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Draperies








Draperies are not always considered as a part of furnishings, yet in
truth--as far as decorative necessities are concerned--they should come
immediately after wall and floor coverings. The householder who is in
haste to complete the arrangement of the home naturally thinks first of
chairs, sofas, and tables, because they come into immediate personal
use, but if draperies are recognised as a necessary part of the beauty
of the house it is worth while to study their appropriate character from
the first. They have in truth much more to do with the effect of the
room than chairs or sofas, since these are speedily sat upon and pass
out of notice, while draperies or portieres are in the nature of
pictures--hanging in everybody's sight. As far as the element of beauty
is concerned, a room having good colour, attractive and interesting
pictures, and beautiful draperies, is already furnished. Whatever else
goes to the making of it may be also beautiful, but it must be
convenient and useful, while in the selection of draperies, beauty, both
relative and positive, is quite untrammelled.

As in all other furnishings, from the aesthetic point of view colour is
the first thing to be considered. As a rule it should follow that of the
walls, a continuous effect of colour with variation of form and surface
being a valuable and beautiful thing to secure. To give the full value
of variation--where the walls are plain one should choose a figured
stuff for curtains; where the wall is papered, or covered with figures,
a plain material should be used.

There is one exception to this rule and this is in the case of walls
hung with damask. Here it is best to use the same material for curtains,
as the effect is obtained by the difference between the damask hung in
folds, with the design indistinguishable, or stretched flat upon a
wall-surface, where it is plainly to be seen and felt. Even where damask
is used upon the walls, if exactly the same shade of colour can be found
in satin or velvet, the plain material in drapery will enhance the value
of design on the walls.

This choice or selection of colour applies to curtains and portieres as
simple adjuncts of furnishing, and not to such pieces of drapery as are
in themselves works of art. When a textile becomes a work of art it is
in a measure a law unto itself, and has as much right to select its own
colour as if it were a picture instead of a portiere, in fact if it is
sufficiently important, the room must follow instead of leading. This
may happen in the case of some priceless old embroidery, some relic of
that peaceful past, when hours and days flowed contentedly into a scheme
of art and beauty, without a thought of competitive manufacture. It
might be difficult to subdue the spirit of a modern drawing-room into
harmony with such a work of art, but if it were done, it would be a very
shrine of restfulness to the spirit.

Fortunately many ancient marvels of needlework were done upon white
satin, and this makes them easily adaptable to any light scheme of
colour, where they may appear indeed as guests of honour--invited from
the past to be courted by the present. It is not often that such pieces
are offered as parts of a scheme of modern decoration, and the fingers
of to-day are too busy or too idle for their creation, yet it sometimes
happens that a valuable piece of drapery of exceptional colour belongs
by inheritance or purchase to the fortunate householder, and in this
case it should be used as a picture would be, for an independent bit of
decoration.

To return to simple things, the rule of contrast as applied to papered
walls, covered with design, ordains that the curtains should undoubtedly
be plain and of the most pronounced tint used in the paper. If the walls
of a room are simply tinted or painted, figured stuffs of the same
general tone, or printed silks, velvets, or cottons in which the
predominant tint corresponds with that of the wall should be used. These
relieve the simplicity of the walls, and give the desirable variation.

Transparent silk curtains are of great value in colouring the light
which enters the room, and these should be used in direct reference to
the light. If the room is dark or cold in its exposure, to hang the
windows with sun-coloured silk or muslin will cheat the eye and
imagination into the idea that it is a sunny room. If, on the contrary,
there is actual sunshine in the room, a pervading tint of rose-colour or
delicate green may be given by inner curtains of either of those
colours. These are effects, however, for which rules can hardly be
given, since the possible variations must be carefully studied, unless,
indeed, they are the colour-strokes of some one who has that genius for
combination or contrast of tints which we call "colour sense."

After colour in draperies come texture and quality, and these need
hardly be discussed in the case of silken fabrics, because silk fibre
has inherent qualities of tenacity of tint and flexibility of substance.
Pure silk, that is silk unstiffened with gums, no matter how thickly and
heavily it is woven, is soft and yielding and will fall into folds
without sharp angles. This quality of softness is in its very substance.
Even a single unwoven thread of silk will drop gracefully into loops,
where a cotton or linen or even a woollen thread will show stiffness.

Woollen fibre seems to acquire softness as it is gathered into yarns and
woven, and will hang in folds with almost the same grace as silk; but
unfortunately they are favourite pasture grounds as well as
burying-places for moths, and although these co-inhabitants of our
houses come to a speedy resurrection, they devour their very graves, and
leave our woollen draperies irremediably damaged. It is a pity that
woollen fabrics should in this way be made undesirable for household
use, for they possess in a great degree the two most valuable qualities
of silk: colour-tenacity and flexibility. If one adopts woollen curtains
and portieres, constant "vigilance is the price of safety," and
considering that vigilance is required everywhere and at all times in
the household, it is best to reduce the quantity whenever it is
possible.

This throws us back upon cottons and linens for inexpensive hangings,
and in all the thousand forms in which these two fibres are manufactured
it would seem easy to choose those which are beautiful, durable, and
appropriate. But here we are met at the very threshold of choice with
the two undesirable qualities of fugitive colour, and stiffness of
texture. Something in the nature of cotton makes it inhospitable to
dyes. If it receives them it is with a protest, and an evident intention
of casting them out at the earliest opportunity--it makes, it is true,
one or two exceptions. It welcomes indigo dye and will never quite
relinquish its companionship; once received, it will carry its colours
through all its serviceable life, and when it is finally ready to fall
into dust, it is still loyally coloured by its influence. If it is
cheated, as we ourselves are apt to be, into accepting spurious indigo,
made up of chemical preparations, it speedily discovers the cheat and
refuses its colouring. Perhaps this sympathy is due to a vegetable
kinship and likeness of experience, for where cotton will grow, indigo
will also flourish.

In printed cottons or chintzes, there is a reasonable amount of fidelity
to colour, and if chintz curtains are well chosen, and lined to protect
them from the sun, their attractiveness bears a fair proportion to their
durability.

An interlining of some strong and tried colour will give a very soft and
subtle daylight effect in a room, but this is, of course, lost in the
evening. The expedient of an under colour in curtain linings will
sometimes give delightful results in plain or unprinted goods, and
sometimes a lining with a strong and bold design will produce a charming
shadow effect upon a tinted surface--of course each new experiment must
be tried before one can be certain of its effect, and, in fact, there is
rather an exciting uncertainty as to results. Yet there are infinite
possibilities to the householder who has what is called the artistic
instinct and the leisure and willingness to experiment, and experiments
need not be limited to prints or to cottons, for wonderful combinations
of colour are possible in silks where light is called in as an influence
in the composition. One must, however, expect to forego these effects
except in daylight, but as artificial light has its own subtleties of
effect, the one can be balanced against the other. In my own
country-house I have used the two strongest colours--red and blue--in
this doubled way, with delightful effect. The blue, which is the face
colour, presenting long, pure folds of blue, with warmed reddish shadows
between, while at sunset, when the rays of light are level, the
variations are like a sunset sky.

It will be seen by these suggestions that careful selection, and some
knowledge of the qualities of different dyes, will go far toward
modifying the want of permanence of colour and lack of reflection in
cottons; the other quality of stiffness, or want of flexibility, is
occasionally overcome by methods of weaving. Indeed, if the manufacturer
or weaver had a clear idea of excellence in this respect, undoubtedly
the natural inflexibility of fibre could be greatly overcome.

There is a place waiting in the world of art and decoration for what in
my own mind I call "the missing textile." This is by no means a fabric
of cost, for among its other virtues it must possess that of cheapness.
To meet an almost universal want it should combine inexpensiveness,
durability, softness, and absolute fidelity of colour, and these four
qualities are not to be found in any existing textile. Three of
them--cheapness, strength, and colour--were possessed by the
old-fashioned true indigo-blue denim--the delightful blue which faded
into something as near the colour of the flower of grass, as dead
vegetable material can approach that which is full of living juices--the
possession of these three qualities doubled and trebled the amount of
its manufacture until it lost one of them by masquerading in aniline
indigo.

Many of our ordinary cotton manufactures are strong and inexpensive, and
a few of them have the flexibility which denim lacks. It was possessed
in an almost perfect degree by the Canton, or fleeced, flannels,
manufactured so largely a few years ago, and called art-drapery. It
lacked colour, however, for the various dyes given to it during its
brief period of favouritism were not colour; they were merely tint.
That strong, good word, colour, could not be applied to the mixed and
evanescent dyes with which this soft and estimable material clothed
itself withal. It was, so to speak, invertebrate--it had no backbone.
Besides this lack of colour stanchness, it had another fault which
helped to overbalance its many virtues. It was fatally attractive to
fire. Its soft, fluffy surface seemed to reach out toward flame, and the
contact once made, there ensued one flash of instantaneous blaze, and
the whole surface, no matter if it were a table-cover, a hanging, or the
wall covering a room, was totally destroyed. Yet as one must have had or
heard of such a disastrous experience to fear and avoid it, this
proclivity alone would not have ended its popularity. It was probably
the evanescent character of what was called its "art-colour" which ended
the career of an estimable material, and if the manufacturers had known
how to eliminate its faults and adapt its virtues, it might still have
been a flourishing textile.

In truth, we do not often stop to analyse the reasons of prolonged
popular favour; yet nothing is more certain than that there is reason,
and good reason, for fidelity in public taste. Popular liking, if
continued, is always founded upon certain incontrovertible virtues. If a
manufacture cannot hold its own for ever in public favour, it is because
it fails in some important particular to be what it should be. Products
of the loom must have lasting virtues if they would secure lasting
esteem. Blue denim had its hold upon public use principally for the
reason that it possessed a colour superior to all the chances and
accidents of its varied life. It is true it was a colour which commended
itself to general liking, yet if as stanch and steadfast a green or red
could be imparted to an equally cheap and durable fabric, it would find
as lasting a place in public favour.

It is quite possible that in the near future domestic weavings may come
to the aid of the critical house-furnisher, so that the qualities of
strength and pliability may be united with colour which is both
water-fast and sun-fast, and that we shall be able to order not only the
kind of material, but the exact shade of colour necessary to the
perfection of our houses.

To be washable as well as durable is also a great point in favour of
cotton textiles. The English chintzes with which the high post bedsteads
of our foremothers were hung had a yearly baptism of family soap-suds,
and came from it with their designs of gaily-crested, almost life-size
pheasants, sitting upon inadequate branches, very little subdued by the
process. Those were not days of colour-study; and harmony, applied to
things of sight instead of conduct, was not looked for; but when we copy
the beautiful old furniture of that day, we may as well demand with it
the quality of washableness and cleanableness which went with all its
belongings.

It is always a wonder to the masculine, that the feminine mind has such
an ineradicable love of draperies. The man despises them, but to the
woman they are the perfecting touch of the home, hiding or disguising
all the sharp angles of windows and doors, and making of them
opportunities of beauty. It is the same instinct with which she tries to
cover the hard angles and facts of daily life and make of them virtuous
incitements. As long as the woman rules, house-curtains will be a joy
and delight to her. Something in their soft protection, grace of line,
and possible beauty of colour appeals to her as no other household
belonging has the power to do. The long folds of the straight hanging
curtain are far more beautiful than the looped and festooned creations
which were held in vogue by some previous generations, and indeed are
still dear to the hearts of professional upholsterers. The simpler the
treatment, the better the effect, since natural rather than distorted
line is more restful and enjoyable. Quality, colour, and simple graceful
lines are quite sufficient elements of value in these important adjuncts
of house furnishing and decoration.





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Previous: Floors And Floor-coverings



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