Contract Upholstery Fabric – How to Specify It

Here is a VERY quick guide to specifying contract fabrics. Contract Fabrics 101 if you like. It shows you the main areas you need to consider.

1. Determine Use

Is it panelling or seating? for the latter you will need to consider flammability (cigarette, match and crib 5) and abrasion (Martindale)

2. Fabric Composition

The composition of the fabric including the yarn and weave will affect the fabric’s long term wear, appearance and technical performance.

Natural fabrics such as wool can be more expensive but generally offer good feel and technical characteristics such as natural flame retardancy.

Man-made fabrics usually are more easily cared for but can look cheap if not properly chosen.

3. Flammability

The single standard for contract seating which is acceptable throughout the EU is EN 1021 Parts 1 and 2 (cigarette and match). Higher level standards in the UK are BS 5852 and BS 7176.

The standard which applies to vertical surface fabrics is BS 476 Part 7.

4. Abrasion

You should be looking at the Martindale properties of the fabric. <Here> is more information on the Martindale rub test.

5. Environmental Considerations

Generally natural fibres like wool are good. And man-made ones less so, NYLON is not great.

6. Care and maintenance

Generally contract fabrics will look bad because of dirt rather than because they wear out. So follow the manufacturers instructions on care and maintenance.  Basically wipe away stains quickly and vacuum clean regularly.

Black Velvet – Even Better Italian Silk Velvet In Black

Black Velvet – only to be enjoyed by those who appreciate that black is the new black! KOTHEA have a range of velvets with shades of black colourways in most of those velvet collections.

Black Diamond” is the colourway name for the Italian Silk Velvet (100% Silk Pile) with the code 777-108-900.

You can get black silk velvet samples here from KOTHEA if you are a trade professional. Just click the link.

KOTHEA velvets are the best in the market. We only sell top market fabrics, mostly to top European Interior Designers and Architects. Here are some more bits of technical information on our black Italian Silk velvet fabric:

Width: 140cm

Composition: 100% Silk Pile

No repeat, plain.

Abrasion: Martindale 20,000.

Available from stock, normal delivery within 5 days.

Minimum Order length: 2m

The Cigarette & Match Tests BS 5852

The Cigarette & Match Tests BS 5852 are fire retardancy tests for residential upholstery. This document is intended to be read by interior designers and as such you do not need to understand the details of the tests. Interior designers must, however, ensure that they comply with the associated British Standards by ensuring that the fabrics they specify are fit for that purpose.

You can download this document by clicking on the pdf icon.

  1. If you are sourcing furniture for your client then the vendor of the furniture needs to provide you with appropriate information to prove compliance.
  2. If you are specifying fabric for furniture to be made up, then you need to ask the fabric supplier for the fabric’s compliance to the standards and/or arrange fire treatment.
  3. You will need to ensure that you have specified the appropriate fabrics for the visible and non-visible parts of the furniture.
  4. You will need to liaise with your upholsterer to ensure that any additional materials such as foam and fabric lining are adequate.

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The cigarette and match tests fall under BS 5852. The test(s) involve the fabric being exposed to different ‘ignition sources’ essentially simulating possible real life causes of domestic fires. The ‘ignition sources’ are ways that the fabric could plausibly be burnt. There are 8 different sources/types of combustion but you only normally need to deal with sources 0, 1 and 5.
Source 0 = Cigarette (smouldering cigarette)
Source 1 = Match (simulated match)
Source 5 = Crib. (Wooden crib or Crib 5)

Source 5, or Crib 5 as it is frequently know as, is usually a contract standard for upholstery. In contract upholstery you might also come across BS 7176 which determines specific risk or hazard areas that your fabric is being installed into. In simple terms, BS 7176 covers all 3 of the above tests. Furthermore, whilst Crib 5 is the highest standard of the 3 tests it does not follow that a fabric which passes Crib 5 will also pass the cigarette and match test – even though it is likely to.

Exceptions, Mandates & Exemptions

  • Fabric is exempted if it is 75% by weight of cotton, silk, viscose, wool i.e. 75% natural fibres. A FR inter-liner must also be used to keep the exemption.
  • Furniture MUST IN ALL CASES pass the cigarette test. No exceptions.
  • Cigarette Test will be undertaken using standard foam – this presents a worst-case scenario.
  • For fabrics that do not inherently pass the required test then treatments are usually available, often where the back side of the fabric is coated with a fire resistant substance not affecting the look and feel of the fabric
  • For already made-up furniture, we doubt that it is possible to treat it retrospectively to pass the tests. However it may be possible to prove that the fabrics that have already been used are in fact compliant.

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Mohair Velvet, Silk Velvet: How to upholster using it

Silk Velvet Upholstery Fabric TextileMohair Velvet and Silk Velvet buyers consider this: You have just invested a considerable amount of money in a high quality silk velvet or mohair velvet. Are you really considering upholstering with it yourself. Use an experienced upholsterer who, to be brutally honest, should not need the instructions that follow.

Some velvets are woven with a nap others are not. It is not a problem either way. If there is a nap you need to know which way it goes as that affects the process of upholstering. When you run your hand down the mohair velvet or silk velvet the smoothed direction indicates the direction of the nap. Remember this, it is important.

I’m assuming that you have already checked that the fabric is not damaged and that each piece is from the same dye lot.

The nap should be upholstered downwards for:

– the back;

– the seat; and

– side surfaces.

The nap should be upholstered from the outside inwards for:

– arm rests.

How do you flip your cushions? Top to bottom or left to right?

Most people flip from top to bottom. It is therefore standard upholstering practice to upholster the front and the back the opposite way. IE when they are flipped over the nap is the same.

You should use a layer of wadding between the foam and the fabric. The wadding can be either cotton or synthetic it does not really matter but check with any fire rating requirements. Again check that you are using the right kind of foam but HR foam or cold foam are both fine.

However if the pile is vertical then we advise the additional use of a cotton slip-cover.

Going back to the foam for a minute we advise that you use white wadding. In certain circumstances it is possible that grey wadding will ‘bleed’ causing marks on your beautiful Mohair Velvet. For example this may be caused from moisture used in the cleaning process.

Always use wadding on the arm rests as a protective layer to help eliminate ‘sharp’ edges. Using wadding on arm rests will thus reduce wear and tear considerably.

For the piping never use synthetic piping cord, always use cotton piping cord. As with the arm rests this will reduce wear and tear by eliminating the ‘sharper edges’.

Again to reduce wear and tear also use the length of the fabric to make the piping. this will look better as well.

Happy Upholstering

KOTHEA 2010 Fabric Collections

Finally! Our summer collections have been decided and we will begin to introduce the new designs and colourways throughout the remainder of this year. We have been inundated with new work in the first part of this year causing our blog posts to be curtailed and our ‘spring’ collection to nearly be an autumn/fall collection. Not that we really do seasonal collections in any case.

I will return later in another post to KOTHEA’s awesome sales figures for the financial year just finished. Most surprising, especially considering we are in the midst of a recession. We had our best ever year and by quite a large margin.

We expect some coverage of the new collections in World of Interiors and Elle decoration but, again, more on that at another time.

Where can you see our collections? Well, we are as elusive as ever but we are starting to digitize some images to our flickr feed (click the images on the right or here). The flickr update is ongoing, there is information on flickr now but some of the images are not final and some images do not have full associated descriptions / product details but we are woking on that this week. Our usual clients will receive the new collections in due course starting in late summer; if you need them more urgently for pressing projects of course we will be happy to oblige. Please get in contact in the usual way.

Not all are in production yet but most sampling is available now.

As a very broad summary we have:

1. New colours of several existing ranges including faux leather;

2. More velvets including patterned and crush;

3. Striped, double-width linens;

4. Upholstery weight linen; and

5. A few more interesting one-off designs in limited colourways like the one heading up this blog post.

What is the Martindale Shade Change?

There is not a Martindale Shade Change test as such.

You have probably been referred to the Martindale Rub test by someone looking to know how durable your chosen fabric is to abrasion. the Martindale rub test result is particularly useful in indicating if your chosen fabric is suitable for the intended use. An indispensible indicator for interior designers.

The Shade Change is something different. Martindale tests are routinely undertaken on fabrics especially in the UK. In other countries there are different tests like the Wyzenbeek in the USA. However it is becoming more common in the UK that as part of the Martindale test a Shade Change test is also undertaken.

When a fabric has been ‘rubbed’ by a machine 3,000 times the Martindale test is paused and the fabric is examined to see how the shade of the fabric has changed. It is then given a mark out of 5 with 5 being the best result (least change).

A natural property of fabrics is that they wear with use. I guess one way of looking at the shade change test is to determine how much of that wear will be visible after a reasonable amount of use. With 3,000 rubs being classed as reasonable. It does not mean that your fabric will wear out after 3000 rubs, it has nothing to do with wearing out!

If your fabric has a Martindale result of 50,000 rubs this means that the structure of the fabric starts to break down after 50,000 rubs. Essentially the ‘rubs’ simulate to varying degrees how people will sit down repeatedly.

Getting a better Martindale abrasion test result for interiors fabric

Rumours abound that different testing houses give different Martindale abrasion test results for the same fabrics. Is there any truth to that?

Probably not.

Sometimes the tests can be carried out differently and so the results are different. There is a British Standard for abrasion testing which specifies how the test is done, if it is done in a different way then that may affect the result.

For example if we ‘know’ that a fabric is going to achieve about 35,000 Martindale ‘rubs’ then we would ask the testing company to test to 40,000 or if we were uncertain of the likely result we would ask them to test to end-point.

It is usual practice for the fabric to be rubbed in increments of 3,000 or so at a time. Clearly it is easier if a machine is left to run for 30,000 rather than 3,000 and then reset 10 times. Also the ‘correct’ (latter) way will give an accurate result of exactly when the fabric wears out.

I’m not sure why this is done not having read the British Standard myself in detail; maybe the fabric tension on the machine is meant to be checked every 3,000 rubs?

Anyway, if the test is not done properly then a LOWER result will be obtained.

So, providing a reputable testing house that is properly accredited has undertaken the test then it is safe to assume that the result is accurate. Of course the fabric piece that you buy may vary ever so slightly and this might cause minor variations. But that is the nature of some fabrics. A fault in the fabric may also cause it to wear out much quicker than expected but that fault should normally have been spotted by your upholsterer before they used it.

What is UK FR treatment BS7176 BS5852 Crib Test?

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Summary: Broad Answer – it is a watersoak plus ‘normal crib 5’ plus cigarette test plus match test. Now read on for the detail.

For contract upholstery fabric in the UK your fabric normally needs to be treated to pass BS 5852 Part 2: 1990: Source 5 (Crib 5). So when you are getting a fabric treated you should ask for it to be treated to that standard. As a designer that is all you should normally have to do.

Now, you have to get the treatment undertaken at a UKAS accredited company. That means they will do it properly. There are a variety of ways of treating fabrics to meet the standard. You don’t need to know them all, that is the job of the treatment house. Just tell them what standard it needs to achieve AND that you will be getting it tested independently afterwards (that encourages them to do it properly). For safety also say that the fabric will be subject to a watersoak (more of that in a minute).

The reason for doing this is that some older treatment methods are ‘legal’ within the BS but they can fail the test. This is because the treatments can contain phosphorous based chemicals that wash out. And the problem with that is that, if a fabric is not inherently fire retardant, then part of the test will involve it being soaked in water. Hence all the hard work put into the treatment is washed away and the test may well be failed.

Some treatment houses do not have some of the more expensive machinery required to undertake some of the treatments. They just immerse in a fire retardant bath of chemicals.

As part of the treatment some treatment companies will also carry out an indicative test. You should get a certificate to confirm this after treatment. This means that essentially your fabric should pass the crib test. But the crib test itself has not been carried out as that takes a while.

You probably need to check with your client/fire officer if they are happy with this indicative test or if they want to pay the extra to have the full crib 5 test done with the time delays that involves.

It’s a fire regulation. You have to do this properly and take it seriously, you would be surprised that several companies do not and the repercussions of not doing it are great indeed.

In summary then and as a minimum you should:

1. Ensure you are dealing with a UKAS accredited treatment company.

2. Say “Please treat this fabric to pass BS 5852 Part 2: 1990: Source 5 (Crib 5)”

3. Say “It will be watersoaked and tested afterwards.

4. Say “Please perform an indicative test at the end of the treatment and give me a certificate of treatment”

Simple enough?

Well, actually no. What I have said above stands as generally true. Most of the UK fabric companies and designers work with Crib 5. However there is a slightly higher level of testing and certification called BS7176:1995. Strictly speaking I would say that everyone should use this standard…but they don’t.

When would you use this? When a bit more certainty is required. The BS7176:1995 test includes the Crib 5 test and also a cigarette and match test and also a watersoak. When specifying the test you would need to say how the fabric will be used e.g. in a hotel, in a prison, in a restaurant, in a hospital, offshore installation, and so on. These types of end-usage environments determine the HAZARD CATEGORY of the test that is undertaken. Additionally you will need to specify the EXACT upholstery foam that will be used in the installation, so the test will mimic the final end-use environment as much as possible.

So do you ask for your fabric to be treated to BS7176:1995 Medium Hazard? Well you can, it won’t hurt. But the treatment will be the same as for Crib 5. Some of the UK fabric treatments houses that we spoke to have not heard of this British Standard, which was surprising.

So really it is ‘simple enough’ as far as the treatment goes. Treat to Crib 5.

Testing is more complicated. Essentially you are getting the fabric tested to ensure it will work in a specific situation YOUR SPECIFIC PROJECT’s SITUATION – as we’ve already said the treatment is the same as for Crib 5.  If you are in a complex environment you should get an expert involved. My understanding also is that if you are planning to sell furniture to the contract market then achieving a BS7176 pass will allow you to label your product as being suitable for certain environments.