Choosing upholstery fabrics always throws people in a tailspin. So many options. Too many options. And many in the same color scheme and similar textures that they look for. One way to narrow the list down is looking at the durability specs. Each fabric sample you will see in any sample book will have a tag at the back with specifications of the individual fabric:
Durability is probably one of the most important specs to look out for because it will help in determining what to pick. Are you choosing a fabric for a piece of furniture that is used occasionally or daily? Do you have pets and do they sit on the furniture? Do you have children? Do you host parties and how often? Answering these questions will aid your decisions.
Companies measure the durability of a fabric using, what they call, the Wyzenbeek Method. Simply put, a mechanical arm rubs a piece of cotton duck (heavy canvas) back and forth on the fabric. One back-and-forth motion counts as one "double rub". They perform the test in rounds of 5,000 rubs until either there's noticeable wear or two yarns break.
Here's an example of a tag on a Robert Allen Fabric swatch from our fabric room. You will see the durability level labeled as "Abrasion" and has a level of 40,000 double rubs Wyzenbeek Method. This is considered quite durable and is appropriate for active settings and able to maintain color and hold.
Is there a specific number of double rubs to look out for depending on use? Kind of. They are more recommendations.
Here at Oak & Velvet, for clients with projects that see active use or are in full houses of kids and pets, we start at 30,000 double rubs and go from there. 15,000 - 20,000 is for moderate use and homes with no pets. Anything 10,000 double rubs or less is only recommended for decorative purposes, either drapery or accent pillows.
At times, you will see, when looking at swatches, a fabric mill measures abrasion using the Martindale Method. Similar to Wyzenbeek, the fabric is pulled taut and rotating discs of wool or wire mesh are rubbed on the fabric in fancy figure 8s until noticeable wear or two yarns break.
Here, a fabric swatch from Duralee, shows abrasion with Martindale Method. The levels read very close to Wyzenbeek: 20,000 - 30,000 and exceeding is very durable and recommended for busy areas and heavy use. 10,000 - 20,000 is light daily use, and anything less is decorative use only. The difference between the two tests is Wyzenbeek is primarily utilized in North America, while Martindale is an international standard. Many professionals would consider the Martindale Method a truer test of a fabric's performance.
There are pros and cons to choosing a highly durable upholstery fabric. Higher double rub count often means higher cost per yard. Lower rub count means lower price. On top of that, higher rub count fabrics may not have the softness of lower rub count fabrics, such as linen. So keep in mind when looking through fabrics, what setting and use is the furniture going to see in its lifetime and how much are you willing to pay for the project. And if you think that limits your choices incredibly, not to worry. At Oak & Velvet, we have one room devoted to fabrics and swatches filling every corner. We can guarantee a match for you and your furniture.