Slipcover Fabrics - Which one is best?

Anyone considering a slipcover project should pay close attention to the selection of the fabric.  If you're making your own slipcover, you'll be spending a lot of energy on cutting and sewing; and if you're hiring someone, you'll have the additional expense of labor costs.  Since you'll be investing quite a bit of time and money on the project, it's important to choose a high-quality fabric.  You'll want a fabric that will not only look great, but last through repeated washings.

There can be a big difference in quality between fabrics that look nearly the same; better quality cotton fibers are longer and stronger, so the fabrics will wear much better.  Cheaper cottons use shorter fibers, which weaken and ravel much more quickly.  We've all had the experience of buying a four-dollar T-shirt that looks awful after a couple of washings - it shrinks too much, pills, or fades.  It would have been better to buy the expensive T- shirt, which would have looked nice for several seasons.  The same applies to home textiles - Egyptian cotton sheets are superior to bargain brands because of the long-staple cotton fibers, and consumers in the know are willing to pay a bit more up front for long-lasting quality.

The stability of the fabric also matters with slipcovers - some types of cotton duck will grow and shrink by several inches with use, even if they have been preshrunk.  After a few washings, a cotton duck slipcover that continues to shrink will no longer fit.  Fabrics come in different weights as well - one that is too light will wear out quickly, and one that is too heavy will make for a bulky, unattractive slipcover.  While it may be tempting to use a non-cotton, upholstery weight fabric, they often have a rubber-type backing for stability, and are far too bulky and stiff.  Just like with clothing, you’ll want a fabric that has natural drape.  A cotton or linen, with its natural stretch, will cling to the curves of the furniture piece and hang softly along the back and sides. Fabric needs a bit of give to be able to make cording that will curve nicely around corners. 

Should you pre-shrink your fabric?  Since many people who order slipcovers are looking to protect their furniture from kids and pets, washability is a great plus.  It can be expensive to dryclean a slipcover, and may not get all stains out.  Tossing it in the laundry is faster, more efficient and costs very little, so we recommend pre-shrinking fabric for a washable slipcover.  Some fabrics, intended for a dressier look, must be drycleaned to retain their crispness – such as a tailored linen or silk.  Usually, we’d use these fabrics in a low-traffic spot such as a bedroom, or living room occasional chair where the look is important and they are used primarily by guests. 

The wear and tear a piece of furniture gets can really be the deciding factor in choosing your slipcover fabric.  For a family room sofa that gets daily wear, a soft Shabby Chic washed fabric or Slipcover Twill stands up to repeated washings.  However, with these casual fabrics you’ll always have a casual look.  To dress things up, we like mattelasse’ fabrics, which have a woven pattern and are very substantial.  They are excellent for covering a dark fabric with a light one, since they are very thick, but they are more prone to surface wear so I don't recommend them for a heavily used sofa.

   

Pets on furniture are another consideration; if you have a large dog, use a canvas fabric or a slipcover-weight chenille (designed for heavy wear). Outdoor canvas is also excellent as it repels stains and doesn't pick easily.  It is important to check the rating of the fabric to see the level of wear it is designed for when dealing with teenagers and pets! Again, two fabrics that look nearly the same can perform very differently over time. 

For a crisp, light, look nothing beats linen- it is timeless and always looks chic.  You can achieve a very dressy, crisp look by not pre-washing the fabric, but you’ll need to dryclean the slipcover to retain that tailored effect.  Linen with a crisply ironed finish is our most formal slipcover fabric, but it is more difficult to maintain since it shows creases and needs drycleaning. If you want to maintain a formal look but need a slipcover to redecorate, a dressy linen is perfect. 

For a soft, shabby chic look, washing the linen will remove the sizing (which is like a starch put on at the mill for a crisp finish) and give the linen a very floppy, soft texture.  A washed, soft linen slipcover makes your sofa look and feel like a big, soft bed. Depending on your taste, you may love it, or you may think it looks like a suit that’s been slept in! 

Should you use a pattern? It is very much the style now to have a room or home full of light colored, neutral slipcovers.  Depending on accessories, it can look sophisticated or very cottage-y.  Colors are popular too – solids in mattelasse’ or small graphic wovens give textural interest. Butter yellow, warm khaki, or light aqua are current slipcover favorites as they really brighten a room and look great with a scattering of pretty pillows.  If an entire room is to be slipcovered, we’ll often use a textured solid color for the sofa, with a stripe or large graphic print for the companion pieces.  There are plenty of small stripes woven into heavy cotton that are great for slipcovers.  The stripes really help hide spots and add some interest without being too busy.

If you are looking for a large print, you’ll want one that’s printed on a sturdy background fabric, such as a cotton damask or cotton duck. A big print is perfect for furniture that gets dirty from small kids or beach house visitors, as it hides dirt between washings. Many prints in the marketplace are printed on lightweight cotton/linen blends for draperies and bedding, but they are not designed for washing and will not hold up long term, so check with your workroom when choosing. 

Beach houses are a special slipcover category – many of our clients want the all-white beach house look, which is gorgeous but requires more frequent washing.  Order extra fabric for repairs or replacing stained areas if you want a white slipcover, since sometimes stains just don’t come out.  A great option is to use a Sunbrella or outdoor canvas, which looks and feels almost like a cotton canvas but is incredibly stain resistant.  Even suntan lotion and red wine come right out in the wash. 

Choosing the best slipcover fabric is a process that not only involves color selection, but determining the durability and washability that is needed.   The best way to ensure that you’re making the right choice is to purchase your fabric from a professional who makes slipcovers.  For the best outcome, have your fabric laundered before sewing it up. 

Kerry Ann Dame is an interior designer and owner of Posh Living, an Interior Design shop in coastal South Carolina. ©2011 Posh Living, LLC

37 Comments | Leave a Comment

Comments on this post

Kerry Ann says...

Hi D.D.,
I think the easiest fabrics to work with for gathering with elastic are the medium weight cottons and linens. I recommend our 10 oz Canvas, Lido Linen, or any of the cotton prints. Thank you!

Posted on June 16, 2017

D.D. says...

Hi! I’m not a great at sewing but would like to make at slipcover for a simple bench cushion. What is the fabric that has max stretch quality that I can just run elastic around the sides? Any ideas would help. Thanks!

Posted on June 14, 2017

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Gail,
I do love a ruffle skirt! I think a medium weight or a bit lighter fabric makes a nice soft ruffle. All of our fabrics are washable, just wash and shrink them before sewing. If you don’t have a bold pattern to cover up, try the Lido Linen in Natural, it’s a nice ecru tone and has that Shabby Chic floppy look after laundering. Our Canvas in Natural is great too, it offers more coverage over the fabric underneath but is very soft and easy to work with, so it does ruffle beautifully. If you need something a bit heavier, the Slipcover Twill can be ruffled, but it’s not going to look delicate. The other twills and Shabby Chic Canvas will be too thick for a ruffle.
Great question, Thank you!

Posted on April 24, 2017

Gail Seal says...

I want fabric for a bedroom chair and want a Shabby Chic look
With ruffled skirt. I’m thinking off white fabric. What would you recommend. I want to be able to wash.

Posted on April 21, 2017

Nancy Russell says...

LOOKING FOR YELLOW COTTON TWILL FOR A SECTIONAL SOFA SLIPCOVER . I HAD ONE MADE YEARS AGO IN A KRAVETZ TWILL WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT BUT IN A NICE SHADE OF YELLOW. ANY ADVICE?

Posted on April 04, 2017

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Denise,
We have lots of choices for a Pottery Barn replacement fabric. I’d recommend our new Slipcover Twill fabric, our Shabby Chic Collection
and my Ireland woven. Lots of great neutrals for timeless style.

Posted on February 06, 2017

Denise says...

I have a slipcover I was asked to make for a dark blue solid colored club chair. They want pottery barn type of fabric in a neutral color. What would your recommend?

Posted on February 03, 2017

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Candice, Thanks for your question. It’s been my experience that polypropylene and polyester fabrics are much more prone to pilling (developing fuzz and little knots on the face). They also can grab onto stains and be harder to clean. One of the issues with a mixed-fiber fabric is that the different fibers may shrink at different rates, so the fabric will come out of the laundry looking awful! If you’d like a synthetic, I’d use 100% Acrylic, like our Outdura canvas, or a commercial grade, 100% Polyester Velvet like Charisma that is designed to be laundered.

Posted on October 28, 2016

Candice says...

I, too, am going to attempt slipcovers for my sofa and love seat. I’m not liking the jean-like feeling of many of the bull denim products I’m seeing. I’m interested to know if a Covington fabric that contains 71% polypropylene 29% polyester would work for slipcovers. I found a couple of textured samples that I love the feel of (for example, Donovan in 907 Marble—linked here: https://www.covingtonfabric.com/Product/Donovan/907-MARBLE/200001). Would like your opinion on this type of fabric. Thank you.

Posted on October 24, 2016

Jo-Anne says...

Hi everyone!

What a great article, got plenty of tips….I have a question, the area where I live don’t really have a wide range of options, I have noticed that they stock bull denim…will this suffice with a toddler and two dogs?
It is also a heavy traffic area where I want the slipcovers to be fitted. Thanks

Posted on August 25, 2016

Leanna says...

I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog while researching “fabric for slip covers”. I have old but still super comfy leather club like chairs that are dark burgundy. I want the “beach house” look but have dogs as many of the folks comments reveal I’m not the only one that worries about this. I ultimately prefer white. I was going to purchase Duck Canvas but now wonder if that would be the best choice. I’ve never made slip covers before and this would be my first attempt. My budget is small so I would need to find a good source. I love your blog and the very posh professionally covered items in the photos. Any advice appreciated.

Posted on July 25, 2016

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Katherine,
Good questions! The Outdura canvas doesn’t feel like plastic at all – it’s quite like a crisp cotton canvas to sit on. It doesn’t have a lot of stretch, so it looks a little more stiff than a cotton cover, but it does feel comfortable – we frequently use it in family rooms. I don’t recommend trying to remove piping from the upholstery under a slipcover, it can’t really be done. But I usually remove the seat cushion covers, so the slipcovers go directly over the fabric liners of the cushions and there’s no piping showing through. You should be able to unzip your cushions and take off the covers. If you don’t have a fabric inner cover, you can easily make some simple ones from old sheets or some muslin – nothing fancy. They help keep the filling in place, and you can even add more stuffing at the same time if needed.

Posted on September 28, 2015

Katherine Holmes says...

I have 2 questions:
Is the Outdura comfortable to sit on; or does it feel plasticy?
Should I remove the existing piping from my love seat before slip covering it?

Posted on September 24, 2015

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Stephanie,
Thanks for the question, you’ve received good advice. Sunbrella is an excellent fabric, but the durability rating has been on the lower end – 9,000 – 15,000 rubs. They have addressed this issue and have never fabrics with a much higher rating. We’ll be considering carrying them here when we’ve had a chance to try them out. I’ve been using Outdura for outdoor acrylic canvas instead, since it has a durability rating of 60,000 rubs and is used frequently in high-traffic resort properties. I highly recommend it for a family room or house with pets. Of course any dog that digs, or is very large and heavy, will eventually tear through it, but it holds up fantastically to non-damaging behaviors! Just be sure to air dry, as it does NOT go in the dryer! Keep some extra on hand for repairs and you’re good for years.
Outdura comes in many colors and great stripes, so if you’re looking for colors you don’t see online, email me at hello@slipcoverfabrics.com and we can send you some swatches.
Thank you!

Posted on August 04, 2015

Kerry Ann says...

Hi Joanne,
Depending on whether you have cats or dogs, I have a few suggestions. Our Outdura Canvas is excellent for furry shedding creatures – the smooth surface brushes off easily. It comes in a nice turquoise called Pool and lots of other shades. Cats are not as attracted to scratching it. Topsider twill is a nice heavy twill with a crisp texture, so it will hold up to pets and lots of washing. It comes in many colors – we just have white online, but I’m happy to send you a selection of turquoise, pet-friendly samples if you drop me an email to hello@slipcoverfabrics.com
Thanks!

Posted on August 04, 2015

joanne sales says...

My two living room chairs with a T cushion and low back need
slipcovers. I have small animals and need a durable cotton. Please
suggest a few so I can get started on the slipcovers. A light turquoise
would be my favorite.

Posted on July 24, 2015

Stephanie McCaa says...

I want to slipcover two sofas to protect from kids, dogs and messy guests. I saw you suggested outdoor cloth like Sunbrella…but I think I read somewhere that it’s not a good choice for indoor furniture that you sit on every day (vs. patio furniture which gets less use because it’s more seasonal). Any thoughts on that? Thanks!

Posted on June 22, 2015

Kerry Ann Dame says...

Hi Albert,
Thanks for your comment, I’m glad we can be of help. We’re happy to know about any slipcover makers who do nice work, so we’ll add Reyna’s to our workroom list.

Posted on February 19, 2015

Albert Leonard says...

Great instructions!I love your hints on fabric for slipcovers. I Made slipcover sofas in our family room and though surely this will be the answer to keeping things nice and clean with 3 kids and 2 dogs at “Reyna’s Slip Covers and Upholstery” which is best service provider for custom slipcovers in Georgia. Thank you for sharing this informative blog with us.

Posted on February 19, 2015

Kerry Ann Dame says...

Hello Theresa,
What a brilliant idea for your dogs – so many beds have terrible stuffing, and memory foam is perfect on a hard floor. Duck canvas is great for large dogs. I’ll also use Outdura canvas, which has a high durability rating and releases stains really well (and is easy to brush fur off). However, if your dogs like to “dig” the beds, they may tear it. If they just walk and lie on them, it’s very good. It’s also fade-resistant so it looks good with lots of washing. It doesn’t go in the dryer but dries quickly hanging up. I use it for my terrier and dachshund, and believe me they are tough on pillows! Everything washes right out which is nice, and fur comes right off.
I really like our newest fabric, Ireland, since the tweedy texture doesn’t show fur like a solid canvas. It’s also a nice cozy and interesting texture. For a large dog I think it would do fine, since their claws are too big to “pick” it, but we haven’t given it the big dog test yet! If you decide to do an outdoor canvas, Outdura has a rating of 50,000 rubs plus, while Sunbrella is only about 12,000 or so. It does make a big difference.
I hope this helps – I may make an Ireland bed cover for my terrier Hazel, who is our official “pillow tester” since she kneads, digs and punches every pillow in the house :)

Posted on February 19, 2015

Kerry Ann Dame says...

Hi Kathryn,
Thank you for your kind comments, I’m so glad we can help! It’s definitely good practice to dry the fabric thoroughly the first washing, before the slipcover is made. A bit of fabric softener helps with wrinkles, but don’t use more than the recommended amount. If it leaves a residue it makes sewing difficult. Washing the fabric removes the sizing that gives it a crisp finish. I sometimes use a product called Magic Sizing, which you can spray on while ironing, to help get all wrinkles out and give it that crisp new look. (I’m not sure what it’s called in the U.K. but I’m sure they have a similar product there!). It’s good practice to iron with a spray bottle of water too, since it helps with wrinkles and is kinder to the fabric than a lot of steam-ironing.
Your fabric choice sounds like an excellent one. To minimize wrinkling, cut into smaller lengths when shrinking – about 5 yards, no smaller since the seamstress needs long lengths to work with. Best of luck with your project :)
Cheers,
Kerry Ann

Posted on February 19, 2015

Kathryn Crosskey says...

Hi I am really grateful to you for your website and all the great advice. I am about to make loose covers for my sofas (slipcovers) and am about to buy a 40000 rub heavy cotton and had been advised to wash the material first but didn’t know what to do !! So thankyou. I can’t find a website about this here in the UK.
I do not like the shabby chic look and was wondering how to keep the finish as neat as possible, am I right from your advice that I need to tumble dry the fabric after washing before to get all the creases out before I cut out and sew ?
Thanks for your help
Kathryn

Posted on February 18, 2015

Kerry Ann Dame says...

Hi Shawna,
In a kitchen, I like to use some pattern since it’s more forgiving of spots. A colorful, busy pattern like Boho Paisley or a floral Barkcloth print can be a great way to add pattern and color and a relaxed look. For something more calm, a ticking stripe like Essex has a bit of pattern, but also goes with other patterns really well, so if you have valances or patterned dishes you can pull out one color from your pattern, like a blue or green, for the ticking stripe.
Thanks for visiting!

Posted on February 10, 2015

Shawna says...

I need to slip cover four kitchen caster chairs. What do you suggest for fabric? We are not formal.

Posted on February 08, 2015

Theresa says...

I am looking to make slipcovers for dogs beds rather than furniture for humans. I took an inexpensive twin sized foam mattress (4 inch high density foam and two inches memory foam) and cut it into two pieces for our large dogs. I made one set of covers out of a dark brown duck canvas material but would like to make another set so I can have one set in the wash and still let the dogs use them. Any recommendations, or do you think I should stick with the duck canvas?

Posted on January 31, 2015

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