I've been researching outdoor fabrics for several different clients recently and while our brilliant summer continues and outdoor living becomes a UK reality rather than just a California dream, I thought I would share some insights into the world of outdoor textiles:
1. It all started back in the 50's when new ways of producing synthetic fibres were emerging and solution-dyed acrylic first came on the market. Solution-dyed simply meant that the dye pigment was added at an early, liquid stage of manufacture, before the fibre was extruded and spun, so that the colour was embedded throughout the core of the yarn rather than just coating the outside. The resulting fabric was not only tough but really fade-resistant, significantly outlasting the toughest cotton canvas on all fronts. Launched in 1961, under the trade name Sunbrella, solution-dyed acrylic jazzed up the world of beach umbrellas, awnings and marine and garden furniture. The very name Sunbrella for me conjures up a 60's Ann-Margret pool-side movie image.
2. The Sunbrella brand is still going strong as a high-performance fabric today, now using nano-particle protective coatings that render the cloth even more water, mould, grease and dirt resistant. You can scrub off stains right where and when they happen - and even use a solution of soap and bleach for stubborn stains - and let the fabric dry naturally. Bleach, chlorine, sun and salt water won't fade or damage these hardwearing woven fabrics.
3. Solution-dyed yarn makes for vibrant plains, stripes and jaquard weaves, but there are now a huge amount of beautiful printed outdoor fabrics - that use the same hard-wearing acrylic base-cloths, where the printed surface design is protected by those same high-tech nano-particle coatings - not quite so fade-resistant as their woven counterpart but still water, mould and dirt resistant.
Schumacher's Trina Turk collection uses high-performance outdoor fabric technology for pool-side chic
4. Though still firmly aimed at the outdoor market, the wider design appeal and improved handle of these high-performance fabrics has meant that they have become a practical choice for use indoors in the busy rough and tumble of modern family life:
I've had made up for a client in Aguamarina wide-width outdoor fabric
5. When recently asked to source a fabric suitable for a bath and shower room, my first choice was this outdoor print, designed to be shower, mould and mildew proof and so tailor-made for the steamy conditions of a bathroom:
Christopher Farr Cloth's Ravenna Outdoor perfectly echoes a bathroom tile motif
6. Although acrylic is petroleum-based, when the long life-cycle of high-performance outdoor fabrics is compared to natural fabrics, their eco-credentials score really highly. While the solution-dying process produces none of the toxic run-off associated with other dying methods, their intrinsic hardwearing qualities make for long-life easy-care fabrics that take less machine-washing, no dry-cleaning and will not need to be replaced for years and years. And, as if that wasn't good enough, Sunbrella have tackled the problem of post-production waste and developed a range called Renaissance using 50% recycled fibres, literally swept up off the shop-floor.
Richard Frinier Origins collection uses Sunbrella Renaissance recycled fibres
So look again at outdoor fabrics: if our weather returns to form in the near future - which, lets face it, is a dead cert - there's still room for outdoor fabric to come on indoors, making life brighter, easier and greener! What's not to like!