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Decorating School Crash Course - Fabrics Part 7b

Furniture World Magazine


Lesson #7b: Script for a design seminar that will help your customers to make knowledgeable color, pattern and texture choices.

Basic Skills by Margarett DeGange, M.Ed.

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth article in our Decorating Crash Course series and the second part on choosing fabrics. In the September/October 2008 installment (posted to the www.furninfo.com website) we looked at how your customers can use fabric patterns and colors in their rooms, and discussed how to choose main and accent fabrics.

The text in this series is written so that you can easily use it to put on a customer seminar on fabrics in home decor. It can be presented “as is” but you should add additional elements to give your seminars a personal touch as outlined in the December/January 2007 issue of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine, “Simple but Sensational Seminars: Keys to a Memorable Presentation,” posted to the article archives on www.furninfo.com. Decorating seminars are a fantastic way to get quality leads and referrals. They help customers to solve decorating problems, and they position you as a home furnishings expert.

Script For Your Seminar
Continued From sept/oct 2008 issue

Getting to your key fabric and selecting other fabrics to go along with your key fabric is an easy process. It begins by asking yourself questions—one simple question at a time.

Start by asking yourself what mood you want to develop in your space. Do you prefer the calming of cool colors or the excitement of warm colors? Knowing the function of the space, and the activities that will go on within the space, may help with the answer. Once you know the mood you want, ask yourself questions like, “Do I prefer an old world style or a modern style? Do I prefer a solid or a subtle pattern for my key fabric? Do I want a plain weave or a heavy texture? How about for my first supportive fabric (we will discuss supportive fabrics in a moment), do I prefer a solid or a pattern? Do I want a stripe or a floral? Continue with this process until you have a general idea of the types of fabric you want. This will also help your sales consultant to better serve you, and will eliminate the confusing process of looking through far too many fabric books with no direction, which can be frustrating and a waste of time.

Choose Your Key Fabric, Then Supportive & Accent Fabrics

Once you have selected a key fabric (main fabric) for the major upholstered piece in the room, continue on to select supporting fabrics that match your main fabric swatch. These supporting fabrics will be used for items such as upholstered chairs and ottomans, a drapery valance, or a custom dining tablecloth. Finally, select accent fabrics for smaller soft home fashions such as additional throw pillows, table runners, and sofa or chair throws. Follow the same principles in the bedroom design by selecting, for example, a main fabric for window treatments or bedding such as an upholstered headboard, a comforter, or a duvet. Then choose supportive fabrics for chairs, ottomans, large European shams, and accent fabrics for smaller pillows and a bed throw.

Use Pattern, Color, and Texture

Try not to use too many patterns in a space. No more than three or four patterns is a good rule of thumb, unless you are very adept at pattern mixing, or the patterns are very muted, or you are designing a country casual interior where pattern mixing is part of the style.

Instead of using a lot of patterns for your supportive fabrics and accent fabrics, try using just one or two patterns along with the key fabric, and then add a variety of textures instead. Adding different textures in the same color group as your key fabric, or in coordinating colors, can add a tremendous amount of visual interest to the design, without overpowering the look with too many patterns. Experiment with a variety of textures from dobbys to chenilles to basket weaves. For a more upscale look, incorporate in a bit of jacquard, velvet, silk, or chenille.

Offer variety in the types and styles of the patterns within a space, and distribute them around the room. Use different scale and proportion. Add stripes in with other patterns, stripes with toiles (a plain or simple twill weave fabric), small scrolls with a large old world floral, or checks with bold florals (the old standard), for example.

A fabric’s main color will either be a pure, saturated hue (just like the colors on the color wheel), or it will have an undertone of brown, black, or white. Try to stay within the same color undertones with the fabrics you select. For instance, if you are using a fabric with a brown-red as the major color, then use supporting and accent fabrics that contain some of this brown-red, or, pull in a brownish-gold or other color that also has brown undertones. As you grow in skill, you can certainly experiment with mixing a variety of undertones in a space, and you will probably have great success. However, if you are not very experienced with building fabric palettes, stay within the same family of undertones for your key fabric, supportive fabrics, and accent fabrics, or you can use another successful strategy which is to choose supportive and accent fabrics that contain the color of your key fabric somewhere in their print or design.

Consider Scale

Vary the scale of the designs and patterns within your fabrics. Avoid all large patterns or all small patterns. Mix it up. Many times large rooms and large furnishings can support large patterns, or at least medium-sized patterns, but you must use your eye and your “gut” as the final test. Learn to “feel” if a pattern’s scale will work. Avoid very large patterns on small pieces since the pattern can be cut off and you may not get to see what you were hoping to, once the fabric is applied to a furniture piece.

Medium-sized patterns work well in many spaces, but factor in some smaller patterns (and even some larger patterns in moderation) for variety and interest.
Save “artsy”, bold, “shout out”, and especially “trendy” fabrics for accent chairs, pillows, or throws. Very bold and medium-scaled motifs can be used very effectively for throw pillows in small spaces, where you need a punch of interest, but where too much of a large pattern would overwhelm. Throw pillows are a fantastic way to get a splash of a dynamic pattern without losing control of the design. Small patterns can serve well as supportive or accent fabrics.

Basic Fabrics and Terms

It’s time for some fabric terminology. Wouldn’t it be fun to show off to your friends and relatives, and even to your decorator, your knowledge of fabrics? You can sound like a pro just by knowing the names of a few uncommon fabrics, or by understanding the difference between certain weaves. For instance, have you ever wondered what the difference is between a damask and a brocade? Well after today’s lesson, you will know, and you will easily remember. For the sake of keeping our session fun, I will avoid any definitions that seem too “scientific”. Let’s first look at the jacquard family, and then we will approach some other important fabric definitions in alphabetical order.

Jacquard Weaves

A jacquard fabric is one that has been woven on a special loom, called a Jacquard loom. The Jacquard loom was invented around 1801 in France, by Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard refers to a type of weave. Jacquard is a fabric with an intricate, elaborate, and sometimes large pattern woven or knitted on the Jacquard loom. The Jacquard loom works by using punch cards similar to a player piano (today we use diskettes or computer programs). Brocades, damasks tapestries, and some matelasse’ fabrics are all woven jacquards. Let’s have a closer look at these.

Brocade- Historically, brocades were elegant fabrics produced in China and Japan. They usually incorporated florals or some type of beautiful figures into their design, and these patterns were woven with silver or gold threads. Today, brocades are typically very ornate jacquard-woven fabrics, with contrasting colors and raised surfaces. The decorative woven pattern shows up on the front of the fabric, which is clearly distinguishable from the back of the fabric. Decorative uses for brocades include draperies and upholstery. The brocades on the market today are stunning and are available in a wide range of quality and price.

Damask- This jacquard-patterned fabric originated in China. Marco Polo brought it to the Western world in the 13th century. The fabric name comes from the city of Damascus, which was the center of fabric trade between the East and West. Damask fabrics are characterized by the fact that they are “reversible”—in other words, they look “pretty” on both sides. They also have a woven, raised pattern and employ a combination of satin (very shiny) and sateen weaves (a bit less shiny) that make the pattern visible. Many damasks are lighter weight than some of the traditional brocade fabrics.

Matelasse’- Also known as double cloth. It is from the French word “Matelasser” which means to quilt or pad. The fabric is woven on a jacquard or dobby loom with two warps that gives it a padded, quilted, puffy, or puckered look. Double woven crepe yarn shrinks during the finishing process resulting in the puffed appearance of the fabric. Matalasse’ is medium or heavy weight fabric, wears well and it is often used for upholstery and bedding. It also drapes well on window treatments.

Tapestry - Originally tapestries were embroidered heavy and hand-woven with colored threads of wool, silk, silver, or gold. This fabric was highly ornamented with pictorial designs. "True" tapestries have a minimum of six colors in the warp. Modern day tapestry and tapestry-type look-a-likes can be achieved with four-color warps. They can be hand or machine woven on a jacquard loom.

Tapestries offer beautiful, multi-colored details and are available in many motifs including florals and scenes that help to tell a story. They are used for wall hangings, and for upholstery fabrics, cornices, pillows, and other home fashions. Tapestries are fabric “art”.

Other Attractive Weaves and Fabrics

Other special looms weave beautiful fabrics that we use in the home. Many of these fabrics are plain weaves, woven on a simple loom while others are more intricate. Some have printed patterns while other patterns are woven right into the fabric. Let’s look at some of these common home decorating fabrics.

Dobby - This fabric has small geometric designs woven into it using a dobby loom. The patterns are more intricate than those woven on a simple loom, but much less elaborate than those created on a Jacquard loom. They can be used as accent fabrics or as the main fabric for upholstered furniture.

Calico - A plain weave cotton or cotton blend fabric that is printed with a small, multi-colored floral pattern, leaves, or other repeating designs. Calico is often used for quilting. Its name comes from the fabric’s place of origin, Calicut, India.

Chenille - A soft, fuzzy yarn with a pile which resembles velvet. The name actually comes from a French word that means “caterpillar”. This fabric is used in home decor for upholstery, cornices, tassels, and rugs.

Chintz - A tightly or finely woven cotton fabric that has been glazed, giving it a light sheen. Some chintz fabrics have a high sheen. Chintz is stiff, crisp, and shiny. It may be solid, or printed with a design. Chintz was the first printed fabric to be widely produced and distributed, and therefore considered “chintzy” or cheapened. It is sometimes referred to as “polished cotton” and can be quite costly. Chintz is used for bedding, window treatments, upholstery, and soft home accessories.

Corduroy - A medium to heavyweight strong, durable cotton pile fabric with wales (ribs or ridges), usually cut vertically. This fabric was originally used by the household staff and servants of French kings, and so was called corde du roi or "cord of the king." It is used for draperies, bedding, and upholstery.

Dupioni - A type of silk that is known well for its characteristic irregularities and slubs. It is woven from irregular-sized fibers of various thicknesses and has a natural, light sheen. Dupioni is a strong fabric but is sensitive to sunlight. It is used mainly for glamorous drapery panels, but must be lined and interlined to keep from rotting in the sunlight.

Gingham - A lightweight cotton fabric, woven into a check, square, or sometimes striped pattern with two or more colors of thread (checks or stripes have two colors. Plaids can have several colors). The name of this fabric stems from the Malay word ging gang, which means striped. Gingham is made of pure or blended cotton that is yarn-dyed. It is commonly used in casual or casual-country homes.

Linen - One of the oldest textiles, linen is made of flax derived from the Linum plant. Linen fibers are thick and strong. The fabric made from them is cool, luxurious, absorbent, and quick drying. Linen wrinkles easily, and once the fibers are broken, the fabric remains wrinkled.

For this reason, many manufacturers blend linen with synthetic fibers that resist wrinkling. Linen does not dye well, and so color choices are somewhat limited. Most people who love linen prefer it in neutral or natural colors. It is used on upholstery and window treatments.

Moiré - Lustrous or dull effects seen on the surface of a woven fabric, produced by the crushing of parts of the fabric so that the crushed and uncrushed portions reflect light differently. Some Moiré effects are achieved from special weaving methods. They may resemble watermarks. The word moire’ is actually a French word meaning watered.

Microfiber - Micro denier (or microfiber) is a fiber measuring 1 denier per filament or less (1/20th the diameter of a human hair). Microfibers measure from just above 1 dpf to super fine filaments of 0.3 dpf or below. In general, the finer the fiber, the softer the fabric made from it will be. Polyester microfibers have excellent wear and cleaning characteristics.

Paisley - This is a pattern motif with an oriental influence that originated from India. The motif pattern has the shape of a curved, somewhat elongated teardrop, with many abstract designs contained inside the shape. The pattern was historically used on cashmere and imitation cashmere shawls imported to Europe from India.

Repeat (Also known as pattern repeat) - A pattern repeat is the distance from where a design on a fabric begins to where the next instance of that design begins. Normally, but certainly not always, fabric pattern repeats come in increments of 3 inches, for example 3”, 6”, 9”. Most manufacturers and fabricators of quality home fashions and upholstery align and position repeats for the most uniform and pleasing affect.

Shantung - A medium to heavy weight, plain-weave silk fabric with an unevenly ribbed or rough surface and a crisp texture. The name comes from the word Shandong, a province of the People's Republic of China.

Silk - Silk is a natural fiber that originated in Asia. We get silk from the silkworm. Although its fibers are thin, silk is the strongest of the natural fibers, it is soft and absorbent, with a natural shine. Silk dyes well, and therefore it is available in a multitude of colors and beautiful designs. It has a tendency to stain by soil and water, and the stains are often permanent. In addition, silk is susceptible to sunlight that causes the dyes to fade and the fibers to deteriorate. For this reason, silk draperies must be lined AND interlined. It is often used on upholstery and accent pieces.

Ticking - This fabric was historically used on mattress and pillow casings. Stripes can be either printed or woven into the fabric. Some upholstered pieces can be lined in ticking, and some ticking is used as a decorative fabric, particularly in country or casual interiors.

Toile - Light weight to medium weight plain cotton weave or cotton blended fabric, with printed scenic designs. The designs are usually in one color on a contrasting background. Some toiles feature several colors. Toile fabric is used mostly for home furnishings such as window treatments, comforters, pillows, table linens, and upholstery. The term “Toile” is French for “Linen” and stems from a time when artists would paint their beautiful scenes on linen canvases.

Ultrasuede® - A high-end microfiber fabric that will not crock, pill, stretch, shrink or tear. It is water-resistant, abrasion- and stain-resistant, making it an ideal fabric selection for regular use. Advanced dyeing techniques ensure colorfastness and color consistency. Ultrasuede® is spot cleanable and machine-washable in cold water, on delicate cycle, with mild detergent. It may be tumble or line-dried and tolerates steam ironing on low setting with a press cloth.

Velvet - A soft, closely woven cut pile fabric that has an even, uniform surface, a soft hand and a rich appearance. It was originally made of silk, but many fibers are now used to make velvet, including cotton and cotton blends.
Weave - A weave is a configuration of threads that run perpendicular to one another. The simplest type is a plain weave where the weft thread is placed over the warp in sequence on a row. In the following row, the weft and warp are reversed. This pattern continues throughout the weave.

Wool - Most wool used in home interiors comes from common sheep. Wool from Australia and Spain is especially desirable. Wool is soft, resilient, strong and dyes well. It is used in draperies, soft furnishings, and upholstery.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it - all the necessary basics and beyond for your new knowledge of fabrics. Now it is time to take action on what you have learned. This should be much easier now that you are equipped with fabric knowledge.

By now you are probably ready to tackle selecting a fabric palette for your next home design project. The best way to start is to choose one major furniture piece you would like to have in a particular room and decide on a key fabric style and color for that piece. Making that one major decision and having this information in mind will help you as you select coordinating and accent pieces.
Fabric selection for furniture and home fashions can be a lot of fun. It certainly doesn’t have to be a chore.

Embrace your love of fabrics, use the guidelines set out for you in this lesson, listen to your “gut”, and enjoy the process of transforming your home through the warmth and softness of home fabrics.

Next issue

Lesson #8 –A Midterm Recap: Using What You Already Learned to Accomplish What You Said You Want.
Margarett DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign.

For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process. Questions about performing in-store seminars and related design topics can be directed to margarett@furninfo.com

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