find what you need. Many sites will allow you to filter further, so if you are after a Brocade like this made by European Mill you’ll be able to sort through the filters and see what color options there are.
Shopping for fabric online will often give you more information that you could possibly hope to find when purchasing instore. Being able to zoom in onscreen to see a pattern close up is actually much easier than trying to truly see the details of a fabric in the surprisingly gloomy light of most fabric stores.
So often the label with manufacturing information has fallen off the bolt, or has been covered with the store label, while the online counterpart means that you have easy access to the composition of the fabric, and if you’re lucky will even tell you how stain or soil resistant the fabric is going to be – information that makes the selection process much easier if you need a chair fabric.
Matindale & Wyzenbeek Units
When looking for furnishing fabric you will, hopefully, see a durability rating on any fabric you are looking at. It may be showing as a Matindale rating, Wyzenbeek units, a number of rubs, or even a number of double rubs.
What both the Matindale and Wyzenbeek tests are showing is the durability of the fabric, but they both test slightly differently. With the Wyzenbeek test, which is more common in the USA, the fabric is held tight and a machine rubs a heavy canvas across the fabric and then back again – this is where the ‘double rub’ measurement comes from. This process continues until the material shows signs of wear (two yarns or more breaking).
With the Martindale standard test the fabric is tested using a figure eight pattern, and the number of full cycles that completed before fabric breaks or starts to develop a whole is the rub unit given – this may also be given as a number of cycles.
What does all of this mean? If you are looking at a fabric that is going to face a lot of wear, such as a dining or office chair you will want a higher durability. However, as you will generally pay more the higher the durability, if you are looking at fabric for couch covers which will get very light use then a low durability (and usually cheaper) fabric could work well for you.
Of course, these are only guidelines, and there is unfortunately little comparison between the Martindale and Wyzenbeek tests as they are both testing in different ways. However, if you send a message through to the online store, they will usually be able assist you, and many will be able to send out samples so that you can test that the fabric is fit for your needs.
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