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Article by:
Kim Lilley
Parkhurst Design
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Colour and Light Fastness

Colour and Light Fastness

Furniture, carpets, drapery and art can all be severely damaged by fading.

What exactly causes fading? The sun's energy or more importantly the portion called ultraviolet radiation. Surprisingly, ultraviolet radiation only makes up for only 2% of the sun's energy, but accounts for an estimated 60% of the fading damage.

We are affected by the sun all year round. Don't be caught out by the winter sun, although it may not seem as harsh as the summer sun, it can do just as much damage as the sun sits lower in the sky and penetrates deeper into our rooms.

The ability of a fabric to resist colour changes from exposure to light is determined by several factors including the type of dye used, the fibre content of the fabric and the light source.

The quality of dye used on fabrics plays a huge part in colour fastness. Problems often occur in textile usage when a consumer decides to use a fabric which had not been produced to meet certain end uses. For example, dyed curtain fabric with poor rubbing fastness used for upholstery or upholstery fabric designed for lounge-room use being used in a sunroom where the light fastness requirements of the dyes used may not be sufficient.

Polyester and acrylic fibres are the most sunlight resistant fibres in common use. They outlast all other commonly used textile fibres when exposed to the weather. Thus their use for curtaining is ideal. Should the colour fade, this is attributable to the dyestuff.

Sunlight through windows has long been a problem with fabric colour fastness. Measures can be taken to help prevent the sun's effect on our furnishings. Shutters, Venetian blinds, tinted or reflective glass and 'stick on' window films are an excellent way of filtering the light. Drapes made of sheer fabrics that are permanently pulled act as a protective barrier without completely taking away the view.

By lining drapes and blinds, the lining protects the decorative fabric and prolongs the life of the fabric. Drapes should be hung at least 10cm from the glass to enable air to circulate. This helps prevent mildew and reduces heat build up.

Colour can also play a part in colour fastness. When considering colour, blues and reds are affected by wider bands of light (UV and infra red). These colours tend to fade quicker than central spectral colours such as green, yellow or orange. While this isn't a fail safe rule, the fibre and dyes used in the fabric composition is still the most important part.

But all fabrics and furnishing fade over time. Choosing furnishings that will ultimately fade gracefully is the trick. There's something quite comforting about an old faded armchair as opposed to a sleek new one

Thanks to Kim Lilley of Parkhurst Design