One of the biggest issues I have to deal with in my industry is explaining the differences between natural and man-made fabrics for window furnishings.
Unfortunately, many man-made fibres have been given a bad rap in recent years, with much of our perception coming from the 60s and 70s, when clothing was often made from polyesters that notoriously didn’t "breathe." Many consumers have pre-conceived ideas that polyesters are widely inferior fabrics, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Linen, meanwhile, has thousands of years of history behind it (going back to Ancient Egypt) and as such has many great properties. It is extremely strong and becomes stronger when wet. It doesn’t actually retain moisture, but it dries very quickly. Linen doesn’t pill, it is non-allergenic, repellent to insects and UV resistant. The organic fibres in linen can be recycled and are biodegradable. Little wonder that modern consumers are seeking out pure linens in response to a greener outlook in the home. One of the best benefits of linen is that it is stain resistant and therefore doesn’t require lots of cleaning. That has to be a bonus!
However, linen creases easily - just check out any linen clothing you have and see how it wrinkles after the first wear. The fibres therein are quite long and will break when stretched, folded or excessively ironed. Quite often, designers who sell linen draperies are pressured by clients to steam them to get rid of the wrinkles. Steaming assists a little bit, but the consumer must be educated prior to purchase that the linen will probably get damaged from excessive steaming and will not be 100 per cent wrinkle free in any case.
Linen can attract mould and mildew, which will eventually rot the fabric. In humid conditions, linen window coverings are notorious for stretching and shrinking. Obviously, this makes linen a poor fabric choice in tropical areas, or homes that have rising damp.
Linen also has a lot of “movement.” Hems can rise or fall over time and in different seasons. This is why a good designer will ensure that linen curtains drape on the floor, so that undulations are not as noticeable. Also, rigid window treatments such as roman blinds are completely unsuitable for linens, due to this movement (sagging is a common result).
And the last not so positive aspect about linen is that it is usually expensive, up to five to 10 times the price of the polyester counterparts.
Polyester, on the other hand, has advanced so much in recent times that it can emulate cotton, silk, suede and linen. Polyester is strong, durable and colour-fast. It is wrinkle resistant and holds its shape in most conditions. Polyester is mould resistant and anti-bacterial, which makes it the obvious choice for hospitality and other commercial use. Polyester is a great insulator, which is why the most effective linings are made from it. Polyester fabrics are generally inexpensive.
The disadvantages are that polyester doesn’t breathe well or let through moisture. However, this is usually not a problem with window coverings; it's more a concern for clothing. Polyester fibres can also somewhat distort if a hot iron is used.
Many fabric companies are blending natural fibres with a percentage of polyester, to offer the best of both worlds. Adding polyester to natural fibres adds strength and durability, and prevents warping and shrinking. Alternatively, adding a percentage of natural fibre to a polyester fabric will make it more breathable and abrasion resistant. Most fabric companies offer a range of poly blends in both sheers and heavier fabrics to suit any décor and price point.
Professional tip: for best performance and value, look for linens with at least 10 per cent polyester content. You will have great looking draperies that will wear extremely well in Aussie conditions for many years.