The world of upholstery grade textiles can be very confusing, but there are some basics that will help clarify the situation.
First of all, the term ‘upholstery grade‘ is key here. Your upholsterer will curse you (perhaps not to your face) if you take a bed sheet to him. Similarly, do not give him old drapes or fabric from your local sewing shop that is intended for clothing or costumes. Upholstery textiles are specifically woven to withstand the application processes (pneumatic stapling, stretching and pulling, relief cuts, etc.), the heavy threads and needles used on industrial sewing machines, and the abuse that the finished piece will see during its life (rambunctious kids, scratching pets, unruly guests, slovenly husbands).
Upholstery textiles are rated for wear. When you hear or read about ‘double-rubs‘, this is an abrasion rating. There are two common methods – click here to learn more about the Wyzenbeek and the Martindale methods.
The most common width of an upholstery grade textile is 54″. This can vary – some textiles that are created by hand in India, for example, are only 45″ wide. Most, however are 52-56″ wide. Drapery textiles are often double width (110″) or more.
Pattern size is referred to as the ‘repeat‘. Typically both a vertical and a horizontal repeat are given since most patterns are not regular. Plaids that are based on a square grid may list a single number as the repeat. A striped fabric also commonly has only one repeat as the stripes continue forever in the other direction.
The edges of the textiles are referred to as the ‘selvage‘. The selvage is usually not included in the width when measuring the textile — the pattern does not extend across the selvage all the way to the edge of the fabric.
Pattern orientation within the selvage is very important as well. Patterns can be woven to be used ‘up-the-roll‘ or ‘railroaded‘. These terms are analogous, respectively, to ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’ when printing from your computer. When selecting textiles for a sofa, for instance, it is common to select a pattern that can be ‘railroaded’ in order to avoid seams in the long panels (deck, in-back, out-back). Think about it — if your sofa is 90 inches wide and the fabric is only 54 inches wide, you will need to sew the fabric edge-to-edge to stretch from one end of the sofa to the other UNLESS you can turn the fabric 90 degrees so that the fabric unrolls parallel to the floor (railroaded).
Any terms that you would like explained? Any errors above? Let me know.