Cotton, as they say on the commercials, is the fabric of our lives. And really, that’s a pretty accurate statement. Cotton is an incredibly versatile fiber and is used in everything from clothing and home décor to medical supplies and paper money. Cotton is known for its comfort, good looks, durability and value. In today’s Fabric Feature, we’re going to take a closer look at cotton to see why it’s such a beloved fabric staple.


A Bit of Cotton History

Cotton has a rich history and is one of the world’s oldest known fabrics. Cotton is believed to have been produced in India as early as 2000 BC and evidence of cotton fabric from ancient Egypt and prehistoric Mexico has been found.  The invention of the cotton gin in the 1700’s made mass production of cotton possible. Even today, cotton is the United States’ number 1 cash crop.

Cotton is a natural fiber that comes from the cotton plant. It is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows around the seeds of the plant in a boll, or seedpod. The cotton is meant to help the seeds of the plant spread. The cotton plant is a shrub and is native to tropical and subtropical regions like the Americas, India, and Africa.

When cotton is processed, every part of the boll is used. The fiber becomes fabric for clothes, home furnishings and industrial uses like fishnets, bookbinding and tents. The seeds are used to make cottonseed oil, which is used for cooking, or the seeds themselves are fed to cattle. The linters (which are tiny fuzzy fibers that get stuck to the seeds during processing) are used to make paper, bank notes, cellulose plastics and medical supplies like bandages, cotton buds and cotton balls.

Why Cotton is Great

  • Good durability
  • Versatile
  • Breathable
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Absorbent
  • Resists pilling
  • Good abrasion resistance
  • Comfortable, soft hand
  • Easy to dye
  • Blends well with other fibers
  • Easy to clean

Drawbacks to Cotton

As with all fabrics, cotton does have a few drawbacks. One common complaint is that cotton wrinkles easily. Depending on your application, this may or may not be a problem. Upholstery projects, for example, pull the fabric taught, so it won’t wrinkle. Also, some cotton manufactured today features a topical coating added during the weaving process to make the fabric wrinkle-free.

Cotton also is known for shrinking with the first wash. Many clothes made out of 100% cotton come pre-shrunk, but when sewing with cotton, be sure to launder it the same way you plan to wash the finished product before you begin sewing.

Because cotton is an absorbent material, it is also known to absorb stains quicker than other fabrics. Also, if left damp for a prolonged time, cotton may mildew. It’s a good idea to allow cotton to dry out after it gets wet to prevent mildew.


Types of Cotton Fabrics

Even though all cotton fabrics come from the same plant, there are many different methods for production and weaving of the fibers to create a wide range of cotton fabrics. There are two main styles of weave for cotton: plain and twill.

A plain weave creates a thinner, fabric like gingham, percale, muslin, chambray or broadcloth. Twill weave produces a heavier fabric like denim, khaki and gabardine. Another less common cotton weave is a silk weave, which produces a fabric with a dressy sheen like sateen.

Other types of cotton include: flannel, chintz, organdy, poplin, seersucker, terry cloth, and velveteen.

Cotton is a great versatile fabric that has stood the test of time. Maybe you’ll be inspired to give cotton a try for your next project. Depending on your application, you might choose 100% cotton or a blend to get just the right features.

To see our selection of cotton fabrics including cotton duck, cotton upholstery fabrics and blends visit

Want to read more Fabric Features? Check out our posts on Acrylic and Polyester too!

Did you know that polyester is the number one man-made fiber used in fabrics worldwide? The textile industry was transformed with the discovery of polyester in the 1940’s. Today this versatile synthetic fabric is used in clothing, outerwear, upholstery and home décor, sails and outdoor covers. In today’s fabric feature, we’re going to take a closer look at polyester. In case you missed our last post in the Fabric Feature series, you can learn about acrylic fabric here.


Polyester’s History

Polyester was discovered by a group of British chemists working at the Calico Printer’s Association of Manchester, England. They were interested in the work of W.H. Carothers, the chemist who discovered Nylon, the first synthetic fiber. Stemming off of Carothers’ research, the British chemists patented the first polyester in 1941 under the name Terylene. Soon after in America, DuPont purchased the rights to Terylene and begun manufacturing its own version of polyester, which debuted in 1951 under the name Dacron.

Polyester is made from acids and alcohols that are derived from petroleum. The fiber’s name comes from its makeup of many (poly) common organic compounds (esters). Polyester can also be derived from recycled materials. The specific processes for creating polyester are not known, as companies keep them secret to remain competitive. There are many different forms of polyester specific to its end use. A version referred to as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is the most common.

Why Polyester is Great

  • Strong and durable
  • Good abrasion resistance
  • Stands up well to sunlight
  • Resistant to mildew
  • Resistant to most chemicals
  • Water-resistant
  • Resistant to shrinking and stretching
  • Doesn’t wrinkle
  • Retains heat-set pleats and creases
  • Easy to clean

The Drawbacks to Polyester

Polyester, like all fabrics, is not without a few drawbacks. In the late 1960’s polyester had a bad public image for being a cheap fabric that uncomfortably retained heat. New manufacturing processes and the invention of microfiber (a super-soft, durable, lightweight polyester) are making this less and less the case today.

Additionally, polyester is prone to pilling and has static cling tendencies. It can soil easily and oil stains can be difficult to remove. Most other stains however, will remove with solvents or detergents.


It’s All in the Blend

Polyester is often blended with other fibers both natural and synthetic to enhance the characteristics of both. This is especially common in upholstery fabrics, where you rarely see polyester used alone. Polyester is frequently blended with cotton to make it more absorbent and comfortable or with rayon to give the fabric a different texture with a good hand, a nice drape, and more absorbency.

Polyester can be blended with wool to strengthen the wool and to give the polyester elasticity and a nice drape. However, these fabrics together increase pilling. Polyester is also sometimes blended with nylon because of nylon’s strength and polyester’s wrinkle free nature. This combination can also cause pilling, and because neither fabric is very absorbent, the fabric can feel wet and clammy in hot or humid weather.

Depending on the blend and the application, polyester has some great features to offer. Try this popular, versatile fabric for patio cushions, upholstery, drapery, boat and other outdoor covers, and more.

To see our selection of fabrics including polyester sailcloth, blends, and outdoor fabrics visit

Share your thoughts on polyester fabric with us in the comments!

Have you ever found a fabric you liked, but didn’t know how to describe it to find it again? We’ve all heard of florals, stripes and geometrics but fabric styles don’t stop there. I’ve been learning a lot about fabrics lately, including names for patterns that I never knew! So I’ve complied a list of some common patterns, their names, and a little bit about them.

1. Damask (DAM-usk): This elegant design gets its name from the city of Damascus, a major trading post along the Silk Road where fabric of this style was made and traded to the West. Damask fabrics feature patterns of flowers, fruit and other designs and are usually monochromatic. Damask designs are popular today in wallpaper, table linens, and upholstery.

2. Matelassé (Mat-la-SAY): The word “matelassé” is a French term meaning quilted or padded. This makes sense, as a matelassé fabric is a design with a raised pattern that appears padded, quilted or embossed. While they appear padded, matelassé fabrics don’t actually contain any padding. Matelassés are typically solid colors and are great for pillows, bedding, and more.

3. Quatrefoil (KAT-ruh-foil or KWA-tra-foil): This pattern comes from Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The name quatrefoil is Latin for “four leaves” and the design resembles a four-leaf clover. There are many variations of the quatrefoil, including the “barbed quatrefoil,” which is squarer and the “slipped” quatrefoil, which has a small stem. This design is popular in window treatments, pillows and wallpaper.

4. Houndstooth: This classic check was first worn by shepherds in the Scottish lowlands. It is a two-tone pattern that combines dark and light yarns in uneven rows. The uneven pattern results in a design that looks similar to a dog’s tooth, hence the name houndstooth. Houndstooth is popular in jackets and clothing but is also great for upholstery.


5. Suzani / 6. Chevron / 7. Paisley

5. Suzani (Su-ZA-nee): A traditional Middle Eastern pattern, suzani textiles were embroidered by brides as part of their dowry and presented to the groom on the wedding day. Suzani fabrics are usually a large-scale design with sun and moon disk (medallion), floral, and vine motifs. Today’s suzani designs are usually loom woven or printed. This style is popular for bedding and window treatments.

6. Chevron: A zigzag stripe pattern, chevrons have been popular in the U.S. for decades. The term chevron comes from the inverted V shape used in military insignia. In fact, the design goes back as far as 1800 B.C. on pottery and rock carvings. Chevrons are a fun, playful fabric for pillows, window treatments and much more.

7. Paisley: The paisley motif resembles a droplet, teardrop or tadpole and is of Persian and Indian origin. The British were introduced to the paisley design in the 18th century when the British East India Company brought back shawls with the design. The pattern got its name from the town of Paisley, Scotland, where textiles with the design were produced. Paisley continues to be popular today in formal styles as well a playful bright colors, perfect for kids’ rooms.


8. Ogee / 9. Jacobean / 10. Ikat

8. Ogee (OH-gee): Ogee gets its name from the architectural arch it resembles. The arch is formed at the connection of two, mirror image, elongated S shapes. Ogee patterns can sometimes resemble an onion. This curvy pattern is often used in bedding and rugs.

9. Jacobean: These patterns date back to the 17th century during the reign of King James I of England. A common motif in Jacobean fabrics is branches ornamented in color with fruits, flowers, and/or birds. They can have an old English feel to them, but many designers are now giving Jacobean elements a modern flair. Jacobean fabrics are often seen on upholstery or window treatments.

10. Ikat (EE-cot): Ikat refers to a dyeing and weaving method rather than the pattern itself. The term ikat comes from the Malay word “mengikat” meaning, “to tie.” The centuries old process includes tying the threads before they are dyed to achieve designs that are then woven into the fabric. This method gives ikat fabrics their signature blurred edges. Most ikats today are actually ikat-inspired prints.

Bring these patterns into your home with some new home décor projects. Check out our large selection of fabric by the yard including all of these styles at

What patterns are you loving right now? I’ve been really drawn to the ikats and quatrefoils lately.


Selecting a fabric for covers, tops and awnings requires some tradeoffs. Marine fabrics boast many great properties, so how do you choose? We all know that weather affects fabrics, so thinking about the climate where you live and boat can help pinpoint the features that are most necessary for you.

Two properties that tend to top the list of boat canvas features are UV resistance and chafe resistance. The importance of these traits depends a lot on where you live and how much time your boat spends on the water. Take a look:

Coastal and Offshore Sailors

If you sail on the coast or offshore, the number one feature in a cover or boat top fabric for you would be UV resistance. The sun is harsh on the coast and boats are typically in the water year-round, so any fabric used must be able to stand up to all those UV rays. For the best resistance to UV, we recommend Sunbrella Marine Grade fabrics. To provide extra chafe protection, add patches of Shelter-Rite Vinyl in high chafe areas.

Inland Sailors

When sailing in an area with four seasons, your boat gets a break from the weather during the winter months and the sun isn’t as hot as it is on the coast. For inland sailors, the priority of fabric shifts from UV resistance to chafe resistance. A good chafe resistant cover will last a long time for inland sailors and it doesn’t require the extra work of reinforcing patches. For the best chafe resistance, we recommend Sur Last or Maritime fabrics. You can increase the UV and water resistance of your fabrics with a coat of 303 Fabric Guard.

Remember, not all outdoor fabrics are suitable for a marine environment. For example, Waverly Sun N Shade and other fashion outdoor brands are made for occasional outdoor use and not to hold up to the extremes of a marine environment. Be sure to look at fabrics in the context of their recommended uses.

Now you’re armed with one more tool to help you make the perfect fabric choice for you! If you’re curious about how all of our outdoor fabrics’ features stack up, check out our Outdoor Fabrics Selection Guide.

See our full selection of outdoor fabrics for all climates at

What is most important to you when selecting a fabric for your boat? Share your thoughts in the comments!

When selecting a fabric for your project, do you take the type of material into consideration? Knowing whether the fabric is cotton, polyester or acrylic can tell you a lot about how the fabric will perform. In order to help you pick the best material for the job, we’re going to feature six common fabric fibers and take a look at the pros and cons, variations, and source of each. Kicking off our series is acrylic, the fiber behind most Sunbrella brand fabrics.

Acrylic is a synthetic man-made fabric that was originally developed to be an alternative to wool. Today it’s a widely popular fabric for its durability and ease of care. Acrylic is used in apparel, upholstery, rugs, awnings, boat and vehicle covers, luggage, blankets, and stuffed animals.


How Acrylic is Made

Acrylic is made from Acrylonitrile, a colorless flammable liquid that is derived from polypropylene plastic. It is combined with other chemicals and placed into a spinning solution. The mixture is then either injected into air-filled space and dry spun or sprayed into water and wet spun. The fibers are then washed, dried, and crimped. At this stage, the fibers are either long and continuous “tow” fibers or they are short “staple” fibers like wool or cotton. Both types of acrylic fiber can be woven into fabric, resulting in a different look.

Why Acrylic is Great

  • Durable
  • Colorfast
  • Resists Shrinkage
  • Doesn’t wrinkle
  • Soil and oil resistant
  • Resistant to sunlight and fading
  • Moisture wicking
  • Quick drying
  • Resistant to mildew and insects
  • Surprisingly soft
  • Easy to clean

The Drawbacks to Acrylic

Acrylic does have a few drawbacks. The fabric is inherently hydrophobic (a tendency to repel water), which can be a plus, but this feature also makes the fabric prone to creating static electricity. It also has been known to burn easily and can be difficult to extinguish.

Acrylic is not the most abrasion resistant fabric. However, for most applications, adding chafe protection patches of a more abrasion resistant fabric to high wear areas will strengthen the fabric.

Additionally, some acrylic fabrics have been known to pill, leaving what looks like tiny lint balls all over. Higher quality acrylics, like Sunbrella, however, have been manufactured not to pill.

How Acrylics Vary

While all acrylics have some of the same inherent properties, there are a lot of variables that can change the way a fabric performs. Two of the most common variances are the weave and chemical or topical additives.


An acrylic woven with a very tight weave will keep water from seeping through the fabric. Acrylics with a looser, more open weave, however, are less water resistant because the water can pass through the holes left between the fibers.

Chemical and topical additives are often used with acrylic to enhance its features. For example, Sunbrella Marine Grade is pre-treated with a topical additive that enhances water repellency and mildew resistance. Acrylic can also be coated with polyurethane or vinyl to increase water repellency and abrasion resistance as in Sunbrella Plus and SeaMark.

As you can see, acrylic has a lot of benefits and can be a very versatile fabric. Different weaves and treatments make this fiber appropriate for a wide range of uses. Give acrylic a try in your home or on your boat.

To see our selection of acrylic fabrics including Sunbrella Marine Grade and Upholstery Fabric, visit

Have you used acrylic fabrics for your projects? How have they performed for you?


Mother Nature is unpredictable and sometimes, despite our best efforts, she can get the better of us. There’s nothing worse than a pop-up rain shower or bird droppings wreaking havoc on your outdoor cushions and pillows. We’ve found that a great way to protect your outdoor fabrics from water and stains is to pre-treat them with a fabric guard.

Fabric Guards are usually spray-on products that help add water resistance and stain repellence to a fabric. They can also offer mildew resistance and UV screening to control fading. A good pre-treatment will not affect the color, feel, or breathability of your fabric and will provide protection from water, stains, and UV rays.

If you already have some outdoor cushions in use, it’s not too late to treat them as well. Fabric guards will restore water repellency to outdoor fabrics after washing as well, including Sunbrella Fabrics.

How to Apply Fabric Guard:

  1. Test the colorfastness of the material by spraying in an inconspicuous area and wiping the area while wet to see if the color transfers.
  2. Apply on a clean and dry fabric.
  3. Spray overlapping sprays until the fabric has been evenly misted.
  4. Allow to air dry and cure for 4 to 72 hours, depending on weather conditions. (Dries best in the sun on a hot day).
  5. Mist with water to test. Water should bead up on the fabric.

We’ve found 303® Fabric Guard to be a great choice for fabric protection. It is safe to use on almost all fabrics from acrylic to cotton, even wool, suede and fine leathers. Additionally it is environmentally safe, and non-toxic and odorless when dry.

A little spritz now can make a big difference later! To get your own 303 Fabric Guard or some new outdoor fabric, head on over to

Do you pre-treat your outdoor fabrics? Leave us a comment and share your experiences!


Customer Photo by Chris S.

Outdoor fabric is a broad, diverse category full of everything from Allsport Vinyl to Sunbrella Marine Grade to Waverly Sun N Shade. Not every outdoor fabric is suitable for every outdoor application, so how do you know which fabric will work best for your project?

Take a look at our new Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide. In this guide, we have ranked all of Sailrite’s outdoor fabrics by six key criteria: breathability, water resistance, abrasion resistance, UV resistance, colorfastness, and clean-ability. Let’s take a closer look at those six features.

6 Factors to Consider When Selecting an Outdoor Fabric

Breathability: The level of breathability is determined by how easily air can pass through a fabric. Breathability is important to consider for any outdoor project but is especially key for two applications: covers and seating. In airtight enclosures and covers, a non-breathable fabric could lead to mold and mildew. For seating, a breathable cushion will be more comfortable (less sticky!) especially during hot summer months.

Water Resistance: Water resistance measures how much water will bead and roll off the fabric surface. Often, water resistance and breathability are trade-offs. Typically fabrics that don’t breath well are more water resistant and those that do not breathe at all are considered waterproof (generally vinyl-coated or laminated fabrics). Water resistance is more important for applications like awnings, covers, and speedboat interiors than it is for patio furniture, where cushions can be brought in and out of the rain.

Abrasion Resistance: Abrasion resistance describes how well a fabric will hold up to abrasion under tension. Abrasion-resistant outdoor fabrics for marine and outdoor cover applications are usually heavy, stiff, and often coated with vinyl or other resins. For abrasion resistance with a softer look and hand, go with an outdoor upholstery fabric.


Customer Photo by Rudy and Cheryl G.

UV Resistance: UV resistance is perhaps the most important factor in an outdoor fabric and the simplest.  The higher the UV resistance the longer the fabric will last when exposed to sunlight. The importance of UV resistance increases for applications that will see more sunlight as opposed to applications that would stay in the shade the majority of the time.

Colorfastness: The more colorfast a fabric, the less likely the pattern or color will fade or bleed. A fabric’s colorfastness is determined by how well it holds color over years of exposure to sun, rain, and snow. Colorfastness is more of an aesthetic factor but is important to consider if using vibrant colors for awnings, covers, and cushions.

Clean-ability: While clean-ability might seem less important for outdoor fabrics as opposed to indoor, cleaning your outdoor fabrics is crucial to their longevity. Clean-ability stands for how well a fabric releases dirt from the weave. Mold and mildew can grow on dirt that is trapped in the fabric weave. In general, fabrics with a single-side coating do not release dirt well. To combat this, inspect those fabrics frequently and clean them often.

Selecting the right fabric for your outdoor project can be a balance of weighing the pros and cons of each choice. This Outdoor Fabric Selection Guide aims to make the process easier with its quick 5-star ratings system. If you’re still unsure, there’s also a cheat sheet of Sailrite fabric recommendations based on application.


Customer Photo by Charles L.

You can browse our full selection of outdoor fabrics at

What outdoor projects are you taking on this spring?

2013_February_4What are double rubs? This statistic with a funny name actually says a lot about the strength of a fabric. Double rubs are a measurement of a fabric’s abrasion resistance. They are listed with most fabrics and are helpful in determining which fabric is right for your particular application.

Double rubs are found through a mechanized test called the Wyzenbeek Test (sometimes called the Wyzenbeek Method). The Wyzenbeek Test is regarded as the standard of measuring abrasion resistance for fabric in North America. A piece of cotton duck is stretched over a mechanical arm and passed back and forth over the test fabric in each direction. Each back and forth motion is one double rub. The cotton duck passing over the fabric simulates the wear of a fabric being used as a seat cushion, for example. The test is run in sets of 5,000 double rubs until the fabric shows “noticeable wear” or two yarn breaks.

So, how many double rubs should you look for in a fabric? It depends on your intended application. In general, around 15,000 or more double rubs is considered heavy-duty for residential applications. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Double Rubs for Residential Applications

Heavy Duty: 15,000+ double rubs. Suitable for family rooms.

Medium Duty: 9,000-15,000 double rubs. Versatile. Good for living or family rooms.

Light Duty: 3,000-9,000 double rubs. Usually better suited for formal or occasional use furniture.

Delicate Duty: Less than 3,000 double rubs. Recommended for more decorative use as in curtains, drapes or pillows.

Double Rubs for Commercial Applications

Contract Upholstery Minimum: 15,000 double rubs is considered the minimum for general contract, commercial upholstery projects.

Heavy Duty: 15,000-30,000 double rubs. Suitable for single shift offices, conference rooms, hotel rooms and dining areas.

Extra-Heavy Duty: 30,000+ double rubs. Recommended for constant use as in hospital waiting areas, airport terminals, fast food restaurants, theaters, and stadiums.

2013_February_3Check out our wide variety of upholstery, outdoor, and indoor/outdoor fabrics at What do you look for when selecting the perfect fabric?


New year, new projects. We’re entering 2013 with a great list of projects and how-to advice that we can’t wait to share with you! Starting off right, we have a great new how-to video that features a new fabric option, Mobern’s Allsport 4-Way Stretch Vinyl.

We love this vinyl because it makes patterning around contours and frames so easy! The stretch in the fabric is forgiving when patterning (which is great for beginners) and it provides clean lines and a smooth appearance for professional-looking results. To top it all off, Allsport 4-Way Stretch Vinyl is durable and easy to clean. Allsport is great for car interiors, motorcycle seats, ski lift chairs, snowmobiles, tractor seats, personal watercraft, marine seating, and home office seating.

Watch this video to learn how to use this stretchy vinyl fabric to recover a curvy motorcycle seat. Don’t own a motorcycle? Use the techniques as a starting point for other seat recovery projects. This video will walk you through removing the old cover, patterning the top plates and boxing, sewing the plates and boxing, creating fabric pulls, and stapling and stretching the vinyl.

Mobern’s Allsport 4-Way Stretch Vinyl is available in a variety of colors at

When starting a fabric or upholstery project it is always good to become familiar with some industry terminology. “Railroaded” fabric is an upholstery term that can be a real head scratcher. While it seems to have nothing to do with fabric at all, railroaded fabric can save you time and money in your next upholstery project.

What does “railroaded fabric” mean?

Railroaded fabric refers to the way a fabric, particularly a pattern or stripe, is milled. Usually fabric patterns run “up the roll,” meaning the pattern flows from top to bottom, parallel with the selvage edges. On a fabric that is railroaded, the pattern runs across the roll from selvage edge to selvage edge.

When is railroaded fabric helpful?

When upholstering, it generally looks best to run a patterned or striped fabric from top to bottom and from back to front. Imagine upholstering a sofa. It would look best for the stripes to have a vertical orientation, like soldiers standing in a row.

Most upholstery fabrics are 54 inches wide. On a regular “up the roll” pattern this would mean creating a seam every 54 inches to get the desired pattern on the sofa. Railroaded fabric makes for less seaming because the pattern continues over a long stretch of fabric. Even in railroaded fabric, sometimes the patterns can be difficult to match. You may need to do some seaming to achieve your desired look.

How can I tell if a fabric is railroaded?

Some fabrics will say in the description or on the tag if they are railroaded. If this information isn’t available, here’s how to be a savvy shopper and check yourself. Roll the fabric off the roll enough to see which way the pattern is facing. If the top of the pattern faces up towards the roll or down towards the fabric end, the fabric is up the roll (not railroaded). If the top of the pattern is sideways the fabric has been railroaded. When shopping online, look for patterns that run from selvage edge to selvage edge in the photo for fabrics that have been railroaded.

Railroaded fabric (left) versus regular fabric (right) on the roll.

Whether you choose up the roll or railroaded fabric for your next project, you’re now one step closer to speaking the lingo like a pro. Beautiful, luxurious indoor and outdoor fabrics can be purchased by the yard at

%d bloggers like this: