The Search for Cheap and Breathable

A bit of preface before I go into my solution. I want my wall fabric to be as stylish as my speakers.


Even before the cotton batt went up I was thinking of ways to cover it. The major lesson I learned was that the covering needs to be acoustically transparent more or less. Another way of saying this is breathable. This does not mean breathable like your cotton socks… in the sense that they allow moisture to escape. It means you can press a piece over your mouth and won’t suffocate. This is an indication that sound will also pass through it well. Acoustically transparent more or less. On the extreme side of the this spectrum you have material that covers speaker cones. On the other side are things like plastic.

You may make the argument that bass, the big problem with smallish rooms, will pass right through fabric whether it’s porous or not. It will. But the high frequency content will not. So if you cover your walls with paper a lot of high end will come back at you. I learned this the hard way when I had Kraft faced insulation up.

One thing I like to do is test things out with my voice. It’s something I’m pretty familiar with and it covers most of the audible spectrum. If I sing 12″ away from cotton batt it sounds smooth. Moving over to the Kraft faced insulation you can hear a lot more high end coming back. Go ahead, listen to angels.

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Notice the rise at around 8K when I move over to the Kraft faced insulation.

The idea behind acoustically transparent is that you don’t want the cover fabric to change the sound. You (I) like that dead cotton-y feel. Of coarse if you want all the high stuff coming back in your face you could cover it with paper or some other reflective material. But that’s not where I’m going.

There is another way to do this. But it involves more expensive fabric so I never looked into it. Basically you use non-breathable fabric (yeah, I know, a mix of mystery and frustration) that absorbs everything that doesn’t pass through it. These fabrics cost more then the already -out-of-my-price-range acoustically transparent ones.

Then there is fire rating. Ultra touch cotton batt already has a class-A fire rating. Here is an exciting flame demo for both UltraTouch and cotton jersey.

Shouldn’t the cover fabric be rated similarly? Yes, it should. But class-A fire rated cloth is also not cheap. So pass for now. I’m sure commercial facilities have building code requirements to deal with. I, however, am setting up shop in a dangerous free standing room in my backyard. Awesome.

Let’s look at some exciting numbers!

My space has about 1140 sqft to cover. Add an extra 10% for margin. Let’s round up and make it 1300 sqft.

When looking at fabric I like to convert everything to price per sqft. Some rolls are 60″, some are 36″, some things I looked at were large tarps. But if I know the price per sqft I can easily compare them.

Here is my evaluation of several products. Some made for sound. Most not. I’m ghetto-resourceful.

Guilford’s of Maine FR701
$1706 for my room
This is a great product. Comes in some nice colors. From what I have found has a class-A fire rating. It won’t go up like paper. But at this price I’d spend the same amount of money on fabric as I did on my interface/converter (RME Fireface 800). No deal.

3.0 oz Frost Blanket
$103 for my room
Frost blankets are used to cover crops and protect them from venomous crocs. Errrr, I mean frost. They are super cheap but you have to buy a lot. This one is 1500 sqft. They are totally breathable. But may burn better then gasoline. I don’t know. They come in whatever color you want as long as it’s white. White reflects a lot of light and makes for a brighter work space. So I ordered one. But the material is more sheer then I expected. It was more of a veil for conduit, studs, and cotton batt. Back it went.

In this same category you have things like weed barrier available in the garden section of places like home depot. Cheap, one color, might burn easily.

Cambric or dustcover
$.05 sqft
$62 for my room.
Only comes in large rolls. My cost would be around $90 if I ordered 2 rolls from here. 2 color choices. Black or white. Cambric has a few drawbacks. The cheap stuff like this is thin and like a veil. There is more expensive cambric that is also breathable but it’s hard to find and has a certain hardness to it. I think it would reflect back some highs. May burn well.

Cotton jersey (about 90% cotton, 10% Lycra) My hero! I think.
$.24 sqft
$312 for my room.
You have to buy this by the roll and rolls are between 55-75 yards so I need to figure that one out. I found 2 places online in California.

These samples are from here.


Look at all the great colors! It’s breathable, even wearable, not sheer, and because of the Lycra stretch I think it will be easier to work with. We’ll see.


Will it burn easliy? See above video. It doesn’t catch on fire that fast but once it’s burning…

this is the best option I’ve found. Actually it was recommended to me. Thank you GuySonic at GearSlutz.


Muslin is a closely-woven unbleached cotton fabric. I’m including it here because I’ve seen it suggested and I don’t think it’s a good option. The muslin I’ve seen at the local fabric stores is always near white in color. It may come in other colors but I think that’s uncommon. Being closely woven it does not “acoustically breath” like cotton jersey. I didn’t put my mouth to it but from touch it seemed pretty un-breathable. It has way less stretch to it then cotton jersey. No surprise there. Cotton jersey is around 10% spandex. Untreated muslin is probably as flammable as any other cotton fabric.

Molton AKA Molleton
This is a stage/theater fabric and I had a hard time finding it. I’m mentioning it because it may be worth looking into. Because it is a stage fabric I’d expect (but do not know for certain) a few things. It should have good acoustic properties. It should also be flame resistant to some degree. What I would not expect is the price to be dirt cheap.

This concludes my fabric roundup. I hope. When next you see my studio it will be at least partially clothed.

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5 Responses to The Search for Cheap and Breathable

  1. d says:

    Go red 🙂 No wait, teal.

  2. cporro says:

    The cool blue already rolled in. red is for studio #3 the “hematoma lounge”

  3. ? says:

    does this mean i can indulge in some blow-torch wall graffiti when you’re done?

  4. cporro says:

    only on the dedicated burn wall. but you are always welcome for studio craft day where i put yer baby soft hands to werk.

  5. Vince Cimo says:

    Hey man, which distributor did you end up going with? I called the linked guy and it’s about $4.50/yd (60″). Is that about the cheapest you could find?

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