Fabric vs. Leather  – that is the question.

Many of my clients ask me to quote them for reupholstery on both leather and fabric. When I give them the quote they are surprised at the big difference in cost.
So let me break it down for you: the reason why leather is ‘expensive’.

The first thing to remember is that leather is bought 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 some liquids.
It is easy to manage in a busy household – quickly wiping up a yoghurt mess or sticky fingers.
It outlasts fabric and vinyl (or pleather, or 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.


Are there any disadvantages to using leather, you may ask?

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 fabric are:

Depending on the fabric chosen, it is mostly less expensive than leather.
Because the choices of fabric are so vast, it is often difficult to settle on something, or even to find exaclty what you are looking for.
If not cared for properly, fabric can fade and possibly become brittle.
It is not always as easy to clean.


Some tips to help your leather and fabric last longer:

NEVER EVER EVER EVER use any granulated cleaning agent, dishwashing liquid or spray on dust remover on your leather! Only use proper leather cleaner or if you are quickly cleaning a spill, a clean soft cloth wrung out with clean water.

Keep your leather and fabric out of direct sunlight. Unless your fabric has been manufactured to withstand direct sun, your fabric and leather will fade and possibly crack and become brittle.

Do not machine wash fabrics that are recommended for professional or dry cleaning. This will change the shape, ruin the colour and harm your fabric.

When you’ve caught a spill in action on your fabric, use a soft cloth or roller-towel to dab up the spill. Do not rub the spill, it will make the spill soak into your fabric more.

Vacuum your sofa regularly (once a week or bi-weekly) to keep the colour looking fresh and to keep the dust out of the weave.

If you have removable seat cushions, rotate them and turn them over in their covers regularly to ensure even wear.

We have a wide range of fabric samples and leather colours that you can choose from for your project, so why not give us a call and we will meet.


Click here for our contact details!

Art Deco Couch Reupholstery

<– Before…

My client’s mother bought this sofa with 2 matching arm chairs for ZAR10 about 30 years ago, and had upholstered it with blue woollen upholstery fabric.

My client was given the suite, and she decided it was time for a new look.

We found these lovely armrests hiding under the fabric, so we sanded them down and stained and varnished them, and upholstered the suite with white genuine bovine leather.

You NEVER know what is hidden under the fabric you don’t like!