A 3-seater mid-century sofa in a loft-style apartment with exposed brick walls.

The Best Fabrics for Upholstering Furniture – A Vinterior Guide

Giving your home a makeover doesn’t mean you have to call in the builders. Renovations can be costly and consuming, taking over your life for weeks and disrupting your day-to-day.

Instead, you can give your space a quick and easy update by upholstering your furniture in brand-new fabrics. From prints and patterns to softly heathered looks, there are so many materials to choose from. But where to start when looking for materials to upholster your sofa or footstool?

Luckily, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the properties of popular upholstery textiles, where you can use them, which materials to avoid, and how to choose the right ones for your home. 

A carved antique bench with dark wood frame upholstered in cream linen with a navy blue stripe pattern.

Image: Antique Upholstered Bench. Vinterior Seller: Mollydog Antiques

What are the best fabrics for upholstery?

Below, we look at the five most common fabrics used in furniture upholstery. Favoured for their useful properties, each brings its own unique character. 


Made from one of the most sustainable fibres known to man, linen has long been favoured for furniture upholstery. The flax plant it is woven from grows abundantly across Northern Europe and the Far East, giving rise to many variations of linen worldwide.

Teak-framed mid-century armchair upholstered in grey linen set against a teal backdrop.

Image: Mid-Century Armchair in Linen. Vinterior Seller: Warsztat Form Design

It is hard-wearing when woven for upholstery specifically and can be sumptuously soft, which makes it ideal for a number of applications around the home.


Widely used for upholstery, cotton is soft, durable, and easy to clean. Due to how easy it is to clean and care for cotton, it’s often used to make slipcovers that can be whipped off and thrown in the washing machine when needed.


A short-piled fabric with a nepped appearance, velvet is commonly used in new upholstery. It’s tough, easy to clean, and looks effortlessly luxurious—especially when used in jewel tones. 

A space-age style 3-piece suite in mustard-colour velvet in a sparse room with concrete floor.

Image: Velvet Space-Age Velvet 3-Piece Suite. Vinterior Seller: GenencoTradeCo.

Most often woven from cotton, velvet is also available in silk. Although, delicate fibres such as silk are not usually appropriate for everyday upholstery.


Used by man for millennia, animal hides such as leather is tough, long-lasting, and highly favoured among furniture makers and designers. Often, it is the aged appeal of a vintage leather sofa or chair that people love, and repurposing leather from old pieces has become increasingly popular.


Naturally flame retardant and endlessly hardwearing, wool is perfect for an upholstery project. Additionally, thanks to the lanoline content of many types of wool, they often repel liquid for a longer period of time, making it easier to clean up spills.

Can you use curtain fabric for upholstery?

It is not beyond the realm of possibility to use curtain fabric for an upholstery project. Especially if you have sturdy, lined curtains in a fabric you love. 

A multicolour kilim-covered bench-style ottoman.

Image: Kilim Covered Bench-Style Footstool. Vinterior Seller: Vintezza Interiors

However, as curtain fabric isn’t created for heavy, daily use, it can wear away quite quickly if used on a sofa or armchair. While it can be tricky to track down matching upholstery fabric for a set of vintage curtains you’ve fallen for, many fabric manufacturers of modern upholstery fabric will create matching fabrics for both curtain and furniture use. 

Alternatively, if you know the brand your vintage curtains came from, you could reach out to that company (provided they still exist) to see if they have any archive upholstery fabric you could purchase.

How to choose fabrics for your upholstery

Different pieces of furniture will require different fabrics due to their use. For example, a large sectional sofa in a busy family room would need a hard-wearing material that could sustain daily use and the occasional spill or stain. 

An armchair in a study, however, might not be used as frequently and could be upholstered in a softer, lighter fabric as it will be less likely to get stained. Occasional chairs in sheepskin have become increasingly popular in modern homes, but this fabric is best used on pieces that aren’t used often.

Patterned vs plain upholstery fabrics

There is some debate about when and where to use patterned vs plain upholstery fabrics. The main argument for patterned over plain materials is that use, wear, and staining don’t show up so easily on patterned fabrics. 

A puffy, grey-leather Italian armchair in a room with a sculptural floor lamp and sage green sideboard.

Image: Plain Grey Leather 1980s Italian Armchair. Vinterior Seller: Sideshow Interiors

However, there are some other considerations when deciding between the two. The size of the room your piece will sit in is one consideration. As is the size of the piece itself. 

A large drawing room or living room could easily adopt a big sofa in patterned material, as your eye will navigate through the pattern as it scans the room. But if you have a smaller space, you might want to keep your big furniture pieces in plain fabrics and use a footstool or occasional chair to play around with patterned upholstery, so as not to overwhelm the room.

What properties does upholstery fabric need to have?

The properties needed for upholstery fabrics depend on where and how you’ll use them. Matching the right fabric to the right piece and use will ensure you get longevity out of it. Keeping your furniture looking great for years to come.

Upholstery fabric for chairs

Deciding which fabric to use for a chair will depend on what type of chair you’re upholstering. Dining chairs are often upholstered in easy-to-clean fabrics due to the nature of their use. Leather and velvet often appear on dining chairs. 

A set of four 1960s oak dining chairs with cream fabric upholstered seats.

Image: Dining Chairs with Upholstered Seats. Vinterior Seller: Merchant & Found.

Conversely, a large wingback armchair could be upholstered in a more yielding, soft fabric. Wool and soft linen would be more suited to these pieces if they’re used less often.

Upholstery fabric for sofas

Sofas are typically used in busy areas of the home. Whether it’s gathering around for games nights with friends or lounging in front of the TV with the children, we demand a lot from our sofas, so you’ll need to choose a fabric to match.

A large sheepskin sofa on slim dark legs in a room with a small stool and floor lamp.

Image: Sheepskin Sofa. Vinterior Seller: Grace Sisters.

Strong linen, velvet, and leather are all top choices as they’re relatively easy to clean and hard-wearing to boot. On heavily used pieces like couches and sectionals, a patterned material can hide a multitude of daily sins.

Upholstery fabrics for footstools

Footstools and ottomans are really great pieces on which to ay around with print, pattern, and texture. A large ottoman can be covered in multicolour cotton Kilim fabric to create a grand centrepiece for your living room. Or you can upholster smaller stools in leather or soft, fluffy sheepskin for a natural take.

Large upholstered footstool corners

Image: Large Patterened Ottoman. Vinterior Seller: Colour Me KT.

We hope that you’ve found this guide useful. Whether you’re embarking on a DIY upholstery project you’ve been dying to get sunk into or you’re working with an interior designer to bring your home to life, you’ll hopefully be better placed to choose your favourite fabrics now.

If you need any more upholstery tips, check out our upholstery guides, including how to clean leather upholstery and how to reupholster an armchair. And as always, if you need any more advice, just reach out in the comments below.

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