Over the years, FARM has amassed a number of considerations and curiosities, surfaced through our projects. FARMACY is a repository for those thoughts and experiences. It is a space to gather, develop and share ideas or information encountered in our work. Through FARMACY, we hope to examine the trajectories of design hinted at today, contributing to a continuous discourse on topics intertwined with our industry and practice.
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FIELD-NOTES-006

A guide to reading fabric labels

Our skin is in constant contact with fabric; be it the clothes that cover us, the seats of our chairs, or the blankets that envelop us as we sleep at night. When it comes to designing an interior space, fabrics are one of the most important and prevalent materials, concerning seating upholstery, throw pillows, curtains, bedding and linens.

The choice of fabric can visibly change the way a space looks, depending on whether it is chosen in complement or contrast to the mood and style of the interior. Selecting the right fabric, though, can be an arduous task. Often, we meticulously pick out a fabric to suit our aesthetic choices, only to flip over to the label at the back, and get swamped in the technical information it states. While some of these properties are straightforward, like width, colour, composition and cleaning directions, others can be mind-boggling to first-timers. What is a repeat? Exactly who is this Martindale? How does railroading work?

Here, we’ve broken down some common terms listed on a fabric label, as a guide to choosing the appropriate fabric for your upholstery usage. Should you run into more daunting measurements and technicalities, or require a specific type of fabric for more specialised uses, do contact your supplier for more clarification.

TERM ON FABRIC LABEL REMARKS
WIDTH This is the width of a fabric roll. Whilst this is dependent on manufacturer and place of origin, the most common width would be 54” or 1370mm. For anything above this width, seaming would be required.
REPEAT - V For patterned fabrics, this is the length that the pattern will run for in a vertical manner before it repeats again. For upholstery, taking note of the repeat is useful for designing the pattern layout.
REPEAT - H For patterned fabric, this is the length that the pattern will run for in a horizontal manner before it repeats again. Similar to the vertical repeat, knowing the horizontal repeat is useful in planning.
ABRASIONS/ PASSES/ RUBS The durability of a fabric and its resistance to abrasion is dependent on this count. The number indicates how many repeated rubs from a standardised testing machine are possible before the fabric wears out. Mostly measured in Martindale or Wyzenbeek, the higher the number is, the more durable the fabric is. Read further for a more detailed explanation.
CONTENT The composition and make of a fabric.
FINISH Fabrics come in various finishing, which are sometimes treatments to give an extra quality to the fabric. Commonly found terms include soil resistant finish, fire-retardant finish or anti-pilling finish. If you are looking out for fabrics with special qualities, do consult with your friendly local suppliers.
RAILROADING Railroading refers to a fabric where the pattern is milled perpendicular as opposed to up the length. Most useful for upholstering long seats like sofas, railroaded fabric allows you to apply the pattern across the length, facing the user, without seams, since the pattern runs continuous along the roll.

Rub Count
How durable a fabric is, especially for often-used items like furniture, is generally measured by the rub count. Picking the right count will help ensure that your upholstery doesn’t wear off sooner than intended. The rub count—the counted number of rubs a fabric can take before abrasion is noticed—is typically measured in Martindale (in the UK and Europe) or Wyzenbeek (in the US). Sometimes, Martindale counts will be further termed ‘cycles’ and Wyzenbeek ‘double rubs’; these are the unit measurements of the rub test carried out. The two testing methods vary in technique, and so their results are considered independent of each other. Generally, the higher the rub count, the more suitable a fabric is to be used for heavy-duty purposes.

The table below is a recommended range of rub counts for various fabric usages. Do remember that while rub counts are useful, they are intended only as a guideline. Various other factors come into play when considering fabric weathering, such as the content of the fabric, the furniture design, upholstery workmanship, or even the kind of maintenance and cleaning undertaken. Exposure to dirt, moisture and dust will also wear down fabrics. Not to mention, if you have pets with some very expressive claws, or small children prone to scaling your sofas, you might want to take that into consideration.

RUB COUNT GUIDE FOR FURNITURE UPHOLSTERY
AREA/ TYPE OF USE RUB COUNT (MARTINDALE) RUB COUNT (WYZENBEEK)
RESIDENTIAL
Sofas & Chairs 25,000 to 30,000 15,000+ to 20,000+
Throw Pillows 10,000 to 20,000 3,000+ to 5,000+
HOTELS, OFFICES, F&B, COMMERCIAL
Sofas, Loungers & Daybeds 30,000 to 40,000 20,000+ to 30,000+
Armchairs & Chairs 30,000 to 40,000 15,000+ to 30,000+
Throw Pillows 20,000 to 30,000 10,000+ to 20,000+

As a general rule of thumb...
USAGE DESCRIPTION RUB COUNT (MARTINDALE) RUB COUNT (WYZENBEEK)
Very Light Use Curtains, pillows for residential 10,000 to 15,000 3,000+ to 5,000+
Light Use General residential 15,000 to 25,000 5,000+ to 15,000+
Medium Use Commercial and office 25,000 to 30,000 15,000+ to 20,000+
Heavy Use Hotels, F&B and public space 30,000 to 40,000 20,000+ to 30,000+
Very Heavy Use Transport terminals > 40,000 > 30,000+

It is typically recommended to not go beyond 60,000 Martindale or 50,000 Wyzenbeek. With a higher rub count, fabrics tend to be less soft to the touch, and might not be as comfortable as a lower rub count fabric. Considering easing up on the rub count, if you intend to lounge around or take the occasional nap on your sofa.