Choosing the perfect fabric for upholstered furniture – a Sofas & Stuff guide

Green fabrics from Sofas & Stuffs new exclusive RHS Botanicals collection

Choosing the perfect fabric for upholstered furniture – a Sofas & Stuff guide

Selecting the fabric – or indeed, fabrics – for your new handcrafted sofa, armchair or bed offers the chance to express your home’s distinct personality. Fine quality fabrics are at the heart of Sofas & Stuff and leafing through our 200+ fabric books is an almost magical experience with the profusion of colours, textures and prints available.

Choosing the right upholstery can take some consideration, however, from the look you wish to achieve to the lifestyle suitability of certain fabrics. Across our 23 nationwide showrooms, our design consultants are your experts for everything fabric-related; below are their expert tips and advice on how to choose the right fabric for your upholstered sofa. For more tailored guidance, be sure to visit us at your nearest showroom.


Quick questions to help you choose a sofa fabric

  • How will the fabric you choose fit into your existing interior design?
  • How do you want your sofa to look and feel?
  • Who will use the sofa or bed and how often?
  • What are your maintenance preferences?
  • Do you need to consider anyone’s allergies?
  • Will pets be using the sofa?

Sofa fabric choices in a nutshell

  • Linen: elegant, eco-friendly, ages well, relatively high maintenance, ideal for formal rooms.
  • Velvet: luxurious, durable, vibrant colours, attracts dust, versatile for various settings.
  • Cotton: soft, breathable, versatile, durable, fades in sunlight, great for family settings.
  • Wool: durable, warm, spill-resistant, eco-friendly, suitable for tailored pieces.
  • Viscose: silk-like, vibrant colours, versatile, delicate when wet.


RHS Botanicals – Pieter van Kouwenhoorn Tulips: Natural


What makes the perfect fabric for your home?

Selecting the best fabric for your new handcrafted furniture starts with your unique home environment. As well as the colour or pattern you prefer, certain lifestyle considerations can guide your journey to the right fabric.

By considering the below, your handcrafted furniture will not only reflect the décor of the room it inhabits, but it will support your lifestyle too. Ask yourself the following questions:

A sofa or armchair can be well-placed across the home, from the family lounge to a private study. In these cases, consider who will be making use of the new furniture and how this might influence the fabric you choose.

For sofas, snugglers and armchairs, will they be a place for the family to gather and spend time together? Will this involve four-legged family members too? Or, will it be used as seating for adults in a more formal entertaining room, study or library?

For beds, will it be placed in a main bedroom, a child’s bedroom or a guest room, for example?

The usage patterns of your sofa or bed will influence how durable your fabric might need to be. The well-known Martindale Test, also known as the rub test, tells us the ‘rub count’ of certain fabrics, showing how suitable they are for regular use. Sofas in the main family rooms of homes, for example, will likely be used every day for relaxing, watching television or reading and may require more integrity. 

Meanwhile, an occasional armchair placed on your landing or in a guest bedroom may be used more sporadically, perhaps even being used as a space to lay out clothes rather than seating. Similarly, for an upholstered bed, consider how frequently it will be used to tailor the durability of the fabric you choose.

Some fabrics necessitate a little more upkeep than others to keep them looking their very best. This will also be linked to who will be using your sofa, as well as the room it will be placed in.

Are you looking for a fabric that maintains its beauty with very little sprucing? Or are you seeking an option that ages and evolves with your home, giving it personality? Would a stain-resistant or easy-clean fabric take the weight off your shoulders if there is a greater likelihood of spills or general wear and tear?

When it comes to the look you wish to achieve with your sofa or bed, it is here you can truly find joy in the sofa design process. There is plenty to consider; a neutral-coloured fabric will provide the optimal base for nods of colour in other décor while choosing a brighter, bolder shade or pattern will create a focal point in any room.

Consider your personal taste, as well as existing décor. This might include the colour scheme of a room, any other patterns which are currently featured and the textures already being played with. Taking advantage of our 8 free fabric samples is an excellent way to explore options; consider the existing colour scheme and patterns present to help guide your selection.

The tactility of sofa fabrics is a key part of their delight, with different weaves and piles creating different textures. Most fabrics in our library are comfortable to the touch, but especially soft fabrics might be more suitable for frequently used furniture, enhancing the cosiness of a couch or snuggler in the family lounge.

For bed frames, you might choose to prioritise the look of your chosen fabric above the texture, as being soft to the touch is less likely to be of concern.

A less common, but by no means less important consideration, is whether certain fabrics might trigger allergies or sensitivities. Natural fabrics, such as wool, do not require any chemical treatments and may be more suitable for those who do need to avoid such treatment.

A look at what’s in our fabric library

While there’s no need to limit yourself to the fabrics in our library – we can upholster our handcrafted furniture in any suitable fabric in the world – we have collated a vast range of different textiles, patterns and prints to offer all the fabric inspiration you need.

Indeed, most of our customers do choose from our ranges, which includes Essential, Signature and Exclusive fabrics. Take a look at some of the different textiles available below and learn more about their qualities, characteristics and the types of households they are most suited to.

Linen upholstery

Linen is one of our most popular upholstery options, known for its natural composition and superior breathability. Made from flaxseed, it is also a highly versatile fabric, available in a range of styles from plain and undyed linen to printed or woven linens.

The benefits of linen fabrics

  • Natural yet elegant: Linen’s natural providence gives it a relaxed look, evoking the informality and comfort of coastal homes, yet it is equally smart and elegant to look at. 
  • Matures gracefully: For furniture like ours, which is intended to remain a part of your home for many years, linen’s graceful ageing adds character and personality to furniture, becoming even better with age.
  • Comfortable texture: Linen is soft, breathable and durable. It is ideal for keeping your sofa cool in the summer and cosy in the winter.
  • An eco-conscious choice: Linen is considered a more eco-conscious upholstery choice, requiring 60% less irrigation than cotton, and is naturally biodegradable if undyed.
Alwinton chaise sofa in Floral Linen Lela Mystery

Where linen is best in the home

Linen is a wonderful fabric and a sight to behold on one of our diligently crafted sofas or beds. However, as a refined fabric, it may be slightly out of place in a busy family household with young children or pets:

“Sometimes, our customers’ homes are not at the right stage for a linen. For high-traffic households, we would recommend a stain-resistant fabric first and foremost,” says Jill at our Fittleworth showroom.

In these cases, we do offer some more hardy linen blends which are designed to achieve the beauty and elegance of 100% natural linen while being fortified with stain-resistant properties.

We would typically recommend linen upholstery for sofas in more formal rooms, or in adult-only rooms, where the look of your sofa is a priority. Its resistance to pilling will ensure it retains a smart, polished look. Similarly, upholstering an occasional chair in a linen fabric maximises its visual and textural appeal.

Linen can also be wonderful on one of our bed frames, where you might choose to be more adventurous with prints and patterns, such as with our Floral Linen collection.

Aldingbourne armchair in Grain Sack Stripe Linen Red

Linen considerations and care tips

The effort you invest in maintaining linen upholstery will be sure to pay off, giving you a beautiful piece of furniture that always looks the part. Keep in mind the below considerations and care tips if you decide to select a linen fabric:

  • Linen is more prone to wrinkling than other upholstery fabrics – this is natural and can add to the relaxed character of your furniture.
  • Linen’s looser weave means it can be easily snagged by cat claws and we tend to advise avoiding it in pet-friendly homes or rooms.
  • Linen can be prone to fading in direct sunlight. Our recommendation is to place it away from windows and direct heat sources if possible.
  • Linens, particularly if pale or neutral-toned, can stain and soil. We would recommend regularly hoovering your linen sofa or chair with an upholstery brush, removing any crumbs or dust.
  • If something is spilt onto your linen upholstered furniture, avoid scrubbing at it to try and remove it. Instead, you will need to gently dab and try to lift the stain.

Browse linen fabrics


Velvet upholstery

Velvet is one of the most luxurious upholstery fabrics owing to its soft, tactile feel and lustrous sheen. Its opulence is often complemented by its deep, jewel-toned hues, though we also have some neutral and pastel shades available in our library.

The benefits of velvet fabrics

  • Luxurious and elegant: Velvet’s soft, plush texture and rich colours instantly add a touch of luxury to any room.
  • Longevity: Velvet is a considerably hard-wearing fabric, particularly synthetic velvets which can withstand the rigours of a pet-friendly home.
  • Vibrant colours: Our velvet fabrics typically come in block colours and, owing to the fabric’s deeper pile and its unique sheen, colours generally look richer and more intense.
  • Textural beauty: Velvet fabrics do not pill, but their unique nap can crush giving upholstered pieces a multitude of shades. Different weave structures allow for a smooth or crushed velvet.
Chiddingfold armchair in Linwood Tango Velvet Flamingo

Where velvet is best in the home

Velvet can look elegant on sofas and chairs across the home and is particularly versatile in its blend of longevity and beauty. As such, you might select a synthetic velvet for the family sofa, in a soft and cosy lounge or TV room; similarly, you might choose a cotton velvet for a formal room where an occasional chair plays a more decorative role.

“For a busy household, we wouldn’t typically recommend a cotton velvet as they can mark more easily. A hard-wearing synthetic velvet, however, is an excellent choice which gives the look of velvet with added durability,” advises Jill at our Fittleworth showroom.

The fabric’s lustre means that rather than absorbing light, it reflects it. As such, if you are furnishing a darker room with less natural light, a velvet sofa might be a good choice. Velvet is also carried beautifully on a range of silhouettes but looks especially elegant upholstered on a buttoned Chesterfield-style sofa such as our Haresfield or Arncliffe.

Many of our customers will choose a plain velvet for their bespoke bed frame, upholstering the headboard with this tactile, opulent fabric to create a real haven for rest and repose.

Arncliffe 3 seater sofa in Traditional Vintage Velvet Olive

Velvet considerations and care tips

As with many of our fabrics, giving your upholstery a little extra care will help to maintain its beauty and functionality for years to come – both of equal importance for our sofa and beds. Ahead of choosing a velvet upholstery fabric, keep the below points in mind:

  • Although a synthetic, hard-wearing velvet can withstand scratches and snagging from pet claws, its thick pile may attract dust and pet hairs more often than other fabrics. A weekly hoovering with a soft brush will help to keep this at bay.
  • As with many fabrics, velvet fabrics will fade after some time in direct sunlight. As such, we would recommend placing your velvet upholstered sofa away from windows if possible.
  • In the case of spills on your velvet upholstery, promptly blot and soak up the spill with a clean, absorbent cloth. Once it is dry, you can gently brush it back into shape with a vacuum.
Browse velvet fabrics


Cotton upholstery

Cotton is a fabric seen repeatedly in interior décor and fashion, cherished for its natural softness and breathability. It offers a comfortable and versatile option for various home settings and our fabric library maximises the beauty of cotton fabrics with a range of plains and patterns.

The benefits of cotton fabrics

  • Soft and comfortable: Cotton is renowned for its soft, comfortable texture, making it an inviting choice for family sofas and cosy armchairs.
  • Breathable: One of the standout features of cotton is its breathability. This natural fabric allows air to circulate, keeping you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Versatile: Cotton’s versatility is unmatched. It can be dyed in a plethora of colours and is available in various patterns, making it easy to match with any interior design theme.
  • Durable: While cotton is soft, it is also quite durable. A good quality, high thread count cotton fabric can withstand regular use, making it suitable for busy households. We also offer many stain-resistant and easy-to-clean cotton fabrics.
Otley 3 seater sofa in rustic ticking stripe ivory
Otley 3 seater sofa in Rustic Ticking Stripe Ivory

Where cotton is best in the home

Cotton is ideal for the more casual and family-friendly settings in your home. With impressive abrasion resistance, it can be best suited to sofas, snugglers and armchairs which are used more regularly. This might be in the family living room or conservatory, where comfort and durability are desired in equal measure.

Similarly, cotton fabrics carry prints and patterns beautifully, making them a brilliant choice for a focal piece in your home. Many of our fabric collections with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and V&A are printed on fine quality cotton fabrics and look striking on a sofa or armchair.

Nevertheless, a cotton can still be suitable for a formal room, particularly when blended with linen for a refined touch. For our bespoke bed frames, cotton is also popular. Many of our customers choose a bolder print for their headboard and frame, making cotton an entirely appropriate choice.

Cooksbridge armchair in Cloth 21 Simple Stripe Bilberry

Cotton considerations and care tips

Cotton has many advantages for busy and quiet homes alike but can be maintained for longer with the proper care and consideration of its unique qualities:

  • Similar to linen upholstery, cotton can crease more easily than other fabrics, but regularly redressing your sofa and smoothing it out with your hands can help to keep it looking its best.
  • Cotton can pick up dyes and colours from other fabrics quite easily, so be careful when sitting on your sofa in a new pair of jeans or dark, dyed trousers.
  • Direct sunlight will cause cotton fabrics to fade; as such, any cotton upholstered furniture is best placed away from windows.
  • To keep cotton fabrics in good condition, it is best to regularly clean the upholstered furniture with a soft vacuum brush and soak up spills with a clean cloth as quickly as possible.

Browse cotton fabrics


Wool upholstery

Wool is a durable and versatile natural fibre that has been used for centuries in upholstery. Known for its warmth, resilience and unique texture, wool is an excellent choice for a range of furniture in the home. 

The benefits of cotton fabrics

  • Long-lasting: Wool is inherently strong and resilient, making it highly durable and resistant to wear and tear. Its natural elasticity helps wool maintain its shape and appearance over time, even with frequent use.
  • Warm and cosy: Wool is naturally insulating, making it a warm and inviting choice for sofa upholstery.
  • Resistant to spills and stains: Wool naturally repels water, making it more forgiving with natural spill and stain resistance.
  • Eco-friendly option: Wool is a renewable resource and is biodegradable, making it an eco-conscious upholstery choice. It is also naturally flame-retardant without the need for chemical treatments.
Sennen wool chair in Harris Tweed Huntsman Check Mountain Bracken
Sennen armchair in Harris Tweed Huntsman Check Mountain Bracken

Where wool is best in the home

Wool is a wonderful fabric that can bring both hard-wearing and soft cosiness to various settings in your home. Its natural resilience and inviting texture make it an ideal choice for different pieces of furniture in your home.

“One of the reasons why our customers might select a wool upholstery is for its ‘naturally inherent’ properties. This means it does not require any treatment making it the perfect option for those who can’t be near chemicals for allergen reasons, or for eco-conscious households,” says Jill at our Fittleworth showroom.

Unlike linen or cotton, wool doesn’t crease and is therefore suitable for a more tailored or formal piece of furniture such as a decorative armchair. However, it is also very much at home in a comfortable living room or upholstered onto a fireside armchair for evenings spent reading by the hearth.

Wool is diverse and our fabric library offers both plain wool upholstery and wool woven with stripes and patterns, giving the fabric a place across the home and across interior décor styles. Authentic Harris Tweed is a wool fabric, giving an armchair or a sofa a distinctive, enduring beauty.

Jessi Harris' British handmade sofa
Jessi designed this beautiful bespoke Alwinton sofa in House Wool Mercury

Wool considerations and care tips

Wool is robust and long-lasting. Its natural resistance to spills keeps it looking lovely, but do keep in mind the below considerations and care tips:

  • Wool naturally resists pilling, keeping your upholstered furniture looking smooth and well-maintained.
  • As with many of our fabrics, regular vacuuming with a soft brush attachment can remove dust and prevent dirt from embedding into the fibres, prolonging its lifespan.
  • Wool can similarly fade if exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time, so be sure to position your furniture away from windows if possible.
Browse wool fabrics


Viscose upholstery

Viscose, also known as rayon, is a semi-synthetic fibre made from natural sources such as wood pulp. It is valued for its silk-like feel and its ability to drape well. The fabrics in our library typically blend viscose with natural textiles such as linen.

The benefits of viscose fabric blends

  • Luxuriously soft: Viscose is renowned for its silky texture and smooth feel. It mimics the softness of natural silk and was originally sold as an artificial version of this costly fabric.
  • Bright and vibrant colours: Viscose fabrics hold dye well, resulting in bright, vibrant colours that can enhance any room’s decor. 
  • Versatile: Viscose blends can be woven into, and printed with, various patterns and textures, making them suitable for a wide range of upholstery styles.
  • Breathable: The fibre’s structure allows air to circulate, making viscose a comfortable choice for upholstery in any climate.
Lyndhurst 2 seater sofa in RHS Botanicals Mark Catesby Grosbeak

Where viscose is best in the home

Viscose blends, such as those blended with linen, can be elegant in various settings in your home. Its soft texture and vibrant colours make it ideal for creating a refined and comfortable atmosphere.

The addition of viscose can strengthen a more delicate linen fabric, making the textile blend more suitable for higher-traffic areas in the home, but will maintain the softness and flexibility of both textiles.

Many of our RHS and V&A collaborations use a viscose-linen blend as the base for beautiful prints such as our latest RHS Botanicals collection or our V&A Threads of India collection. The material carries these patterns beautifully, making them an excellent choice for statement pieces of furniture that remain in excellent condition even when used frequently.

Brunel 3 seater sofa in V&A Threads of India, Mughal Garden Safari, Hunter

Viscose considerations and care tips

By considering the below, you can keep furniture upholstered in a viscose blend fabric in the best condition possible:

  • Viscose is sensitive to water and can weaken or shrink when wet. Clean spills immediately by blotting with a dry cloth and avoid using cleaning solutions. Watermarks are more likely with a viscose fabric blend.
  • Be mindful of where you place your upholstered piece of furniture, as viscose blend upholstery can fade in direct sunlight.
  • If your viscose furniture includes cushions, rotate them regularly to ensure even wear and prevent one area from becoming overly compressed.
Browse viscose blend fabrics


Bring your furniture to life with custom upholstery

Choosing the perfect upholstery fabric for your sofa, armchair or bed is an exciting step in creating a home that truly reflects your style and meets your needs.

Our extensive fabric library offers myriad choices, from the relaxed elegance of linen to the luxurious feel of velvet, the longevity of wool and the vibrant hues of viscose blends. For personalised advice and to see our fabric options firsthand, we invite you to visit one of our 23 nationwide showrooms. Our knowledgeable design consultants are ready to assist you in how to choose the best fabric for your bespoke furniture.

Alternatively, explore the vast array of fabrics available on our website and order your 8 free fabric samples to start designing a piece that is yours in every way.