How to choose upholstery fabric

For a unique piece of furniture in your home

You have finally found someone to upholster your chair or sofa and now comes the decisive moment… how to choose a fabric. You have an idea about the atmosphere you want to create in the room and you also know that if you do re-upholster your piece of furniture it should last… especially if it is a large and complex piece to work on. 

This is how you can proceed to make the right choice:

What type of project is this?

1- As always in decoration the first question will be: how do you live? How will you use the piece of soft furnishing you want to re-upholster? What will be its function? 

  • Chair in the bedroom you’re using as a valet
  • Dinning chair
  • Reading Armchair
  • Sofa with daily use 
  • Couch for occasional visits

2- Where you want to place the furniture? Is it an area this is ..

  •  Exposed to strong day/sun light? 
  •  Exposed to a strong source of artificial light? 

3- Who lives in your home?

  •  Do you have pets?
  •  Are there young lively children?

4- Do you exclude any type of artificial fiber?

  •  Yes
  •  No

Martindale is the measurement unit for the abrasion resistance of a fabric: 

Decoration fabrics or non-woven-textiles are tested for their resistance to abrasion. The test consists of rubbing 1 piece of textile or leather with another fabric or sand paper against each other to determine after how many rubs the fabric starts deteriorating. Click here to watch the video on how a martindale-test works.

Usage classification according the martindale results (this may slightly vary depending on your country):

  • up to 18000 martindale the fabric is mostly appropriate for curtains or very light quality soft furnishings or items which are only used as an eye-catcher and strongly used. 
  • starting with 18000 martindale you can use the fabric for soft armchair furnishings
  • starting with 20000 martindale it will be appropriate for dining chairs (dining chairs are usually considered as the most exposed to abrasion in a household). 
  • for other requirements, like when you have pets or active children in your household, I would recommend to look for a fabrics with 30000/40000 martindale
  • for places such as public areas or offices, a minimum of 40000/50000 martindale should be expected. 

Don’t get crazy about martindale ratings. If you have a fabric with a martindale of approximately 20000 rubs and you like very much how the fabric looks like, then go for it… Unless you have pets and exited children (or teenagers) running around all the time, there is no reason for a household to expect 100000 martindale for a sofa! 


Martindale ratings are a good indication to check the resistance of the fabric but keep in mind this is just an abrasion test and it doesn’t tell you anything about the resistance to light, spots or fire. Any extreme conditions, such as a strong exposure to the light, are always very challenging for fabrics. 

You’re welcome to check the following articles to find out more about the resistance to the light (click on the link) “Summertime and the living is easy” and about home textiles and their characteristics in the article “The importance of fabrics in your home”.

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