The Modern Swag

There is more to swag construction than you might think.  I like to advance the old school designs and methods and make them work for today's homes and lifestyles.  What are the differences?

More sophisticated styling replaces the traditional board mounted swag and jabots (remember your Grandmother's home).  Pole swags and drapery swags display a relaxed elegance that is suitable for very many windows.  It also allows the gorgeous poles and finials to bring yet another design element into the room.  Special trims can certainly dress it up a bit, but even a simple piping creates a graceful but tailored appearance. Once the design is rendered, it is all about the measures and the math - combined with a bit of weight chain draping.

The Open Window

Open Window, Colliore, 1905

When designing a window treatment, I aspire to give it a painterly like attention to detail: French artist, Henri Matisse, comes to mind.  The windowed interior was a recurrent theme in much of his work, and he so masterfully depicted the intimate connection between interior and exterior life scenes.  His bold swatches of color and texture were the fabric of his paintings, revealing a reposeful domestic lifestyle dazzled by Mediterranean sunlight that would seemingly breeze into the room.  His paintings are interior designs skillfully composed with a free spirited elegance that just compels me to want to be “there”.

Windows are more than an architectural feature in a room. Matisse certainly understood this fact, since in many of his works they are not just the source of light, but also, the beckoning of our entrance into a beautiful scene. It would be inspiring to find such joy and color in the rooms of our own homes;  enveloped in warm light, dancing amidst the colors and sensations of our surroundings all the while with a glorious view at the open window.
My room at the Beau-Rivage, 1918

Interior with a violin case, 1919
Henri Matisse - Fauvism

Hard Window Treatments are Easy

In the window coverings industry, there are both hard and soft "treatments".   Blinds, shades, and shutters would be in the former category, and most often provide a much needed light control function for a room.  Once that need is identified and defined, it is easy to know what product is best.
Of course, the many products available today are also gorgeous design choices as well - especially when paired with a beautiful soft treatment like drapery panels or an up to date valance.

The Coulisse nature collection is at the top of my list. Their XL pleated shades are also a designers dream. Each of their products is an exceptional upgrade to the traditionally styled shade or blind. (These amazing collections are now available at dePasquale Designs.)

As featured in: Small Kitchen Magazine / Fall 2011

 Bold Chinoisserie
Wouldn't you know it! The smallest valance I ever designed gets all the fanfare. Yes it is beautiful in embroidered silks, trims, and medallion posts, and it is also fabricated with finesse. A big standout in a small decorated space.                                        
Interior design by Gretchen Mannion

Upholstered Memory Board

This is large, 48" x 30",  and is sure to get lots of use in a young girl's room.
Made out of of a rigid but lightweight board that is custom upholstered and trimmed
with covered buttons and flat braid, it is easily installed and brings a touch of art to the
walls. Whether you use push pins or just slide notes, photos and such into its diamond pockets,
how practical and pretty.  I will soon post a photo of it in the room so you can see how it coordinates
with all the other furnishings so nicely! (Available in various sizes and any selected fabric & trim)

When Dressing Windows-Design IS Everything

Design IS everything… However, I would suggest that there are two (often over looked) components that bare witness to the success of the project. First, is the type of decorating fabric selected for the window fashion; second, is the fabrication method used to construct the treatment. Let’s assume that the proper color analysis has been done, and that is not at issue. As someone who both designs window treatments and constructs them, I most often find that it is the incompatibility of fabric and design that can lead to unsatisfactory results and an unhappy customer. From my own experiences, here are examples of what to do, or not!

By type of fabric, it is meant; silks, damasks, jacquards, chenilles, chintz, velvets, linens, embroideries, small patterns, sheers, etc. – there are too many to list completely.  In any category of fabric, the properties of weight and stability have to be taken into account when planning the design. For example, there are damasks that drape beautifully and are well suited to a lovely swag treatment, and there are damasks that would be too heavy and inflexible for this style but perfect for upholstery or perhaps a cornice. Silks, very lightweight, do best when they are left to soft folds and gathers. If you prefer a neatly pressed and tailored surround, then you will not be satisfied with silk unless it has, at the very least, been knit backed. The faux pas with Sheer fabrics is that they are not used nearly enough in homes today. I am not referring to the standard voile or batiste, but sheers and casements that sparkle when the sun shines thru, have bold stripes of tone on tone or subtle texture. Layered or alone they can do more then open and close on a traverse rod. If weighted properly, they can look fantastic in many designs, from simple shades to elaborate arches. Chintz (very stable woven) is a classic for bed covers and rod pocket curtains, but then you may want to search for a hand printed chintz (see photo) and keep the design simple. The formula is; edited design + exquisite fabric = gorgeous!
A special hand printed fabric from Brunchwig & Fils.

All-over patterns are versatile for most designs, because they do not have a true upright. They are wonderful for swag topped drapery panels, because the swag overlay can be cut on the bias without disrupting the overall look - and a swag cut on the bias is much happier!  When designing with a solid, either cotton or a blend, the best recommendation is an added coordinating fabric banding or piping. This is the perfect place to add a bias stripe piping to update and customize. As for fabrics with a large pattern repeat, the design has to incorporate the area of the repeat that will be framed in the valance so that it looks balanced. If the pattern is too large for the scale of the picture frame, the design (or fabric) should be altered. So then the question arises, what comes first, the fabric or the design? Well, either really! If you are set on a particular design, then search for the fabric type that will suit it properly. Otherwise, if you have the “perfect” fabric, research or consult a pro for a flattering design plan.

The fabrication methods, or how-tos concerning the construction of a particular design, might vary from workroom to workroom, but professionals do adhere to standard practices and guidelines set forth by the WCAA.  An expert craftsperson will often foresee potential problems and plan the design accordingly.  But as with any custom project, unexpected situations arise (Believe me, fabrics have a mind of their own!), and it is most important that the workroom/designer handle these expediently. The most common mistakes that affect the professional quality of a custom window treatment are when; an incorrect lining is used, hems or facings are too narrow, seams show and are not pattern matched, valance long point and/or short point proportions are off, lining is droopy, a fabric stabilizer or interlining should have been used, the pattern was not cut true to grain. The design won’t look quite right if any of these problems occur. Hopefully, with proper planning, they can be avoided entirely.

The fabric type and construction techniques have to uphold the integrity of the custom design. If the fabric is inappropriate or the workroom specifications unclear, then you risk being unhappy with the final treatment. The experience does not have to be complicated. Rather, it requires proper planning, research and consult when you are in the creative process! It also requires more than home sewing skills/equipment, so get professional guidance if you want a truly custom appearance. Haste will only lead to waste of fabric, time, and money.  Designing for windows should always be a success story!

Details that make the difference.

Rouched Drapery Heading
Here is a close up view of design details that really customize a window treatment.
It can be as simple as a beautiful drapery tieback, or as elaborate as layers of handsewn
trims.  My personal favorites are knife pleating, rouching, and contrast microcording.
Silk is always a wonderful fabric to use for special touches and flatters just about any
decorating fabric. I also like to make my own braided cord by using a small woven check
and cutting it on the bias for the piping. It is so much easier to work with than purchased braid 
and looks much nicer.
Silk knife pleated on Medallion Swag
Banding, microcording, and key tassel
Contrast microcording on valance shaped edge, banded trim on Roman Shade

Knotted Embellishment and piping


A Workroom View

The task at hand: Creating a teardrop swag treatment for a cathedral window gallery. Working with angles is both exciting and challenging. I first spent some time taking measures and analyzing how I would install the treatment. Back in the workroom, the homosote wall is draped with accurate lines and weight chains to simulate treatment lines. From these measures comes the custom pattern drafting. The pattern is then checked for any necessary alterations before we get to the fabricating stage. Even the pleated underpanels have to incorporate a precisely angled heading. Finally, I am satisfied with the results. More importantly, so is the client!

Window Treatment Essentials

As Featured On EzineArticles

Keep this list in mind when considering the purchase of new window treatments.

1) Use proper linings: A standard cotton sateen lining is rarely enough support. Interlining with a flannel, bump or Apollo dim out is just about standard practice in my workroom. Even sheer fabrics are self- lined. Linings lend body, stability, luxury, longevity, and insulation benefits. It will increase the price, but considering how many years you will be enjoying your window treatments, it is well worth the upgrade. Your workroom or designer will know what will be the most suitable lining product. I have at least 10 bolts of different linings and interlinings that I use regularly, but of course, I do have my favorites!
2) Install at correct height: Drapery poles look fabulous installed just under the crown molding or at least half the distance between top of window and ceiling. Valances should also be lifted so that they are proportionally correct. (Depth of valance should be about 1/5 or 1/6 of total height). Drapery hem can clear the floor by ¼”, barely touch the floor, break 1” or 2”, or even puddle graciously. The design of your treatment will also influence the installation. The installer’s job is incredibly important and will make the difference between a spectacular appearance or an unfettered mess.
3) Consider layered treatments: The under treatment often serves the functional role of providing light control and privacy. The top treatment can then be integrated with the design elements of the room, softening and adding luxury with beautiful fabric and color. My favorite products for under layering treatments are sheer roman shades, sheer fabric blinds, and woven woods. Top them off with pleated panels on a French pole or sensational valances.
4) Integrate design: Decide whether the window treatment will be a distinctive focal point, accent a beautiful view, or blend with the various color and design elements of the room décor. If you know what “look” you are trying to achieve, selecting fabrics and designs will be much easier. Also, be realistic about your budget when planning the project. Custom window treatments are expensive, so ask your designer/fabricator what will provide the greatest value.
5) Pay attention to details: It is certainly the details that will elevate your window fashion to first class status. Special touches such as hand-sewn hems, micro-cording, French blackout lining, passementerie, and custom hardware finishes, will stylize your treatment. Other techniques that add interest are rouching, smocking, covered buttons, banding, tufting, and overlays. As a fabricator, I look forward to utilizing these techniques and helping to create a unique window design with couture styling. Utilizing two or three coordinating fabrics for one treatment also adds interest.

1) Skimp on fabric: One width of fabric will pleat to 20” and is appropriate when making a pair of panels for windows up to 38” wide. Larger windows will require at least 1.5 widths each side. Let the decorator or workroom determine the fabric yardage, because vertical and horizontal repeats have to be taken into account and is more difficult than you think to calculate. (For example: One pleated pair of drapery panels that are 96” in finished length, would require 7.5 yards of fabric if the vertical repeat is 27”.) Custom treatments utilize more fabric than you might estimate, and what you don’t need is to be short on yardage – a fabricator’s nightmare. If the fabric cost will break your budget, but you LOVE it, consider a soft or upholstered cornice, since it doesn’t require as much fabric as some other designs would.
2) Keep the old with the new: You would never wear sneakers with a prom dress, so don’t try and get away with a worn blind or shade that is topped with a beautiful new soft window treatment. This pairing never looks good. Great NEW products to consider are motorized blinds, shades and draperies. They are very easy to use and recommended for many applications (like two story windows) Definitely more costly (estimate $1200/per single window for a motorized shade), but if you have a gallery of windows with solar shades, they can be programmed to lower at a certain time of the day. How convenient is that!
3) Over-match paint and fabric: This will create a very uninteresting appearance. Once your color scheme has been chosen, don’t go flat by playing matchy- match. Experiment with subtle differences in a monochromatic plan, using similar values of analogous colors or perhaps higher contrast complementary colors. The tints, shades and tones of a pure color are many. Take a look at how the light shines in at different times of the day. These qualities will influence your choices.
4) Ignore the importance of decorative hardware: There are numerous artisans of decorative hardware who create works of art with carved wood and forged metals. It is important to incorporate these specialty poles, finials, and holdbacks when planning a window design. This is yet another way to highlight the special and unique character of your window fashion. Take advantage of what they have to offer.
5) Play it too safe: Your custom window treatments can do more to set the character of a room than just about any other decorative product in your home. Your investment in custom workmanship underscores your desire to surround yourself with beauty and live graciously. With some professional guidance, and a bit of self-analysis, you will be quite pleased with the results. Be sure to “color outside the lines” just enough to challenge your perspective. A new view of the world is always inspiring!

Runway to Windows

This was even more fun then Project Runway! I was just wishing that my daughter was sitting beside me as I watched these models on parade. From the local fashion design school in Atlanta, the students were given the task of using decorating fabrics to come up with spectacular fashion designs. They all deserved an A++! Where couture fashion meets couture drapery is now the theatre of domicile and storefront boutique. Deb Barrett and Susan Schultz conducted a seminar that unveiled the newest fabric choices from around the world. Lace, leather, tulle, linens, burnouts. Taking an unconventional and daring approach to the world of window treatments keeps us oh so interested in .... dressing beautiful rooms.

Fun in Atlanta!

Well, this photo really says it all. The Georgia Conference Center must be the length of 3 airport terminals, so this year's group of attendees at the IWCE walked for miles (it seemed).  And there were so many colorful moments to enjoy and friends to meet up with.  These are the pretty shoes of industry veteran and amazing woman Joan Willis.  The lovely banded cornice was just a beauty too! A 5 day venture at the BIG EVENT; with certainly some of the finest decorating and business personalities is nothing but ADVENTURE. There are so many new ideas on my plate that I can't wait to order the fabrics!

Raise your Swag!

If you consider your home your palace, then your windows should be adorned with beautiful raised swags! Don't settle for traditional board mounted swags and cascades. Have some fun and dare to dance in a room dressed with a lifted necklace swag or a raised Austrian swag or an ornate pole swag. More drama and certainly more "dressy" a look is created with these custom creations, especially if you choose a lavish silk or brocade.  The details in the custom patterning are what make these special and not every workroom can master these, but they are my favorites by far. Their distinctive character is found in the folds, interlinings, and decorative hardware that can be used.  The extra time (lots) they can take to fabricate is worth it. What do you think?

Special Occasion Quilts

It was for my ??th birthday that my sister, Janet Stafford, presented me with one of her amazing quilts. I have it hanging on my gallery wall, because it is such a beautiful piece of art. She continues to produce "Special Occasion Quilts" of exceptional quality. These are the hand made textiles that will become family heirlooms. She is able to create a quilt that so dearly reflects the
accomplishments and passions of a special recipient. For her son, Patrick, who just got his Navy wings, she produced a quilt that is a mosaic of bird wings! If you ever are considering a very special gift for someone, a Special Occasion Quilt would be appreciated over a lifetime.