Monday, 9 May 2011

Curtains and Drapes - 1886

A Plethora of Curtains and Drapery Styles - The Mid to Late Nineteenth Century

There was a proliferation of styles and revivals in Victorian interiors. One could find a “Gothic revival” portiere with a “neo-Rococo” lambrequin.
Curtains were generally hung from poles, and swags and tails were used liberally. In drawing rooms the curtains were often dress curtains (designed not to be drawn across the window) tied back on rosette-headed pins with sheers underneath. Decorative finials on the poles were an important part of the treatment. Everything was fringed, braided and bobbled.

Baroque style curtains

 The light was sometimes kept out altogether by the use of blinds. These were usually made of Holland linen (a type of canvas). Blinds were sometimes painted, bordered or self-patterned and trimmed with fringes or borders.
The lambrequin made a reappearance, the Victorian version being a flat pelmet with a shaped outline which continued down the side of the window, sometimes to the floor. It was originally intended to hide the bunches of fabric formed when a pull-up curtain was drawn above the window, but it soon became a treatment in its own right. It could be combined with symmetrical main curtains, and often also had an asymmetrical muslin curtain, caught back with different tie-backs. By the end of the century they were out of fashion, however, as they cut out too much light.
Carefully pleated curtain headings were still not common by the end of the century. However, it became fashionable for valances to have vertical pleats extending the depth of the valance or pelmet; these were used as an alternative to swags and tails. Goblet pleats were cup-shaped and padded.
Draped pelmets or valances would have been used where a flat lambrequin or pelmet would have been too severe.

Inside a Russian Palace

 Swags and tails were used on many bay windows of the period as they covered many awkward corners.
Scarf drapery, where one piece of fabric is draped to make a heading for a treatment, became fashionable. The Art Nouveau influence was apparent in the elaborate, asymmetrically arranged festoons.

Swags and tails

Pelmets were seen in a variety of styles, including Grecian, Gothic, Elizabethan, Moorish and Louis XIV. By mid-century, stamped brass or richly gilded pelmet cornices were often placed on top of the fabric pelmets.

Pelmets from Chatsworth House

 Muslin curtains were still used to exclude insects and soften the light. White curtains were in vogue, and white cotton dimity was used extensively for bed curtains and counterpanes.
Portieres became popular, and were often double-sided, so that each fabric would harmonise with the colour scheme of the room it faced. Appliqué or embroidery were often used to divide them into the horizontal bands corresponding to the frieze, infill and dado of the adjacent walls.
In France, there were so many different styles of curtain that it was impossible to establish a characteristic one. Fabrics were draped over everything. Pelmets were shaped or deeply swagged. There were romantic curtains in tulle, muslin or dentelle frilled, beribboned, or “empearled”. Goblet pleats were used a great deal for the pelmets or portieres and stair curtains. There were curtains with heavy lambrequins, and there were liberal interpretations of other earlier styles.

Beds and Bed Hangings
Health and hygiene became one of the major concerns in the latter part of the 19th century, and heavy bed drapery came to be seen as unhealthy.
Simplicity was the key to Arts and Crafts beds, with the emphasis on the quality of fabric design. Plain cornice boxes in wood, painted or covered with a simple stiffened pelmet, were used with paired curtains. Sometimes the cornice boxes were omitted to show the curtains on their track.
Four-poster beds with plain curtains and a straight valance were a popular choice.


Mass production was the norm. The improvements in printing and dyeing over the previous 70 years had led to increased production of cotton goods. The idea of offering patterns in several different colourways had first appeared around 1820 and had become usual. There was a vast array of brilliantly coloured all-over printed cottons, and one- and two-colour unglazed cottons became relatively cheap in Britain.
During the 1840s there was a revival of interest in late 18th century designs. Victorian fabrics often had brown or black grounds and incorporated deep, rich colours in the design. From the middle of the century a number of new dyes were available for yellow, purple and blue-green.
The specialist textile industry in Marseilles, badly affected by the cheaper cottons available, declined rapidly.

Jacquard fabric

 In Britain, Jacquard looms produced an increasing amount of small-patterned wool damasks and moreen, a worsted cloth with a wood finish. Roller-printing grew, and soon dominated the textile industry, which used chemical dyes and a palette of colours inspired by Persian textiles.

Copy of damask fabric from Knole house

Floral prints on cottons or cretonnes were popular in Victorian bedrooms, tartan and paisley patterns were widely used and lace was everywhere. Chintz remained fashionable until the end of the century. William Morris was very interested in textile design and favoured hand-blocked printing. Influenced by medieval art and Islamic, Persian and Italian Renaissance textiles, Morris believed that motifs from nature could be flattened and stylised.
There was a renewed interest in chinoiserie designs of peacocks and dragons, poppies, chrysanthemums and fruit trees in blossom. These fabrics were used to accompany the rich lacquerwork which was fashionable at this time.

Chinoiserie - Louis XV

 There was a vogue for all things Japanese following the reopening of Japanese ports of trade with the West in the 1890s. The Near East was also a major influence, with “Turkish corners” furnished with Near Eastern textiles such as ottoman velvets, prayer rugs and Turkish rugs covering cushions, window seats and divans.
In France, tulle muslin and dentelle were used for romantic-style curtains and bed draperies. Silk and damask decorated with flowers and exotic foliage were popular; the large flower designs dictated the way the fabrics were used.


Trimmings were rich and ornate. Braid was large and stylised with a variety of decorative motifs. Gimp braid with clusters of bobble fringe was fashionable.
Fringes were usually deep and topped with braids bearing geometric patterns or appliquéd flowers. There were ornate bullion or ball fringes. Persian fringe had a wide border supporting “teardrops”.
Tassel tops were arrow-head in shape or domed, with long skirts. Some tassels were severe and stylised, appliquéd with golden leaves or shells.
Contrasting linings, corded edges, dark silk fringing, embroidered panels and trompe l’oeil valances were all features of this period, and bell pulls with braided edges, appliquéd centres and tassels were very fashionable.

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