I would be rich if I were to be given one pound for every time we are asked, “What is the best upholstery fabric to use on my sofa?” Typically the questioner means ‘most durable’ rather than ‘best’. You could buy a near bullet-proof fabric with a Martindale score of several hundred thousand but could you live with it!
‘Simple’ measures of durability such as Martindale and Wyzenbeek overlay complex structures of the fabric. This covers the construction of the yarns and design of the weave weave as well as the fibre chosen. Furthermore, finishes, sofa/furniture design, maintenance regimes and usage are variables that very significantly affect the life of your fabric.
There is a close link between fiber strength and yarn strength. Yarns are twisted to add strength – generally a tighter twist gives a stronger yarn. This is measured in Twists Per Inch or Meter (TPI or TPM). Tightly twisted yarns are generally smooth and dense. This brings us to weave design. Weaves can be extremely complicated and difficult to structurally model and understand. Just knowing the fibers, yarn and weave construction still doesn’t answer the basic question – an objective measurement is needed. Test were developed to determine wear. They are better known as abrasion tests and many Interior Designers today refer to these test results as THE way to measure fabric durability. Abrasion test are supposed to forecast how well a fabric will wear in upholstery applications.
There are two tests: Martindale in Europe and Wyzenbeek in the USA. The tests are different and there is no correlation between the two. With Wyzenbeek (ASTM D4157-02): a piece of cotton duck fabric or wire mesh is rubbed in a straight back and forth motion on a piece of fabric until “noticeable wear” or thread break is evident. One back and forth motion is called a “double rub” (dbl rub). Whereas with Martindale (ASTM D4966-98): the abradant in this test is worsted wool or wire screen, the fabric specimen is a circle or round shape and the rubbing is undertaken in a figure 8, unlike the straight line of the Wyzenbeek. One figure 8 is a cycle – hence the terms Martindale cycles.
Contract fabrics would normally meet these criteria:
General contract: Wyzenbeek 15,000 Martindale 20,000
Heavy duty contract Wyzenbeek 30,000 Martindale 40,000
Whereas for domestic applications:
Light residential Wyzenbeek 6,000, Martindale 9,000
Medium use residential Wyzenbeek 9,000 Martindale 15,000
Heavy use residential 15,000 Martindale 30,000 or higher
The higher the result the more likely the fabric is to be more durable. (Source of the above figures can be provided on request to the author)
With figures over 100,000 then there may be an issue with the applicability of the results and certainly how the fabrics’ care regime is implemented will have more of an influence on its longevity.
Some commentators question the validity of test results. In my experience in the UK, test houses are independent and are strictly monitored by British Standards and no one fabric company is big enough to be able to ‘ask for’ results to be skewed. Nor, I’m sure, would any fabric company want to put a supplier in that position if only for the reason that it is in no-one’s interests to undermine the authority of independent industry bodies that, in general, regulate for the greater good of all.