Furniture is so much more complicated than "red couch" or "Louis XVI fauteuil." The construction, materials, style, abrasion data, designer and fabric grade are some of the factors that determine durability, classic style and price. Of these, fabric grade is all about the price, and it's one of many details that determine when you get what you pay for.
Hand-spun Cashmere Chenille
Fabric grade is determined by each furniture maker -- a factory has a rating system, typically from "A" to "F," to indicate the cost of manufacturing different upholstery materials. Fabric grade does not rate quality or durability: It rates expense. The hand-spun cashmere chenille, made-to-order on a loom in the Pacific Northwest, will set you back considerably more than the Belgian linen, which has it all over the 100 percent polyester warp-knit velvet. A manufacturer grades available upholstery "A" for the least expensive choice, up to a more distant letter; a final letter of "F", for example, would be the most expensive fabric for that factory to make.
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The determination is based on:
- Fiber content
- Intricacy of weave
- Specific dyes
- Performance characteristics
Any number of factors affect the eventual wholesale cost. Letters or numbers are used for the grades. Always ask the retailer or your interior designer about the grading system for that particular manufacturer and that line of furniture. You can also find the grade on the fabric card attached to a swatch, which gives details about content and construction.
The Terrible Twins and the Silkworm
Another factor to take into account, and maybe the most important one if the terrible twins live at your house, is abrasion data, known to the trade as "double-rub." Double-rub is a test in which a machine repetitively rubs an abrasive pad over a sample of fabric until the material wears through. Each time the machine passes back and forth over the fabric, it's called a double-rub. Your synthetic-upholstery family room sofa might come with a double-rub rating of 25,000 -- pretty good, but better at 50,000 double-rubs for those rambunctious twins. A commercial-grade fabric is rated much higher; it might take 100,000 to 250,000 double-rubs to wear through the material on the chairs in the hotel lobby. Abrasion data can steer you toward the type of upholstery material most suited for your intended use.
Natural fabrics like silk are usually more fragile than man-made fibers or synthetic blends. Love your embroidered empress-yellow silk brocade, but save it for the decorative pillows on the antique sofa in the parlor -- where the twins are not allowed.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .