Furnishing Fabric 101: A DIY Guide to Textile Terminology

Furnishing Fabric 101: A DIY Guide to Textile Terminology

Welcome to the wonderful but occasionally baffling world of furnishing fabric terminology. Our guide is intended to help you if you're into making your own curtains, blinds, cushions, or even doing DIY upholstery, when understanding these terms is crucial. So, let's get started!


Pattern Repeat


Pattern Repeat on our Alice in Wonderland Furnishing Fabric by Thevenon


First off, let's talk about pattern repeats. A pattern repeat is the vertical or horizontal repetition of a design or pattern on a fabric.


A vertical pattern repeat refers to the repetition of the pattern from top to bottom across the width of the fabric. It's the distance from where the pattern starts, repeats, and begins again. This is particularly important when you're working on projects like curtains, where you want the pattern to flow seamlessly from one panel to the next.


On the other hand, a horizontal pattern repeat is the repetition of the pattern from left to right across the width of the fabric. This is less common but still essential to know, especially when you're working on projects like upholstery, where the pattern needs to align across different sections of the furniture.




Next up is the term 'nap'. In fabric terminology, nap refers to the texture and direction of the fabric, specifically how it feels when you run your hand over it. Some fabrics, like velvet or corduroy, have a noticeable nap, meaning they feel different when you stroke them in different directions. This can affect how you cut and sew the fabric, as it can alter the colour, particularly on fabrics like velvet. So when you cut out your pattern pieces, you want to cut them the same way to create consistency. 


Martindale Ratings


Now let's talk about Martindale ratings. This is a measure of the durability of a fabric, specifically how well it can withstand wear and tear. The Martindale test is a rub test used to measure fabric durability. The higher the Martindale rating, the more durable the fabric - or to be more specific the more times you can sit on it. For upholstery projects, you'll want a fabric with a high Martindale rating, as these fabrics are designed to withstand a lot of use.

If you want to find out more, read our blog on understanding Martindale Ratings.


Other Furnishing Fabric Terminology


Here's a quick rundown on some other terms, which you may come across when planning your furnishing projects:


A blackout fabric is designed to block out almost all light. It's perfect for curtain linings in bedrooms or any space where you want to control the light.


This refers to fabrics that have undergone a process to remove colour, impurities, or natural markings, resulting in a pure white material.


This is a fabric finishing process where the material is lightly brushed to create a soft, almost fuzzy texture. It's often used for cotton, corduroy, and some types of knit.


This is a lightweight, closely woven white linen or cotton fabric. It’s ideally used for making cushion inners as it is so tightly woven that the feathers cannot escape.


A heavy-duty plain-woven fabric, ideal for making cushions, curtains, furniture upholstery, bags, backpacks, and other items for which sturdiness is required.

Digital Printing:

A method of printing from a digital-based image directly onto a variety of media, including fabric. It allows for highly detailed prints and the ability to print a full range of colours.



A heavy brushed cotton which is used as curtain interlining to give an extra layer for warmth and give additional body to curtains or blinds.

Half Panama:

A type of weave that's twice as dense as a plain weave. It's often used in canvas and upholstery fabrics.


This is a distinctive V-shaped weaving pattern usually found in twill fabric and often in wool fabrics. It's named herringbone because it resembles the skeleton of a herring fish.


This is an extra layer of fabric inserted between the face and the lining of a curtain, or similar item to improve its drape, durability and insulation.


A fabric with an intricately woven pattern. The jacquard design is not embroidered but woven directly into the fabric.



This refers to fabric as it comes off the loom, untreated and not yet processed. So it always has a natural colour and texture.


A type of weave that's similar to a plain weave, but with two or more threads acting as one. Panama fabrics tend to have a similar weight to denim so can be used for soft furnishing projects as well as many dressmaking ones such as skirts or trousers. 



A lightweight, often loosely woven fabric, used for making bags, rugs and in upholstery.


A plain-weave fabric, typically cotton, used for bed sheets. It's known for its durability and softness.



Tapestry fabric is characterised by its complex, pictorial designs. The weft threads are typically so densely woven that they hide the warp thread, creating a smooth and sturdy fabric. Nowadays, tapestry fabric is commonly used for upholstery, cushions, and bags.



A heavy-duty striped fabric traditionally used to cover mattresses and pillows to prevent the stuffing from poking through. Nowadays, it is popular as a hard-wearing cotton for all furnishing projects including upholstery, curtains and cushions.

Water Repellent:

This refers to fabrics that are resistant to water. They're not completely waterproof, but they will resist the penetration of water to some degree.


Furnishing Fabric Glossary for DIYers


Understanding these terms can significantly enhance your furnishing DIY projects, ensuring you choose the right fabric for the job and use it correctly. Each of these terms opens up new possibilities, so don't be afraid to experiment and try something new.


So next time you're browsing through fabric swatches, remember, the world of fabric is vast and diverse, and these are just some of the terms you'll come across. Tell us any others you come across and we would love to include them. The more you learn, the more confident you'll become in your DIY furnishing projects. So, keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep creating!

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