A Guide to Vinyl Fabric
If you’re looking for a durable, weather-proof, easy-to-clean fabric for your boat, patio, awning, or even your home, you might want to consider vinyl. Vinyl fabrics come in a variety of types, textures and colors and are designed for a wide array of uses, all with the same great durability. In this fabric guide, we’re going to take a closer look at this ultra-strong synthetic fabric.
Polyvinyl chloride (or PVC) was first created in 1872 by a German chemist, Eugen Baumann. Baumann never patented his discovery; therefore PVC was never patented until 1913 when another German, Friedrich Klatte, devised a new method for the polymerization of vinyl using sunlight. However, vinyl was largely considered useless until 1926, when a researcher at BF Goodrich, Waldo Semon, accidentally invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride. Semon was trying to create an adhesive to bond rubber to steel when he stumbled upon this new and improved version of PVC instead.
Vinyl was first used in shock absorber seals and grew in popularity during World War II when rubber was scarce. It worked so well as a wire covering on Navy ships that researchers started developing more commercial applications for vinyl. Today, about 60 percent of vinyl produced is used by the construction industry, but it’s also used for packaging, transportation and textiles.
Vinyl can be tricky to sew, especially for beginners, because it has a tendency to get stuck when feeding it through a sewing machine. In addition, if a mistake is made and you rip out a seam, the stitch holes will still be visible. Stitch holes being a problem is largely personal preference, as this will bother some sewers more than others. To help sew vinyl fabrics evenly without sticking, try using a sewing machine with a walking foot, like the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® Machines.
Another drawback to vinyl is that some vinyl has a plastic-like feel and doesn’t breathe well, making it sticky and hot to sit on. This can be avoided by spending a bit more for a nicer-quality vinyl and also by selecting the right vinyl product for the right application. Look for a vinyl that’s recommended for seating if that’s the desired use.
Vinyl fabric is a very diverse fabric group and one vinyl fabric can be very different from the next. For this reason vinyl fabrics are often classified into groups or “grades” based on their intended uses.
Marine-grade vinyls, for example, are developed for use in a marine environment as upholstery on boats, awnings and even outdoor furniture. These vinyls are made to be durable, resistant to abrasion and mildew, and colorfast. They also have the ability to withstand extreme temperature changes and weather events. If the design is suitable, marine-grade vinyls are also often used in commercial applications, hospitals and homes.
Other vinyl grades include automotive grade, which is similar to marine grade but also meets stringent standards for automotive safety and is often designed to mimic leather and decorator vinyl. Decorator vinyl is mostly for home use and often mimics patent leather, snakeskin or crocodile skin. These vinyls are also frequently used for handbags and rainwear.
For a low-maintenance fabric you can depend on inside or out, vinyl is a great option. You might just be surprised how stylish it can be!
Why do you love vinyl? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!