We all love beautiful furnishings in our homes. And why not?! Fabrics bring colour, texture and warmth into our homes so when selecting textiles for soft furnishings and upholstery, which are the best products to choose? If you are interested or concerned (as you should be) about the products you purchase for yourself and your home, here are some things to consider.
Wool is one of the most well-known fibres. From blankets and carpets to jumpers and upholstery, wool is a natural and renewable material with many excellent qualities such as resistance to fire, water absorbance, and is a great insulator. Sheep (and other animals) around the world are shorn once a year to harvest their fleece which can be made into textiles for clothing, upholstery and other uses. The quality of the wool depends on the breed and country of origin and the resulting fibre can be used for different purposes from carpets to clothing.
EthEco Wool from Instyle Fabrics
Rearing sheep for wool requires good animal husbandry, respect for the animals and quality veterinary care. Sheep farming also requires the use of pesticides and medicines. In some instances, the animals are not treated well and shearing can be stressful for the animal, therefore it’s important to know where the wool comes from. Using animals for our needs must be balanced with the treatment and care we provide in return for their products. EthEco wool is available sourced from non-mulesed sheep that have been raised on holistically-managed farms, which means the animals are treated more humanely and less pesticides and chemicals are used, which is good news for the farmers, their families and employees.
From the sheep’s back to your back, or chair or carpet or sofa or whatever you use the wool for, a process is required. From the raw material wool must be scoured to remove all the contaminants such as sweat and dirt from the fleece. This requires passing the fleece through six to eight tanks of hot water, detergent and clean water. Once washed the wool must be graded and scoured then carded into woollen or worsted yarn, it can then be dyed – hopefully with organic dyes – carded and spun before weaving. Similarly, fleece from other animals is sourced and treated in the same way, including that from Lamas
Alternatives to animal textiles are plant-derived fabrics including cotton, hemp, jute and flax (linen). Cotton is the most commonly used textile for clothing, furnishings and many other uses. Unfortunately, cotton is subject to more than 100 different types of pests and is also the crop most intensively sprayed with chemicals and irrigated meaning the environmental impact is high.
The Australian cotton industry is working towards being as sustainable as possible with more efficient water and land use, and a focus on reducing the need for chemicals. Its aim is to be the most environmentally and socially responsible cotton industry in the world. Organically grown cotton is far more sustainable, therefore it’s important to know how and where your textiles are produced.
Hemp is probably the world’s most under-used plant in the textile industry yet it is possibly the most readily available source of raw materials. Hemp is fast growing, yielding four crops per year. It requires no water other than that which nature provides, or pesticides is self-mulching and produces soft, long and durable fibres which can be used for textiles for clothing and household and commercial textiles. It is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial making it ideal for clothing and bed linen.
Hemp bed linen
Linen (flax) also requires no additional irrigation and minimal chemicals compared to other textile fibre crops; although organic is always best. It is anti-microbial, resistant to fungi and insect-repellent, which is great for those with skin conditions. It is also cool in summer and warm in winter.
Jute is a strong, coarse fibre most often used to make hessian cloth for carpets, bags and sacks. It can also be woven into textiles for curtains and upholstery, rugs and backing for linoleum (an eco-friendly product).
LEFT: Jute fabric roll
RIGHT:Sunshine jute rug www.downthatlittlelane.com.au
Once linen and hemp fabrics have reached the end of their useful life they can be recycled into paper products or insulation materials. Jute fibre is 100% bio-degradable and recyclable and therefore environmentally friendly.
Cotton fabric can be recycled and is often blended with virgin cotton fibres to improve yarn strength. There’s usually no more than 30% recycled content in the finished product.
Wool can also be recycled, which has the added benefit of requiring less land for sheep to graze on and reduces waste going into landfill. Compared to non-recycled wool, recycled wool contributes less to air, water and soil pollution.
Bamboo fabric, which is referred to as bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose, may sound like a natural fibre but it is produced more like a synthetic fabric which is why we avoid it. Bamboo fibres are extremely coarse and rough, so they must undergo extensive processing with caustic chemicals to create a soft material. Bamboo itself is a very fast-growing, sustainable product and can be used in many applications in an eco-friendly way.
Synthetic fabrics could be considered plastic fabric. In a process called polymerization, chemically-derived fibres are joined together to create fabric. It requires numerous chemicals and solvents to create any type of synthetic fabric. Common synthetic fabrics include polyester, rayon, modal, spandex and nylon.
Avoid anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth-repellent. Many of these fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) such as Teflon, and Formaldehyde, Dioxins and other toxic chemicals.
At SJW we only specify and use the most eco-friendly textiles in all our upholstery, drapery, bedding and soft furnishings so that you can live with beautiful products that are good for you and the environment.