The most serene and comfortable homes consistently feature two main components: personal storytelling and influences from nature to varying levels. While homes that feature a balance of function and leisure have always been sought after, in recent years, the definition of a perfect home has become most synonymous with curating a space which has nature inspired design and decor elements in order for one to feel closest to their ‘roots’.
Cultural movements like ‘sustainable living’ and ‘eco conscious consumption’ combined with a global pandemic which restricted outdoor excursions has culminated to a new found love for all things natural, especially at home. As a result, natural textiles and fabrics have been gaining more popularity in home decor over the years.
Natural Fabrics In Home Decor
The choice of fabrics used across various elements of a home contribute greatly in achieving a sensorially natural experience. From color and texture to finish and function, natural fabrics embody many unique characteristics, especially since there are two different sources of natural fabrics, namely plant based and animal based, with each having their own advantages. And When derived using methods which do not strain natural resources, pollute the environment or cause harm to the source, natural fibers make for the most sustainable fabrics.
Plant Based Natural Fabrics
Today there exists a plethora of naturally derived plant based fibers such as the Indian Ramie, Jute, Bamboo, Fruit leather and Coconut Husk which is being adapted for daily use functional items by fashion, home and lifestyle based corporations globally. However, materials like cotton, flax linen and hemp fabrics remain most widely used and accepted by large.
Cotton: Cotton has proven to be a staple fiber in creation of even the most innovative and modern fabric blends. When woven pure or blended with other fibers such as synthetic, cotton fibers result in fabrics that are durable with high absorption for liquids and score high in color fastness, making them inevitable commercial successes. 100% pure cotton fabrics are characterized by their slightly coarse finish and are used extensively for home decor and furnishings such as bed sheets, towels and curtains.
Authentically premium and crisp bed linens are made using Pima cotton grown in the USA or Egyptian cotton grown in the Nile region respectively. Both these fibers are longer and silkier than their counterparts but make up for only 10% of the world’s cotton production. The remaining cotton fibers are relatively shorter and coarser but sturdy nonetheless, possessing all other great qualities. This type of cotton, known as Upland, is best for making durable curtains which don’t lose color or strength despite facing long hours of harsh sunlight, or for making kitchen towels which can quickly absorb large amounts of liquid.
Despite being a natural and therefore 100% compostable fiber, cotton is often vilified for being a highly water and pesticide intensive crop to produce. Considering the heavy strain its production puts on the environment and our natural resources, a new global standard to certify the organic status of a cotton fabric has been established. The Global Organic Textile Standard ensures that the fabric has been made using socially responsible practices, from the harvesting and weaving to the finishing stage.
Hemp: Having gained mainstream popularity in recent years, hemp is coming to be recognised as an essential in fabric production for both fashion and lifestyle industries. Being a cellulose based fiber derived from the cannabis plant, just like cotton, hemp also results in a sturdy and high absorbent fabrics. It can be easily blended with other fibers to achieve desirable results which is most apparent considering how often hemp is used to create curtains, upholstery and rugs in home decor. This is a testament to the fiber’s high malleability and strength which can withstand any season or harsh weather.
Despite possessing these invaluable qualities, hemp is becoming a coveted component in fabric making for its sustainable quality. Unlike Cotton, Hemp requires a sparse amount of water and pesticides to flourish and is able to grow quickly in most regions, making it an effectively carbon negative crop.
Linen: One of the oldest fabrics known to have existed, Linen is made by extracting fibers from the Flax plant. The result is a fairly light weight fabric which is prized because of possessing an even higher absorption rate than cotton. However, Linen is deepened by many as a high maintenance fabric because of its tendency to crinkle and crease easily, limiting its use to categories like curtains and cushion covers in home decor.
Despite these drawbacks, linen remains one of the most extensively used fabrics besides cotton, especially in homes experiencing warmer and more humid climates. It is one of the rarer fabrics to possess qualities like bacteria, radiation and electric charge resistance.
Animal based natural fabrics
The history of animal based fabrics is a long and diverse one compared to that of their plant based alternatives. While its usage may have evolved over generations, the process of creation of these fabrics has remained the same until recent years. Only when fibers are extracted naturally without impacting the health of an animal can they be classified as ‘organic’ or ‘cruelty-free’ fabrics. Popular animal based fabrics include silk, feathers and a variety of animal wools used especially in homes facing colder climates.
Silk: Buttery and fluid Silk is often deemed as one of the most indulgent fabrics, owing to its historical association with Chinese royalty. Its lustrous appearance is hard to miss and It can be effortlessly draped over any structure, making this an excellent upholstery option, especially for curtains, pelmets, statement cushions and other decorative home items. Pure silk is rather high maintenance on top of being expensive, however it is often blended with other materials for widespread commercial usage.
While modern homes may shy away from using Silk extensively, the fabric has made a prominent comeback in recent years owing to the popularity of home decor trends like Shabby Chic, Victorian and as yearning for Home decor styles like Shabby Chic or Victorian Vintage. These trends lean into the use of silk to channel opulence of bygone eras and modern day interpretations feature items like silk bed covers and quilts.
Wool: Wool is often known by its many synonyms namely kemp, fleece, fur or tweed, all used interchangeably. But all these are in fact different components of an animal’s coating. Wool fabrics are mainly classified as either hair or kemp with the former being longer with crimp and the latter having shorter and rougher texture making it the lesser popular option. Wool is most synonymous with sheep hair but wool may be derived from a variety of animals such goats, alpacas, rabbits amongst other species.
Made up almost entirely of protein, wool is prized for its thermal insulating properties and just like linen, wool is also resistant to bacteria, mold and mildew, effectively making this a hypoallergenic fabric. Wool is also known to be very strong and resistant to fire as It reduces heat transfer, keeping any space warm and cozy for extended periods of time. These benefits combined with its anti creasing properties make wool a great choice of upholstery. In Home furnishings, wool is most popularly used to create throws, blankets and floor coverings.
While these materials remain the most popular choices for fabrics, a heightened fondness for natural homes is leading to exponentially fast research and development of new variants. Pineapple leather, banana crepe and even milk protein fabrics are eventually becoming a normalized subsection of the lifestyle and home decor space, paving the path for natural homes to become mainstream.