Outdoor Fabrics 101

Do you remember in days-of-old purchasing some “pretty looking” outdoor chair cushions at the store that started out looking great? But after one season of sun, rain and wind, they looked about 25 years old…tattered, faded, flat and worn? I sure do. But today that doesn’t have to be the case, if you’re willing to invest a little more $ upfront, you can enjoy the vast benefits, value and long life that come with using today’s new indoor/outdoor fabrics. To understand what they are and how they work, here are two fabric and fiber facts you must have as background:

Sunbrella® Fabrics

1) Natural plant fibers like cotton, or animal fibers like wool or silk and even acetate, which has a plant derivative, inherently suffer various negatives from exposure to water… from mold and mildew to insect infestations. These fibers are also susceptible to oils from humans, foods or the like. These textiles feel great and work perfectly for apparel and indoor home furnishings. However they are disasters for outdoor use for the reasons noted. In fact, some of these fibers actually break down in the presence of water. Natural fibers are given their color – (dyed) – either after they are spun into yarn, or after they have been woven into cloth. Thus – their color is topically applied.

2) Man-made fibers like acrylic fibers for indoor/outdoor use are instead made from chemical mixtures. These chemical solutions are literally pushed through an extruding machine to create the fibers that will ultimately be woven into cloth. Think pasta maker or play-dough pasta maker! Their color is also added while they are in the solution phase.

OK – now you have 2 critical pieces of background info that you’ll need to understand indoor/outdoor fabrics.

How Indoor/Outdoor Fabrics are Made:

Unlike cotton, wool, silk or even acetate and nylon textiles, in which the dye is applied after weaving, in the case of indoor/outdoor fabrics, the color is literally mixed into the chemical solution before the extruding process.  That color is literally IN there baby…not laid on top. Thus – the color is highly stable and will not bleach out, fade or wear away. This revolutionary dying process is called “solution dying.”

Benefits for the end user of Solution Dyed Indoor/Outdoor fabrics:

  • Fade Resistant, even in sunlight, since the color is extruded in the fiber itself before the fiber is spun into yarn and woven into cloth.
  • Naturally Mold/Mildew Resistant
  • Long Lasting
  • Durable – ideal for heavy use and will stand up to abrasion from natural use.
  • Now available – thanks to manufacturers like Sunbrella and Glen Raven (who also manufacture for all design houses under various names) – now available in sophisticated designs and colors.
  • Now available in fabrics you’d mistake for indoor fabrics…some even with the feel & look of chenilles or soft brushed cottons. These fabrics are no longer hard coated, uncomfortable, stiff or available in limited color or design options.

And if you really want to be a smarty pants…spend even a little bit more and have your outdoor cushions made with “Flow Through” Cushions. Think swiss cheese. These cushions have very open cellulose-type structure so water literally “flows through” them. Rain storm coming? Just tip your cushions on their sides and let them be. They’ll dry out in no time and the Flow Through Cushions are also naturally mildew and mold resistant.

As ever – any questions do feel free to call me. My workroom and I can do wonderful outdoor cushions or draperies (yes…you read that right) for your outdoor room, patio or deck. And yes…before you ask: You can…and I do…use indoor/outdoor fabrics inside, too. They are a great choice for furnishings and draperies in very sunny locations, kitchens, heavily windowed locations and beach homes where sunlight/fading, moisture or wear is a concern.

For more design ideas, please go to www.interiorsbydonnahoffman.com.