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For the love of fabric

Creative ideas on how to freshen up your home with fabrics

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Damien Packwood loves transforming a space with fabric.

Recently, he worked with a client who reupholstered an antique fainting couch in grey-and-white animal print. “It’s taking something really old and putting a new fabric on it, making it come back to life,” says the interior decorator.

Part of the team at Interiors by Lynette in Charlottetown, Packwood sees more reupholstery than he used to. “A lot of older homes have older pieces of furniture that people don’t want to get rid of,” he says. “It’s better to reupholster, rather than getting something completely new that you have to try out and may not like as much.” One upholstery fabric he’s seeing more of is velvet. “It’s shocking because everyone’s been trying to get rid of velvet, but it’s coming back,” Packwood says.

When decorating, begin with a fabric you love. “If you start off with draperies, choose coordinating fabrics for the sofa and toss cushions, and then choose paint colours from that fabric,” says Packwood. “It’s easier to match up a paint colour with a fabric rather than going the opposite way.” For draperies, he sticks with linen-like fabrics. Linen is wrinkle-prone and just doesn’t hold up as well. “You can get some really great cotton/polyester blends right now that look like linen,” he says. “It’s much less expensive than linen is, and way more durable.”

Tone-on-tone fabric is also popular. Recently, Packwood decorated a home with grey draperies, grey walls and grey furniture. “It sounds boring but when you have all these different textures on different fabrics—your linens, velvets, chenilles—it’s really interesting, warm and cozy,” he says. “You don’t need a lot of pattern if you [have] different textures and different tones in that palette. It will still look beautiful.”

In this cottage bedroom, upholstery fabric from Fabricville in a black-and-white damask print over pine board backing makes an elegant DIY headboard. Matching toss cushions from Rona complete the look. Photo: Jay Hiltz

In this cottage bedroom, upholstery fabric from Fabricville in a black-and-white damask print over pine board backing makes an elegant DIY headboard. Matching toss cushions from Rona complete the look. Photo: Jay Hiltz

If you do crave pattern, keep the upholstery neutral (try grey, cream or charcoal) and bring in pops of colour with drapery and toss cushions. Both patterns can still be geometric (Packwood sees a lot of chevron and trellis), but make them different sizes for more visual interest. “If your drapery is a large-scale pattern, then I’d do a smaller-scale on your toss cushion,” Packwood adds. Gord Ladner has been in the upholstery business for 39 years. He owns Ladner Upholstery in Brackley, P.E.I. The shop carries over 20,000 different fabric samples and offers upholstery services.

When selecting fabric for upholstery projects, Lander recommends checking the rub count (the number of times you sit on the piece of furniture) to see how durable it is. A higher rub count indicates how long it will last. “Twenty thousand to 25,000 double rubs is considered normal-wear fabric, so getting a customer to use 45,000 to 50,000 is awesome,” Ladner says. “It doesn’t fall apart in a few years.”

For furniture upholstery, he recommends chenille, polyester-chenille, or acrylic blend. “That’s certainly the most popular,” he says. “The rub count is high, at 125,000 rubs, and the price is low. It’s a nice, soft feel to sit in, and it looks more comforting than a flat, shiny material does.” While his fabric prices range from about $27/yard to well over $300/yard, Ladner can sell a good material in the $50 to $60/yard range. Something like cotton velvet is pricy. “They used it hundreds of years ago,” says Ladner. “We have samples of cotton velvet that they use in Buckingham Palace. It’s well over $100/yard. We don’t use it often unless someone has a nice antique they want to look authentic.”

Marilyn Smulders (a regular contributor to East Coast Living) is communications director at NSCAD University in Halifax, where she’s also picking away at a BA in textiles/fashion. She creates original screen-printed designs inspired by nature. “For that you have to use natural fibres because once it’s screen printed it goes through a heat press, so anything that’s polyester would just melt,” she says. “I use cottons and linens, mainly. Plus they’re just nicer fabrics for what I’m doing.” Smulders makes pillows, tote bags, cosmetic bags and does small upholstery projects: ottomans, benches and chairs. Her designs feature whimsical patterns of stylized woodland animals, plus island-inspired prints with lobsters, whales, kelp, mermaids and seahorses in vivid colours.

She also sells her fabric by the yard, and says custom orders are the best way to work. “You can make sure you’re making something somebody absolutely wants,” she says. “It can be tailored to their home or whatever use they have in mind.” She has plenty of ideas for anybody looking to freshen up their home with fabric, from curtains, blinds and upholstery to table runners, napkins and tea towels. “I tend to use a mid-weight fabric that will have multiple uses. One that would be good for drapery but would also be good for a chair or a footstool.”

Photo: Damien Packwood

In this family room, Packwood picked neutral fabrics and layered in lots of textures to create a warm and cozy space. Photo: Damien Packwood

When it comes to DIY upholstery projects, Smulders says a simple piece like a bench or footstool is not hard. But other furniture can require specialized skills. “It’s like archeology almost,” she says. “I find pieces at auction sales and junk shops and I’m taking off layers and layers [of] old nails and old staples, and there’s a lot of disgusting stuff under there.” She once bought a chair at an auction that had seaweed stuffing in it.

“Working with textiles is a great way to update your house because you can swap things out in the season,” says Smulders. “You can be more whimsical with your pillow designs and you don’t have to have neutral colours. You can add a pop of colour by swapping in a pillow and make everything look fresh…It’s a little change that makes a big impact.”

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