Tips for Selecting Slipcover Fabric

Choosing a fabric for your new slipcover doesn’t have to be a chore. A beautiful fabric — in a medium- or even a heavyweight, with a texture, pattern, and color you like, and the durability factors you need — is out there waiting for you. If your head starts to spin when faced with myriad choices, having the basic necessities clearly in mind can keep you on the right track:

  • Added treatments: Check to see whether the fabric has been treated with a stain- or flame-resistant or other type of finish. Some people like these additives and the utilitarian qualities they bring; others hate the smell that these additives can impart.

  • Colorfastness: If your slipcover will be exposed to the sun all day, you want to pick a light or neutral color, which fades less quickly than a dark or bright color.

  • Texture: Linen is a traditional choice for slipcovers, but it may be too scratchy for your taste. Shiny fabrics such as satin and chintz reflect light and add a feeling of brightness, but they can be cold to the touch. Dull, matte, or napped fabrics such as wool or wool blends, velvet, and chenille are cozier and softer, but absorb light, so consider going for a brighter version of the color you have your heart set on. Crisp and stiff fabrics don’t mold well to curves in your furniture.

  • Washability: If you’re blessed with the pitter-patter of little feet — human, canine, feline, or otherwise — you need a miracle fabric that hides dirt, food, and fur, or one that’s easy to throw in the washing machine — sometimes even once a week.

  • Weave: A fabric with a tight weave stands up to everyday use better than a loosely woven fabric. It keeps its shape and repels dirt and stains. Test for a tight weave by holding it up to the light. If you have a sample at home, pull at either side to determine how much give (notable movement of fibers) it has.

  • Weight: Cotton or cotton-blend fabrics, such as chintz and toile or a silk or cotton damask, are easier to work with in mediumweights than in heavyweights; choose them for a less-used, formal area. A slipcover for a well-used piece of furniture — your family room or den sofa — might last longer in a heavier fabric, such as denim, corduroy, velvet or velveteen, or even brocade. If you don’t feel confident in how you or your sewing machine will handle a heavyweight fabric, try a mediumweight version of a tight-weave fabric, such as denim.

  • Width: Fabric width is important to keep in mind when you’re making your choice. Decorator fabrics come in a standard 54- to 60-inch width, but you may be able to find fabrics even wider, in some cases 105 to 110 inches wide. Narrower widths are usually reserved for clothing.

Your furniture slipcovers need to complement your room, of course, but they also serve as a style element with which you can elaborate on a theme. You can echo colors from elsewhere in the room or break out with something bold and different yet still harmonious. Pick a color palette that matches your room and generally stay within its parameters, or pick out another color entirely based on the cool/warm paradigm.

If you’re creating only one slipcover for your sofa, use a solid fabric (or a subtle, petite-scaled print). You won’t get tired of a solid as quickly as you will a print, and you can always change accent pillows on a solid slipcover for a brand-new look.

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