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Fabric is an essential decorating element that adds both color and texture to your home. However, before you make a decision about your fabric you need to know:

Knowing your fibers

Fabrics are produced from either natural or man-made fibers, or both. Natural fibers include cotton, linen, silk and wool. These fibers are resistant to dust and dirt and clean well, although they may shrink when washed.

Linen, cotton and silk wrinkle easily and will not be the best choice for upholstery. If ironed, all three will be great for curtains and table linens. Wool is an excellent choice for upholstery. Natural fibers tend to "breathe" and feel good next to your skin.

Man-made fibers include polyester, nylon and acrylics. These are easy to wash, wrinkle- and shrink-resistant and durable. However, they attract dust and require regular cleaning.

When man-made fibers are mixed with natural fibers, you can get a fabric with some of the benefits of each. Rayon is a man-made fiber created from a plant source. It has the breathability of a natural fiber, is easy to wash, and wrinkle- and shrink-resistant but is not as tough as the other man-made fibers.

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Washing vs. dry-cleaning

Fabrics that need frequent washing must be simple to launder. Avoid choosing dry-clean-only fabrics for table linens or for slipcovers that receive a lot of wear in an active household.

Dry-clean-only fabrics might be suitable for upholstery on furniture that doesn't receive much wear or on curtains.

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Is your fabric tough enough?

Fabrics can be divided into three general categories. Most fabrics are considered light wear and are best for curtains, cushions and tablecloths. Tougher, closely woven fabrics are best on coverlets, quilts and comforters. Only heavy-duty fabrics should be used for upholstery or slipcovers.

Choose flame-resistant fabrics for upholstered furniture and for a child's room. Look for fabrics with stain-resistant finishes for furnishings that are not convenient to wash regularly.

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Will it look good?

In the store, check the color compatibility of the fabrics you're choosing with carpet, paint and other fabric samples from the room.

Once you've found a fabric you like, ask to take a sample swatch home with you and live with it for a while. Place it in the room where you plan to use it. Consider the overall effect the fabric has on the room. Look at it in daylight and at night to see if the colors are right. A little extra time spent beforehand may prevent a costly mistake in the long run.

Stripes: Choose fabric with vertical stripes to add height, horizontal stripes to add width or length to your room.

Bold patterns make an area appear smaller while smaller designs create a spacious look. Bold designs and bright colors are welcoming in rooms where you won't be spending much time, like hallways or bathrooms.

If you are starting to design your room from scratch, choosing a fabric with colors you love is one of the best ways to begin. Try to analyze the proportions of the color in the fabric, mostly peach with some creamy white and accents of blue, for example, and then use those colors in that proportion in your room.

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Fabric care

  • Wash items before they become badly soiled and treat stains immediately.

  • When removing a stain, never scrub it but, working from the edges, dab at it until the stain disappears. Scrubbing spreads the stain and damages the fabric.

  • On liquid stains, including wine, cover the area with salt to draw up as much liquid as possible. Place the fabric in cold water to soak for at least a half hour. Finish by washing as you normally would.

  • Tea and coffee stains should be soaked immediately in prewash laundry detergent, then washed normally.

  • Fruit and juice stains should be rubbed gently with salt before soaking in cold water. Rub with liquid detergent. Finish by washing normally.

  • Solid stains should be scraped off as much as possible with a blunt knife before treating the stain.

  • Biological stains, such as milk or blood should be soaked in prewash laundry detergent before washing.

  • Iron tablecloths flat and refold in a different way after each washing to avoid well-defined crease lines and wear (do not press in folds).

  • Press embroidery on the wrong side. Lace cloths should be dried flat and pinned in position until dry.

  • Test for colorfastness by dipping a small, hidden area in warm water. Place the damp area between two white cloths and iron until the fabric is dry. If any color appears on the white cloths, the fabric is not colorfast and should be washed separately.

  • Sunlight fades all fabrics. Avoid placing delicate fabrics close to windows.

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