Window Treatments 101: Roman Blinds

We recently kicked off the series “Window Treatments“, painting a bit of a historical background picture, just to set the scene for the future articles.

For those of us living in the Southern Hemisphere spring is making way for those hot summer days. Our interior lifestyle begins to swing with it, as we go about the business of creating cool spaces to rattle around in.

Speaking for myself, I find that the seasons definitely impact on my window treatments. In winter all I want to do is hibernate indoors, pull shut the heavy draped curtains to block out all consciousness of the bleak cold and wet weather. The “bear-effect“.

Sheer Voile Curtains
Sheer curtains are a must for summer!

In summer just as we strip away the layers of clothing, so I feel like I want to strip away the layers on the windows in order to create more of that feeling of “openness”. Light-weight sheer fabrics for curtains – unlined naturally – that hang from a silver metal pole, so that when the breeze comes up, it gently lifts the curtain and plays with it.

The other ‘”less is more” option in terms of dressing a window are blinds that are either fitted into the window recess or externally if on installed on a door opening.

Roman Blinds
Some pretty plain-fabric Roman Blinds - perfect in bathroom setup. Image via: Urbaneblinds.co.uk

The varieties of blinds available today are just amazing. Today I will open up one of the old favourites:

ROMAN BLINDS:   These are normally made using a fabric and they are lined with a plain white or cream fabric as a rule. However, that does not mean that you are restricted to plain fabric linings.  The only reason that a plain sateen fabric is used for lining is due to the fact that this is the fabric that will be visible from outside the house.  The rule of thumb is to have all the curtains lined with the same fabric to retain a coherent exterior view when the curtains or blinds are drawn. It does begin to look a bit like a patchwork quilt if there are a variety of fabrics seen from the outside.

The other purpose of a lining is that it protects the main fabric from dust and dirt that penetrates through open windows. It also serves to protect the front fabric from the fading that happens with exposure to ultra-violet light.

Roman Blinds
You will find a lot of easy DIY Roman Blind tutorials on the net. Like this one from the Adventures in Dressmaking blog.

I cannot possibly go into the details of how these blinds are put together in the workshop, as that is just not my thing. If that is where your interest lies, I would suggest that a good google session will help you out there.

Suffice to say that these blinds are drawn up and down by means of a group of string cords thread through plastic eyelets.

The Roman Blind can itself be treated in a decorative way – such a having different shapes at the bottom, which can also be finished (or trimmed as we call it in the trade) with a piping cord. This piping cord can be covered either using the same fabric, or a contrasting colour.

Rebated Curtain Rail
A rebated curtain rod / pole. The curtain rail or blind baton is then fixed into the recess. This is a neat and elegant way of dealing with those unsightly curtain rails.

For a good many years now, the top of the roman blind (which is attached to a wooden or metal baton) can have the added feature of a covered wooden pole (either in same or contrast fabric). Or it can be painted to work in with the main body of colour in the fabric. This wooden pole has a small rebate cut out in it, into which the top of the blind fits. Very neat.

I like this finish as it completes the picture somewhat, making the blind look as if it is falling from under the pole.

Roman Blinds
Choose a nice funky and simplistic fabric design for a contemporary Roman Blind. Avoid a busy or "cluttered" pattern. These pretty blinds are via JohnLewis.com

In the 1980’s and first half of the 1990’s when the Laura Ashley country style was very popular we saw the resurgence of this blind as a window treatment. Here in South Africa Biggie Best adopted the same décor style and roman blinds were everywhere to be found.

As the “less is more” style moved in, the younger generation were less inclined to adopt their mom’s country style. Today although roman blinds are still to be found, the popularity has dwindled – like most trends.

The advantage of the Roman Blind is that you can have the fabric of your choice made up to fit the window in a less fussy manner to that of a curtain. Certain windows like those in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, staircases, smaller and narrower windows are more suitable to blinds and this is where the roman blind can work well.

Sheer Roman Blinds
These stunning sheer Roman Blinds allows for privacy without loosing too much light. Image via Blinds by Bayliss

The disadvantage of Roman Blinds is that fabrics need to be washed.  That can be quite a little exercise when you have to take the blind down and then re-install. Invariably you will need the assistance of a professional curtain installer. Other disadvantages – when the eyelets perish and break – the cording system is affected.  You will find you have a wobbly and lopsided blind when drawn up.

Naturally as a decorator you work with the likes and dislikes of your client, but I have to admit that I have moved away from the Roman Blind window treatment. My preference now – “less fuss is best”.

Next time we will look at the rest of the wide variety of blinds as window treatments…

Images via:
Sheer Curtains: left  &  right
Bathroom Blinds: here
DIY Roman Blind: here
Curtain Pole: left  &  right
Funky Roman Blinds: here
Sheer Roman Blinds: here
  

Window Treatments 101 – A Quick History

Curtains and blinds are something that each one of us has grown up with and become very commonplace. Growing up the last thing you would pay any attention to would be those pieces of fabric hanging on either side of all the windows. That is mom’s job. That is until the day comes when you have your own space and the windows need to be covered. For some looking at ways of treating a window and selecting curtains could be somewhat of a daunting thought – what patterns, what style, what pole, what this and what that? Fortunately, with the “off the shelf” facilities offered by many homeware stores, you can now purchase somewhat trendy curtains and blinds as readymade.  Nevertheless, the selection is very small and since it has to appeal to a much wider market, function over-rules form. Coming out of the drive to keep the costs as low as possible, there is a serious lack of creativity in terms of pattern and style with these ready-mades.

Together with fabrics, window treatments are among our specialist services. Over the next few weeks, the Décor Diva will touch on various aspects of how to treat your window, fleshing it out so that others may be inspired to take a fresh view of curtains and blinds.

Today in order for us to appreciate curtains and their context in history and without getting into a long history lesson, we could just glance back to catch a glimpse of their origins.

Did you know that the first curtains were referred to as “drapery”? In the homes of the working class, average Joe, these drapes were made with the sole purpose of being functional – the main function was to act as an insulation factor to keep the cold from penetrating the room. Naturally covering the window to block out the light was another function, which has never changed over time. At the top of a thick plain length of cotton fabric a pocket was sewn, into which a thin metal pole was inserted. This pole and drape was attached onto the wall over the window with brackets of a sort. Nothing decorative about these drapes!

Houses that were inhabited by the working class folk were mainly one big room. A communal room if you will – shared by all, in which every household activity was performed – the kitchen, dining and bedroom all thrown into this one space. To partition the bedroom from the dining & kitchen a length of draped fabric on the metal pole was suspended from the ceiling. The first internal wall I guess.

I can remember seeing old western movies which depicted this scene above and wondering how on earth they could live with just a piece of fabric separating the two spaces – for one thing what do you do about that person that snores? Shoving him into the next room ain’t gonna help one bit.

Naturally, in the homes of the more affluent and wealthy, windows were treated for the same functional reasons (keep out that chilly draft) but the decorative elements were included. Fabrics made of outstanding patterns, heavy and elaborate textured fabrics such as velvets and silk were decoratively draped to enhance the window opening and add depth into their rather large rooms.

From the late 16th century through to the early 19th century, the variety of ways in which to decorate a window opening was limited to those who could afford it. The fashionable windows treatments were:

  • Fabric covered hardboard pelmets, trimmed on the bottom edge with braids and fringes.
  • “Swags and Tails”. The fabric of the “swag” being draped over the top of the opening on a board mounted to the wall, pulled in a rouched fashion. On either side, it was finished with a tailored “tail” in same or contrasting fabric.
  • The “Austrian” blind, which was a width of fabric, with eyelets and string sewn up the back, that when pulled up caused the fabric to “balloon”.
  • The Roman Blind – still very popular today.
  • Symmetrical curtains made their debut often with a “gathered valance” to the top of the window opening.  This valance is a separate and very small gathered curtain, invariably used to “hide” the curtain rail.

Time for a speedy advance into the 20th century. The middle class had emerged making it possible for the working class to afford to decorate their windows as well. Down the line, the Industrial Revolution facilitated the evolution of manufacture for the mass market. Beautiful fabrics were no longer only affordable by the wealthy. Your working class now had the fabrics with which to adopt and adapt those same window treatments of the wealthy. In the 1950’s the window treatments saw no innovations, what with the use of straight, covered pelmets and simple rails being commonplace.

 By the time the 80’s hit us, there was a revival of all those elaborate window treatments, but with a distinct “county flavour” to it. It was the handwriting of designers such as Laura Ashley in the UK and Europe, with our own – wait for it – Biggie Best here in South Africa.

Wherever you looked the homes of middle class folk had windows with dust collecting Austrian blinds, gathered valances and fabric-covered pelmets, with fabric tiebacks – even frilled.

Thank goodness, the European minimalism style stepped in and saved the day by simplifying window treatments.

I feel that through the ages the decorative treatment of window openings has undergone a process that has brought it to a balanced maturity – not too elaborate or minimalistic. Rather the styles applied to windows are just that “stylized”.

Every good story ends like this…

TO BE CONTINUED…keep your eyes peeled for new curtain & blind definitions to our Décor Dictionary in the near future.

Images 1-7 sourced from New York Public Library: here

Images 8 & 9 sourced from Artchive: here

Last image sourced from: here