Outdoor Fabrics Getting Make-over

Outdoor fabrics used to be a lot like raincoats: they were great in a downpour, but you wouldn’t want to wear them indoors. Not only were the fabrics stiff (or sticky), but your styles were limited to predictable solids, stripes or florals.

Nowadays, all-weather fabrics come in a variety of colors, styles and textures that used to be reserved for indoor finery, including new choices that mimic the look and feel of chenille, taffeta, linen, silk, damask, velvet, boucle, sheers and faux leather.

Take a look around Toys for the Home in Medford, and you’ll find high-style outdoor furniture covered with silky soft woven acrylics that may be more stylish than what you have in your living room.
Some local fabric stores and many on-line dealers carry outdoor weaves that are fine enough to be used indoors without sacrificing style.

“The outdoor fabrics come in a wider variety and better selection than ever,” says Maureen Hunt, store manager at Hancock Fabrics.

Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts in Medford doesn’t stock many of the finer weaves, but the store has sample books for special orders, says fabric supervisor Sarah Gretzinger. The hot colors for spring, she says, are reds, neutral plaids, orange, pink and lime green.

This expansion of options is “answering a demand for indoor looks in outdoor areas,” says Susan Andrews, fabric editor at Furniture Today, a weekly newspaper of the furniture industry. Because of rampaging consumer interest, longtime industry leader Sunbrella is facing an onslaught of competition from textile designers and well-known fabric houses.

Most of the outdoor fabrics resist stains and clean easily, of course, just like their stodgy forebears. They handle direct sunlight without fading, and thumb their metaphorical noses at mildew. Yet they are just as appropriate for family room pillows and playroom furniture as for patio dining chairs.

Some of the new outdoor weaves are just too nice to be kept out on the patio. Hunt says many people are bringing the rugged outdoor types for inside, using them for such projects as shower curtains, placemats, laundry basket liners, chair coverings, and travel bags. They can even be used to create fashionable sheers, draperies or shades over windows or French doors.

Those of us who grew up believing that all outdoor fabrics caused rug burn or left webbing marks on our legs need to open our minds, because the world’s top fabric and fashion designers have stepped outside.


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