Many people that need upholstery work done – on furniture, cars or even boats – make the decision to purchase their own fabrics, since purchasing through the upholsterer usually means higher prices on fabrics. True, manufacturers offer the material to the upholsterer for one price, then the upholsterer marks the fabric up somewhat, so that he also makes a profit from any materials purchased. This standard practice, though, means higher cost for the customer, who might then decide he will furnish his own fabrics.
Fabric outlets are a hot spot for those looking to purchase their own upholstery material. The great thing about the outlets are the reduced prices, of course, but beware. Your upholsterer might turn down the job if he thinks the fabric might make his work look shoddy. Fabrics that are difficult to stretch and pull, fabrics that unravel easily, or even fabrics that are too thin, can be a real turn off for your upholsterer, since these materials can effect the way the overall job looks, possibly making his work look less than perfect.
Just because fabrics are reduced in price doesn’t mean they’re a good buy. Many materials found at outlet stores are there because the pattern is no longer being produced by the company that manufactures it. These kinds of materials are usually good deals, but other fabrics in the store may not be such great buys.
Thin fabrics have a habit of ripping while the upholsterer is doing his job. In most any upholstery job, cuts are made to the fabric, so that the material can be wrapped around various parts of the frame, before being fastened in place. Upon making a cut, then pulling the fabric taut, the upholsterer will be to blame should the fabric tear beyond repair. If this happens, the upholster can’t finish the job until additional fabric is purchased, often causing an argument about who should pay for more fabric.
Too-thick fabrics are very difficult to work with and many upholsterers will reject the job because of that. If the pattern on the frame is such that thick fabric can be lain and fastened, that’s fine, but if the design of the upholstered item has tucks, pleats and other difficult arrangements, it can be nearly impossible work for the upholsterer.
The best thing you can do, when choosing your own fabrics, is to get many samples of materials you like, then present them to the upholsterer for his opinions. Although many upholsterers simply refuse to work with fabrics brought in by the customer, most will, if the material is high quality.
There are a couple of tests you can perform, while at the fabric store, that will give you a clue to the type of fabric you’re considering. The first is the wrinkle test. Wad the fabric, at one corner, in your fist, and squeeze. Now try to smooth the fabric. Does it smooth easily or do the wrinkles remain permanently pressed into the fabric? If the latter is true, pass on this fabric, since it will spell problems for the upholsterer. Often, an upholsterer has to cut large pieces, then fold them in half, or fourths, to set them aside until he is ready to attach the pieces. If these creases won’t easily come out, he’ll have his hands full trying to smooth the fabric before presenting the finished piece.
Try to pull a thread out, at the end of the fabric. If one thread is easily removed, this might not be a good choice. Also, examine bolts or rolls of fabric which have already had pieces cut from them. Have they begun to unravel on the ends? If so, continue looking.
Another test is done by folding the fabric. Take the fabric and make a vertical fold, several inches long. Press the fold with your hand. Now attempt to make a horizontal fold in the fabric, over the top of the vertical fold. If it’s very difficult to make one fold over the top of another, the fabric may be too thick for designs which require tucking and tufting, like chairs or sofas with lots of buttons and folds on the inside back.
No one wants to buy 30 yards of fabric, just to find out their upholsterer won’t touch it. And don’t think you can just take it to a different upholsterer; many of them think alike when it comes to quality of fabrics and ease of working with them. Be on the safe side and present samples to your upholsterer, then discuss which will work best for your upholstery job.