We continue our series of blogposts covering the fabrics used in upholstery. Blogpost 8 in the series continues with us covering Leather and Vinyl below:
Leather is a durable and flexible material made from animal skin, mostly from cattle but is often also produced from the skins of sheep, goats and pigs. The underside of the animal skin can be used to make suede, which is softer and more pliable, but not as durable as the outer skin we would normally associate with leather. Leather fabric can be dyed in any colour. Genuine Leather fabric should pass the ‘match test’ as leather is naturally flame retardant.
Leather is a very forgiving fabric, can stretch, and is easy to clean and maintain, which in addition with the other traits outlined above, makes it perhaps one of the best, if not the best, fabric you can use for general upholstery, although its natural characteristics make it far more suited to upholstery than soft furnishings.
Vinyl fabric is made of a synthetic material and is used in upholstery use as a faux leather. Leather-like patterns can be manufactured into vinyl fabric and special coatings make modern vinyl almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye, although it won’t stretch like leather, and thus won’t develop the wrinkle patterns that gives leather-covered upholstery its unique and premium look.
Vinyl is, however, completely waterproof, and cleaning it is very simple, so although generally it wouldn’t be considered as good an option for domestic furniture/upholstery as leather might, in certain applications it may be preferable, where its waterproof qualities may be considered an advantage, such as use in hospitals, dental surgeries, other public and high footfall areas such as bars and restaurants, on boats and ferries, or other messy working environments.
However, it is subject to cracking from temperature extremes, and over time it feels more like plastic to the touch. Most vinyls available are naturally flame retardant, so in the correct application, they can be a good choice for upholstery use. Vinyl fabric would not be suitable for use in soft furnishings.