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Is there a “best” outdoor fabric?

Is there a “best” outdoor fabric?

Everybody thinks you have to give up something to get the durability of outdoor fabrics—but these days, you can have it all. You’ll find chenilles, stripes, jacquards, ikat designs, relaxed tweed and twill textures—even sheers and velvets—with a hand that you would expect from indoor-only fabrics. With the growth of outdoor kitchens and entertainment centers, the upswing in upholstered furniture, cushions and pillows in stylish outdoor fabrics is right at home.

While Sunbrella began the performance fabric revolution with canvas fabrics almost 60 years ago, now you can select from other top brands that feature stain-resistant and sun-resistant fabrics. We stand behind the great fabrics from Sunbrella®, Bella-Dura®, Inside Out® and Fortress®. Calico has vetted them all and created a guide to help: Performance Fabrics: They’re not all created equal.

Indoor-Outdoor Performance Fabrics

Sunbrella: The pioneer in fade- and stain-resistance

Calico stores were among the earliest retailers of Sunbrella®, back in the 1960s when it was a sturdy acrylic canvas. When first presented to Calico buyer Evans Kiorpes, the salesman made an indelible impression. "He pulled out this new acrylic fabric that had been buried in a Tennessee swamp for five years," recalled Evans. "It had been washed, of course, but the Sunbrella was still in great condition!" While an extreme example, the swamp burial illustrated the performance features of this revolutionary solution-dyed acrylic fabric that still apply today: Sunbrella strongly resists mold, mildew and fading, plus it's cleanable with soap and water—or even bleach.

In the 1960s, Sunbrella came in just six solid colors and was only about 30" wide—perfect if you were making a log carrier or needed canvas for a sling chair. And of course, it was ideal for boat cushions or outdoor cushions by patio or pool. "The cushions never rotted and we never had a complaint about Sunbrella," states Kiorpes, now retired. Wide stripes were added later—in the same six colors. No need to confuse the customer with too many choices.

What distinguishes Sunbrella is that the color is crafted into the fiber so it runs all the way through—the yarn is not surface dyed. “Think of a carrot, not a radish,” says Calico merchandise manager Jennifer Mayer. This is what makes the solution-dyed acrylic fiber fade-resistant.

Today, hundreds of 54" Sunbrella fabrics are sold at Calico for both indoor and outdoor use. "They're ideal for any area where the light is strong, where the family congregates, or where food or drink prevail," notes Jennifer. "When the pizza ends up on the sofa, it's not a disaster. A little dish soap and water will take care of the mess." Sunbrella fabrics are woven in the USA and have a Five-Year Limited Warranty.

Bella-Dura: Stain-resistance is in the fiber

Bella-Dura® is relatively new to Calico, but it's not new to the design world. Many of the top to-the-trade jobbers and fabric houses have collections of Bella-Dura performance fabrics, including Clarence House, Cowtan & Tout, Knoll, Maharam, Larsen, Duralee, Fabricut, Kravet, Schumacher, Stark and Robert Allen.

Bella-Dura is woven in the USA and can be used either indoors or outdoors (like Sunbrella). However, Bella-Dura has a different fiber content, 100% solution-dyed Polyolefin, so it doesn't need coatings or finishes to stand up to moisture or stains. It is easily cleanable (even with bleach), will not pill, and resists stains and mildew. Our Bella-Dura fabrics are suitable for heavy-duty use and exceed 50,000 double rubs on the Wyzenbeek test. Bella-Dura yarns resist fading and meet or exceed 1,500 lightfast hours, surpassed only by Sunbrella fabrics that surpass 2,200 lightfast hours.

Bella-Dura fabrics have inherent properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria, making it an ideal indoor-outdoor fabric. Bella-Dura fabric is so tough, it's bleach cleanable—although most stains can be removed with a simple detergent solution. Bella-Dura fabrics come with a Five-Year Limited Warranty.

Inside Out: Inherently cleanable and stain-resistant

Inside® Out Performance Fabrics are exactly that: fabrics for indoor-outdoor use developed by Valdese Weavers, the largest American jacquard mill and one of Calico’s most important vendors. It took three years of research and development to bring this new performance fabric to the market. Calico has a colorful collection of Inside Out fabrics from Jungalow designer/author Justina Blakeney—and will soon introduce a collection of 50 designs created exclusively for Calico by the Valdese design studio.

What is different about Inside Out? It’s not a one-fiber fabric, but uses a variety of Polyester and Olefin solution-dyed yarns—all inherently cleanable and resistant to stains. This enables Valdese textile designers to create fabrics with a wide variety of constructions and weave effects. These fibers are also enhanced with UV blocking properties that make Inside Out fabrics more colorfast. “It’s like a sunscreen for the yarns to resist fading,” states Calico Merchandising Manager Jennifer Mayer.

Inside Out fabrics exceed all industry standards for durability and pilling. They use plant-based, PFC-free technology to repel everyday spills. And vitally important to consumers, they are easily cleaned with soap and water, and even a diluted bleach solution. They’re family-friendly and eco-friendly—and can weather any storm in your home, sunroom or outdoors. Inside Out fabrics carry a Three-Year Limited Warranty.

Fortress: The newest in indoor-outdoor fabric

The newest name in Calico’s selection of indoor-outdoor fabrics is Fortress®, woven of 100% Solution-Dyed Acrylic (same fiber content as Sunbrella). Fortress is well suited for heavy-duty use, passing 25,000+ double rubs in the Wyzenbeek abrasion test. In fade resistance, Fortress and Bella-Dura are rated for 1,500 light hours —and Sunbrella is rated for 2,200 light hours.

In addition, Fortress fabrics rate very well in pilling tests, so they will stand up to family use and abuse. These fabrics have a Durable Water Repellent finish (DWR) so they are stain-resistant and easy to maintain. Like Sunbrella, these fabrics are bleach cleanable. Calico offers 100+ Fortress fabrics, all woven in the USA, many in vibrant hues to add a punch of color to outdoor patio and pool settings. Fortress fabrics carry a Five-Year Warranty for normal use.

Is there a “best” outdoor fabric?

So, back to our original question: Is there a “best” outdoor fabric? And happily, the answer is there are several great outdoor fabrics, each slightly different, but all great performers. So choose what you love from the fabulous assortment in Sunbrella®, Bella-Dura®, Inside Out® and Fortress® lines at Calico. They’ll enliven your outdoor spaces and bring you pleasure for many years to come!

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