Journal Insight #5: Fabrics


How long have you got?

We used to own a retail showroom and still have several hundred fabric books. So, trying to distil the topic of Fabrics, is going to be very interesting.

I’m guessing that you are all pretty clued up on plains vs patterns and their aesthetics, plus next time I write, we’ll be covering the issues around calculating quantities, so for now let’s focus our attention on the impact different types of fabrics have on window treatments.

Do you get what you pay for with fabrics?

Well, kinda – sorry, but it just depends. As a curtain maker, handling and touching the cloth, I really appreciate the quality of a fabric and how it hangs, but being totally honest most people may not be aware of the subtle differences between basic and quality fabrics. As much as I may drool over beautiful wools from Scotland or Italian silk velvets, most people don’t cuddle their curtains very often and so the choice of fabric is far more open than some may imagine. (Confession: I do stroke curtains… regularly!)

In this insight I’m talking much more about the issues for curtains than roman blinds, which are less affected by fabric choice.

1. Thickness of fabrics

Its entirely possible to use many thicker upholstery fabrics for curtains, even some that come treated for Fire Retardancy (FR). Thick fabrics can hang beautifully, with the weight helping the drape, however if it is too stiff then maintaining the pleats down their length can start to prove difficult, and over time they will become more and more ballooned. If you want to achieve thickness, then it’s better (and often more cost effective) to use an interlining as they enhance the drape. If they are FR treated then they will definitely be stiffer, but even so, can often work. It’s a discussion we always have with our interior designers, to ensure the finished curtain is what they expected, and for them to check we are willing to get the painful fingers when sewing.

2. Fabric type

In generally I would recommend more natural content is best, unless you are looking at velvets or where cost is a particular restraint.

Velvet Fabrics

Velvets have specific properties that need to be thought through carefully. Broadly, there are 3 types:

  • Polyesters
  • Cotton
  • Silk

Polyesters are the lowest cost and nowadays many are treated for stain resistance, so if there are children about with chocolate or ice cream fingers, then this is a great option. Close up they aren’t AS great, but from a just a few feet away they look good and you have the confidence that you can save them from the toddlers best efforts (or the grown up’s red wine).

Cotton velvets tend to go up in price and are susceptible to damage from water, and once they mark there is very little you can do to rescue them. Compared to many of the other velvets, cotton’s are a flatter, more matt finish. Some will disagree – but I feel they can be the compromise that gives you few of the benefits of either – the budget and safe polyester or the stunning quality in Silks. Yes, silks are the Dom Perignon of velvet – gorgeous, lustrous sheens and they feel amazing – but with a price tab to mean you may need an extra champagne flute or two.

Wool Fabrics

We curtain makers do love a wool. It’s just so lovely to sew, and we are blessed in the UK with a great choice of British mills, so they often tick the eco box, being totally natural and relatively local. But… beware of central heated homes and especially those with underfloor heating. Wool will grow and shrink with the seasons and changes in temperature. In the summer they may become ankle swingers, and in the winter they grow overlong. For that reason, we tend to recommend them slightly puddled on the floor. Customers should always be made aware of this natural property or else you’ll be back and forth making seasonal adjustments.

If you haven’t already, take a peek at Bute Fabrics, who’s wools are stunning, with the most vibrant colours you can imagine. There are a few recycled wools around, and we’ve found them to be really popular with the growing awareness of climate change. We really like them, and have had no issues with quality.

Sheer Fabric

Lightness and floatyness (is that a word?). Sheer curtains and blinds are always popular, both for playing with light and offering a degree of privacy. Many sheers come in room high formats, but usually no longer than about 320cm – this can prove a problem for rooms with higher ceilings, so be sure to check the finished dimensions before setting your customers heart on a particular fabric. Thicker sheers can be lined and create beautiful lightweight curtains and sometimes this can bring out the pattern in the fabric which can be lost when the sun shines through. When asking for roman blinds to me made, the very, very light sheers can be hard to work with and you may find a degree of ‘relaxation’ that goes too far if you are not careful.

Silks and satins

Silks and satins can be super thin and for the right window are stunning, giving a richness and lustre that’s hard to beat, but they can easily look limp and underwhelming if not interlined.

We’ll stop here or we’ll need another bottle, but my strongest tip is to have a good dialogue with your curtain and blind maker when choosing types of fabrics – their experience can prove invaluable and help you make the best choice for a given situation.

If you’ve found this helpful, please share.

Next time… Maths

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Journal Insight #4: How to slow the process of your curtains fading
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Journal Insight #6: Calculate Fabric Quantities

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