IN texture, colour and line, curtains can make a room.
Cast with poles or rails and tie-backs, they present a bold proscenium arch around a show-stopping window by day and metres of decorative theatre by night. With the insulation wonders of double and triple-glazed windows, curtains are in practical terms redundant as a thermal layer. Still, even in a BER ‘A’ rated house facing uninhabited fields, curtains soften up the razor sharp edges of window reveals in joyful, sensual set dressing. Drawn around the intimate evening world of home, they gift an unquantifiable sense of enclosure and comfort.
Look for quality second hand curtains that can be unpicked and re-made up to suit. Vintage and antique textiles can turn up at auctions, house clearances and through the classifieds. Crunchy weave styles from the 70s are back in force, and dynamic mid-century patterns can sit well as the star of an otherwise sterile room. Some heavy or stretchy materials are tricky to handle and not suited to a first sewing machine adventure. Find someone locally with an understanding of different fabrics, who can turn out a good curtain, and worship at his or her feet — they may save you a fortune.
Before buying used curtains, pull out the piece and examine it for damage at the header, seams and ends. Notice any staining or fading (you may be able to tailor this out), and check the dimensions. Never undersize a curtain. More is more. Larger pieces in a robust textile can be cut down to provide curtains leaving remnants for cushions and seat covers. Could a fancy heading killing a curtain be trimmed off? Woven cotton and linens are often washable, but if you’re not sure, take the pieces to your dry cleaners for advice. Plain cotton is the ultimate budget curtain material (IKEA champion cotton for many of their iconic Scandinavian prints). It doesn’t have to look cheap, and again can be laundered, a huge plus with flying yogurt in a family home. Don’t get hung up what the material was originally intended for. If the weight, size, transparency, shade or design is correct for what you need, ticking, sari silk, 100% dress cotton and bed sheets with most seams already done for you, can be altered for a window. Similarly, linings can be re-used or invented if required from everything from fleece to flat sheets. Lean in (this is straight off the press) — Up-cyclers extraordinaire, Connie and Jackie — are launching a curtain exchange in a week or two at the Paint Pot, at 8 St Patrick’s Quay in Cork. 087-3398009 for the inside track.
OFF THE POLE
There are dozens of gorgeous styles and inventive ways to hang curtains, so do a bit of creative exploring online before just electing for that dull ready-made tab-top.
* Use panels of expensive or rare vintage materials in four or six panels made into two curtains. The weight of the materials should be similar to ensure they hang properly, and obviously, set them out and see that you can live with an eclectic combination.
* Invest in plain, one colour ready-made curtains and add a fabulous material in a deep border to the ends. With ready-mades in your size, the hard work at the header is already done for you.
* Combine curtains with shutters or blinds. If your view is nothing to crane your neck for, and privacy a must, consider the blackout talents and statement of colonial.
* Lining doesn’t have to be pale and practical. Consider a glamorous lining in a bold colour that will appear in flashes beyond the chief fabric. It will look lovely from outside too and darker colours act as blackouts.
* Floor length curtains have a style status, not possible at sill level. If you have a colour in mind or a boring pale pair, dye them using a proprietary dye and your washing machine. Lined full lengths, hang better.
* For a modern look, go for a curtain that hangs in symmetrical folds in a tailored straight line to the floor rather than a blousy flounce from a pencil-pleat header. Eyelet curtains produce a good vertical line with a reasonable weight of material.
* Go large with tie-backs. Character ties are all the rage and you can choose from antique French tassels to highly jewelled examples with heavy ropes. Scale them up on a plain velvet curtain even in a small room for witty opulence.
* New designs in slot top curtains hide the pole in a way that tabs and ring styles do not. Consider just how much ‘on show’ you want that rail or pole to be.
* Pelmets are back. The trick is to use a patterned curtain and a plain pelmet, or vice versa. Matching patterned pelmet material to the curtain is decidedly twee.
* Make your curtains an investment buy. If you’re throwing the whole room around a stunning curtain, then spending more to get exactly what you want makes sense. A whole scheme of colours and jiving pattern can come from one great design in a linen blend, velvet or woven jacquard.
Sheers give a touch of opacity without the weight of curtains and are easy to install ready-made or run up on the machine. Tab tops, tie-tops and slots in voile, start for as little as €10 for a pair of panels in a range of colours (Littlewoodsireland.ie). Drifting, easy on the eye, they can hold their own or be matched to curtains to vary the intensity of light, distilling it as it enters the room. Ensure plenty of drape to the floor, and generous sizing of at least twice the width of the window. If you want utter, swooning romance, hang two voile sheers on top of each other on a rod with masses of extra drop, and pull them across each other to the tie back’s or gently rope. This is a lovely canopy idea for over a bed too. Sheers shot with metallics and strident designs can add an extra layer of interest to the main curtains if you have the courage. Vintage lace can be framed casually over a window on two simple horizontal rods (bamboo works well) to block a nasty aspect. Size the fabric to the window or just the lower half, allowing room to reach past it to operate the window when needed.
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