Fabric vs. Leather

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Fabric vs. Leather: Pro’s & Con’s.

We are Furniture Upholstery Specialists with many years of experience in the trade. Learn the advantages & disadvantages of leather & fabric for upholstery.

The first thing to remember is that leather is sold as skins or hides (yes, it was a live animal once, and it’s skin or hide is only so big).
The average hide size of bovine (cow) leather is 3,8 – 4,5m2.
When we calculate the amount of leather a medium sized two seater sofa would need, we take into account that there are many off-cuts that will not be usable from each hide.
We calculate the size of each panel, and the size of the actual skins at the suppliers at that given moment – then we add a bit extra for any burn or tick marks there might be on the skin.
If say, we come to 20m2 required, but the skins at that moment are 3,6m2 in average size, we divide the 20m2 by 3,6 and ROUND UP to the nearest full skin – eg. 20m2  / 3,6m2 = 5.556 > 6 skins required. Leather is only available to purchase as hides, and thus we need to round up the nearest full hide.

Fabric is different altogether.
Yarns are woven into a specific width (mostly 140cm) for upholstery fabric, and is available to purchase from a roll of 40 – 50m long.
When we calculate the amount of fabric required to upholster a medium sized two seater sofa, we once again calculate the size of each panel and how many we can fit next to each other in the width of the fabric. Naturally, if the fabric has a pattern or stripe, the pattern repeat is taken into account. But, if it is a plain colour or even a mixed weave, panels can easily be calculated next to each other in the width of the fabric.
If we calculate that we need 11,4m to upholster the sofa, we also always ROUND UP to the nearest round number, just in case there are any flaws or imperfections in the fabric.


The benefits of using leather:

It is cool in summer, and warm in winter.
It is mostly water repellent and resistant to most liquids.
It is easy to manage in a busy household – quickly wiping up a yoghurt mess or sticky fingers.
It outlasts fabric and vinyl (pleather / leatherette).
It looks luxurious and aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, and compliments most interiors.


The benefits of using fabric:

The colour, pattern, weave and print options are almost limitless.
100% cotton or a linen/cotton mixed fabric is also cool in summer and warm in winter.
Many of the fabrics manufactured today are teflon coated and machine washable, making it easy to manage in a busy household.
One will always use less fabric than leather to upholster, and it is therefore mostly more affordable.
It looks luxurious and aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, and compliments most interiors.


The disadvantages of using leather:

The cost compared to fabric could be a disadvantage.
The colours are limited.
There are no patterns available. Sometimes one can purchase printed leather (but these are very scarce and the patterns aren’t always what you are looking for).
If not cared for well, leather will fade, dry out and possibly crack and become brittle.
If a piece of leather tears, it cannot be repaired.


The disadvantages of using fabric:

Because the choices of fabric are so vast, it is often difficult to settle on something.
If not cared for properly, fabric can fade and possibly become brittle.
It is not always as easy to clean.
Synthetic fibres (polyester/ polypropylene etc.) are warm in summer. 

Both leather and fabric can be used successfully in any household.

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