Understanding Fabric Durability and Drape

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Understanding Fabric Durability and Drape

Fabric Selection and Why It’s Important

When selecting fabrics for a project, there are several factors to keep in mind, but today we are going to talk about “drape” for fashion and “durability” for décor and upholstery. I found myself traveling down a rabbit hole of information, so join me as we take a Willy Wonka ride down fabric rating scales!

The fashion industry doesn’t always consider fabric durability when selecting materials. If you’re talking work clothing or specific uses like fireman uniforms and the like, some specific manufacturers specialize in garment strength, element resistance, and longevity, but generally speaking, these considerations are not a part of “fashion.” (Think Duluth Trading versus Chanel). 

Some clothing makers consider longevity, but that is not guaranteed. They are more likely to consider look, feel, style, and seasonal appropriateness. 

That takes us to our first topic: drape. The fabric industry defines a material’s drape as how the fabric hangs under the effect of its weight. It’s a measure of how stiff the material is. Fiber content, tightness of the weave, as well as fabric treatments like fire retardance and dying, can all affect the fabric’s drape.

Fabric type refers to the fiber content. I.e. cotton, silk, wool, polyester, or a blend of materials. 

The weave, on the other hand, refers to the woven pattern used to create the fabric. i.e. jacquard, dobby, satin, chiffon, basketweave, herringbone, etc.

Fabric weight is the density of the fabric, and just because a fabric is lightweight doesn’t mean that it will have a high drape (think about organza). And not all heavy-weight fabrics will have low drape.

Take a look at the chart below to get a visual of which fabrics fall into which drape categories. I have also provided a photo of a full-circle skirt in chiffon with a high drape and a full-circle skirt in taffeta with a low drape. Can you see the difference?

Drape Fabric Chart showing different fabric's drape.

Chiffon Full Circle Skirt

Taffeta Full Circle Skirt

How do we put it all into context?

Considering drape will ensure the fabric you chose is appropriate for the final shape and look you want. Fabric durability is also something you need to consider for certain projects; we will dive into this next. 

If you are making a bench cushion or seat, you want something that will hold its shape and last through many butts applying pressure to it!

There are tests that grade materials for this specific durability. It is called the Martindale or rub test. This measures the number of times discs can rub fine sandpaper or wool across the fabric before it starts to show distress. The rub test score is internationally recognized and measures the durability of upholstery fabric for general domestic or contract use. 

Fabric is categorized by a numerical score to show how durable it is.

  • 10,000 or less: Decorative use
  • 10,000 to 20,000: Light domestic use
  • 20,000 – 25,000: General domestic use
  • 25,000 – 30,000: Heavy domestic use
  • 30,000 or more: Commercial use

I have provided an indoor/outdoor chart where you can see these ratings with more info we will go over in moments.

Another test is called the Wyzenbeek score. They do a similar test, and it is generally referred to as a double rub test. However, it is not internationally recognized, and it is mostly used in the US.

When shopping for upholstery fabrics, it’s a good idea to look for the rub test rating. If it doesn’t have one, then it’s not necessarily a bad choice, but worth some more investigation.

The Martindale and Wyzenbeek tests measure the wear on fabric but don’t test for damage by UV light, chemicals, weather, dirt, or its resistance to abrasions like pet claws or stains. So, fabrics intended for outdoors are graded on a whole other scale.

Outdoor fabrics have different characteristics when compared to indoor fabrics. Thus, when decorating an outdoor space, whether for a business or intimate personal gatherings, it is important to check whether the fabric used has been marked for outdoor use. 

When graded for outdoor use, fabrics have a grade A through E, and of course, to make it even more confusing a D and E grade fabric is higher rated than A grade. 

The Grade rating has a lot to do with durability but also some to do with its price range, so do not think that A or B fabrics are bad or that D and E are definitively high quality. In fact, C, D, and E have very similar functionality and durability. The big difference is the price tag.

Please refer to the chart below showing the grading for outdoor fabrics.

When planning a fabric project, there are many factors to consider. It has taken me years to scratch the surface of all there is to learn about fabric and its many facets. 

I work to educate my clients on the best fabric choices for their projects. In addition, I help my clients if they bring me a fabric that is not appropriate for their project. 

For example, a client asked me to rewrap a pretty bench to match the colors of her bedroom. She brought me a fashion-weight muslin to wrap the bench, and I had to explain that this fabric was not upholstery-rated and would show wear and tear quickly. 

She was glad for the warning and asked me to go fabric shopping for her. I went and chose several options for her. She decided on a beautiful upholstery weight material with a rub test rating of 20,000 that was on sale for $21. She only needed 2 yards, so she only spent about $50 on her material.

So look a little closer at the next fabric item you buy and appreciate all that goes into making the fabric and the item. Then ask yourself, “How long will this last?”.

This can be a lot of information to take with you on your next shopping trip, but luckily, Chaos Works can assist you in making your project last and look great! 

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