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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