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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Textiles For Your Home

( Originally Published 1935 )

Historical Background. It is probable that the earliest form of weaving was the interlacing of reeds for shelter, which was followed by basket weaving. Later, fibers were woven into cloth which could be substituted for the pelts worn by early man. Archaeologists have discovered evidences of spinning and weaving in the very oldest of the homes of prehistoric man. Among the ruins of the Swiss Lake Dwellers of the Stone Age were found fabrics of linen and wool, some of them decorated with designs of human figures. During the Bronze Age, spindles, looms, and needles almost like those used by some primitive tribes today were developed.

The earliest of ancient history reveals the great skill of the East in spinning, weaving, dyeing, and ornamenting fabrics of wool, flax, cotton, and silk. The whole process of textile making is depicted on the walls of the ruins of Thebes, Babylon, and Nineveh. Ancient Egyptian mummy cloths and Coptic textiles are among the finest in existence. The knowledge of finer spinning and weaving spread westward from the East. Greece and Italy taught Spain, France, and Flanders; from them Germany learned, and in turn taught England and Scandinavia.

In America ancient Peruvians wove cloth of fine conventional design and of exquisite colors which have lasted at least a thousand years. In the homes of the ancient Cliff Dwellers of the southwestern United States simple textiles have been discovered. The Navajos have been the outstanding weavers among the American Indians. They work in the same way as the hand weavers in the Orient, and like all the primitive weavers since the craft began.

Expressiveness in Textiles.   The most interesting textiles are those that express definite ideas, for example:

Oriental rugs often express dignity.

Chintzes and calicoes express quaintness.

American Indian rugs express primitiveness.

A textile that has unity expresses one definite idea in its pattern, color, and texture. When all three factors fuse to give an effect, it is enhanced and dramatized, and the result is a distinctive textile.

Pattern in Textiles.    Beauty that grows out of the manner of weaving, without the addition of applied pattern or color, should be appreciated as the most natural type of beauty in textiles. A textile is first of all warp and woof, so whatever pattern is used should have a cloth-like look. A printed textile should look printed without destruction of its textile quality. Therefore printed patterns with hard, precise, tin-like edges should be avoided. As has been said before, any pattern should suit the material upon which it is to be placed and the process by which it is to be executed. Distinctive textiles are usually fine examples of their own techniques.

Texture of Textiles. Texture is the most significant quality of textiles. More than anything else it determines their character. Texture, weight, pliability, or filminess are due to:

1. The kind of fiber used, as silk, wool, cotton, linen.

2. The spinning of the thread, as loose, uneven, etc.

3. The method of weaving, as tabby, diagonal, pile, etc.

4. The method of decoration (if any), as woven, printed, embroidered, dyed.


1. Tabby weave. Over one, under one, like darning. Used in tapestry weave. Found in voiles, taffetas, Navajo blankets, Kiz Kilims, etc.

2. Double weave. A variation of tabby weaving. Two sets of warp and woof threads, pattern interlocks the two sets of weaving. Dark-andlight of front reversed on back. Found in Peruvian and Appalachian Mountain weaving.

3. Diagonal weave. Over two, under one, over two, under one. Found in twills, serges, satins, etc. Used for contrast with tabby weave, as in damask.

4. Basketweave. Over two, under two. Found in monk's cloth. (Many complex and beautiful weaves are elaborations and combinations of these four.)

5. Brocade weave. Regular tabby weaving into which are introduced at intervals loosely spun threads heavier and fluffier than the warp and woof. This lies on top and forms pattern.

6. Crepe weaves. Warp and woof threads twisted greatly.

7. Pile weave. Succession of knots tied around warp threads and held in place by woof. The ends of knots stand up giving thickness of pile. Found in Oriental rugs, some domestic rugs, and with variation in velvets and velours.


Curtains may be regarded from two points of view, as background, or as decorative notes.

Curtains as Backgrounds. When curtains are treated as a part of the background they are often very much like the wall in value and in color. It is well to treat the curtains of a room as background under the following conditions:

1. If the room is small.

2. If the room already has enough movement and contrast, such as patterned floor covering or patterned wall paper.

3. If the windows are badly proportioned, so that attention ought not to be called to them.

4. If a particularly restful effect is desired.

5. If some particularly fine object is to be emphasized in the room.

6. If there are a great many windows so that many curtains are necessary.

Curtains as Decorative Notes. The following conditions would make it desirable to treat the curtains of a room as decorative notes rather than as a mere background:

1. If the room is so large that the length of wall is monotonous and needs to be broken.

2. If the room is too dull in color.

3. If the room lacks movement, as it may when it has plain walls and a plain carpet.

4. If an effect of youth, gayety, or activity is desired.

5. If there is little or no money to expend for pictures or accessories.

6. If emphasis is needed to balance something across the room, such as a fireplace.

7. If the other furnishings are unattractive.

Purposes of Curtains.   The purposes of a window are to give light, air, and view. Any curtains that interfere with these purposes do not function properly. Curtains are intended to:

1. Give privacy.

2. Regulate the light.

3. Soften the severe effect of the wood trim.

4. Provide a decorative note.

5. Shut out an ugly sight.

6. Correct bad proportions in windows or walls.


Roller shades.

Venetian blinds (wood).

Curtains - > Glass curtains (over the glass) or Side curtains (draperies).

Roller Shades. Ordinary roller shades are very practical, but they are usually rather ugly from both the inside and the outside of the house. Many rooms do not need shades, but where they are used, the best way to handle them is to keep them rolled up out of sight, except when they are actually needed for privacy or to modify the light or to keep the room cool. It is not necessary to have all shades drawn half way down the windows, as many women have them. It isn't human to have things so precise, and shows that the owner is thinking too much about the outside appearance of her house to passers-by and neighbors. Women who never uncover the upper halves of their windows might just as well not have windows with upper halves. Really comfortable living implies constant change in the height of the shades to fit one's work, one's mood, and the changing sunlight. It is pleasant for the housewife to be able to see out of the windows while walking here and there between tasks. An interest in the treetops, the sky, some particular bird that is singing, or even the neighbor's callers helps to enrich life. Usually all the shades in a house should be the same color for the sake of its outdoor appearance.

Venetian Blinds. Venetian blinds have been revived lately, and are rightly popular. They function especially well because they admit air and light while giving privacy. They are fairly inconspicuous when painted like the walls or wood trim, as in conventional usage. In the modern and in the Empire styles they are often boldly contrasted with the wall color. They can be used without curtains if the effect is not too severe for the room. Le Corbusier often omits curtains entirely from his modern rooms and uses indoor shutters instead.

Glass Curtains. Sometimes very thin curtains, called glass curtains, are hung next to the window for privacy or to soften the light. They should not be permitted to shut out the view, however. Frequently cream-colored glass curtains are used throughout an entire house so that the effect from the outside is uniform. Glass curtains ordinarily reach to the sill or just over it.

Side Curtains. Side curtains may be opaque enough to take the place of shades when drawn across the window, or they may be fairly transparent. It is now considered to be important to have less curtaining, and more sunshine and air, so one pair of curtains is sufficient for most windows in small homes. The term drapery is disappearing along with the use of voluminous draped curtains.

Curtain Materials. Silks, chiffons, silk gauzes, damasks, embroidered silks, Celanese, and velours are luxurious and soft, and therefore belong in rather fine rooms. Novelty cloth, woolens, printed cottons, and printed linens are desirable in living rooms of the average sort. Marquisette, dotted swiss, nets, casement cloth, chintz, theatrical gauze, voile, calico, gingham, pongee, organdie, and scrim are some of the materials that are used with simple, informal furnishings. Fish net, tarletan, monk's cloth, cheesecloth, osnaburg, unbleached muslin, oilcloth, and most coarse, loosely woven materials are suitable with plain, primitive, or handmade things. The modern textiles with firm, shiny, washable surfaces have the same feeling of sleekness and preciseness as modern furniture. Certain textures are better for cold weather than for warm, so it is desirable to have a separate set of curtains for the living room for winter and for summer. Interesting new curtains of wool are to be seen today, but in certain localities they have to be treated to resist moths.

Color in Curtains. If curtains are not to be decorative features in a room, they are usually cream, beige, ecru, or the color of the walls. White curtains are not desirable unless much white is used elsewhere in the room, as white walls, rugs, or bedspread. Curtains used as decorative features form an important part of the color scheme of a room. Often the curtains contain all the different colors used in a room, thereby helping to unify it. The curtains may be in contrast to the dominating color of the room, they may repeat it, or they may be of an adjacent color.

Light shining through materials can be so beautiful in color that this factor in decoration should not be ignored. Where such effects are possible, curtains should not be lined. For bedrooms two curtains of voile of different colors hung over each other often diffuse a pleasing light. Yellow net curtains give an effect of sunshine streaming through them.

Contour of Curtains. The lines of curtains may vary according to the type of room where they are used. Curtains reaching to the floor express dignity; those that reach to the sill or merely cover the apron are informal. Usually straight rectangular lines are best in curtains as they repeat the lines of the window and of the room. Sometimes curved-leg furniture invites curves in the curtains, but they should be slight. In quaint cottage effects, tie-back curtains look well in spite of the fact that they are neither convenient nor structural in line.

Curtains can change the appearance of poorly proportioned windows. If a window is narrow, opaque curtains can be fastened to a valance that extends over the sides of the top of the window. If a window is too wide the curtain can be set in, showing the woodwork, which should then also show above the curtain. It is usually advisable to let attractive woodwork show, and to cover unattractive wood. A group of several windows may be treated as one unit; but if so, it is often well to cover all the verticals with curtaining. A window that has a curved top may have curved lines in draping the curtains, but the space divisions should be well planned.

Making Curtains. In the small home it is advisable to buy inexpensive curtains, make them at home, and have a new set every other year or so. Having new curtains in a living room is even more satisfying than having new clothes. Those who have only a very small amount of money to spend on freshening up a home can get the most effect per dollar by buying new curtains. There are some good patterns even for ten cents a half yard at the dime stores.

Almost any woman can make her own curtains. A few hints are given here. Curtains shrink from cleaning and from the air condition in the house, so extra length should be cut. All thin curtains should be made once again as wide as the space they are to fill. Hems meant to contain rods should be very loose to allow easy movement. Net curtains should be hemmed by hand, as it is almost impossible to rip out machine stitching from net. An extra half yard of material can be concealed in a curtain by making double hems at the top and bottom. These are valuable if the curtains have to be altered later to fit other windows. The lower edge of linings for curtains should not be sewed to the outer surface; however, comparatively few curtains require lining.

Before buying materials for curtains it is well to secure as large samples of the materials as possible, for trial in the rooms where they are to be used. Sometimes three-yard lengths, or even entire bolts, are submitted for trial. If this is impossible, it is advisable to buy a yard of the material to hang for a few days, until all questions about its suitability have been settled one way or the other.

The Mechanics of the Curtain. All the mechanical means by which the curtain is hung should be concealed. Fancy curtain poles should be avoided because they are nearly always poor in design. In Mediterranean houses curtain rods are allowed to show but are very simple in line. Cranes that swing back are often desirable for side curtains. If it is necessary for rods or poles to show between the curtains, they can be painted to match the wood trim behind them. It is possible, however, to use cornice boards, simple lambrequin boards, or gathered valances to cover the rods, rings, and hooks. The boards can be painted like the wood trim or like the curtains, or covered with paper or cloth, depending on the effect desired. A gathered or pleated ruffle across the top of the curtains is often desirable where the severity of a board is not wanted. Sometimes a double or single frill on the rod connecting the curtains is sufficient to conceal it. When it is being built, a round-topped window should have sufficient space left, behind the wood trim and wall, for a straight curtain rod and straight-topped curtains, as otherwise a curved rod or a curved lambrequin board has to be used. Curtains should be so well hung that only one movement is required to brush them aside for the sake of the sun, air, or view. Pull cords that draw the curtains are a great convenience.


It is often a very good plan to use a wall hanging in a room that needs a large decorated area. If the curtains and wall finish are plain, it is almost essential to have some pattern on the walls. Where pictures might be too small, too expensive, or too permanent, it is well to try a textile. Sometimes a large or important article such as a piano or fireplace at one end of a room makes it necessary to use a large wall hanging at the other end. In a dining room, if the curtains are good in design and color, a length of the same material might be hung on one of the blank walls over a piece of furniture. In studio homes wall hangings are often left unfinished and unlined as they are frankly temporary.

It is necessary to warn amateurs against the ready-made pictorial tapestries in the shops, because they are about as ugly as any wall hanging procurable. On the other hand, India prints and Tapa cloth are very decorative and very inexpensive.


Ready-made wall hangings:

India prints. Javanese batiks. Tapa cloth. India tie-dye. Numdah rugs. Fine Oriental rugs. American Indian rugs. Swedish and Norwegian rugs. Hooked rugs. Oriental embroideries. Paisley shawls and prints. Samplers.

Crewel embroideries. Banners. Ecclesiastical textiles. Bedspreads. Quilts. Coverlets.


Slipcovers originated in the days when living was grimier than it is today, and covers were necessary to protect the upholstery fabrics. They still serve many purposes such as covering upholstery material that is ugly in color or pattern, is worn out, has a severe texture like leather, or disturbs the decorative plan. Slipcovers are useful also in making a pleasant change in the appearance of furniture during the summer.

The material for a slipcover should conform in pattern and texture to the style of the furniture it is to cover. An early American chair should be covered with a material that suggests informality and quaintness such as gingham, calico, or chintz of a small pattern that takes kindly to ruffles. A more modern or a heavier piece of furniture might have a heavy plain, striped, or plaid textile and be finished in a tailored fashion, possibly with knife or box pleating and welting. Definitely period furniture should have covers that express the same idea as the period, if that is possible.

It is a mistake to have more than two slipcovers alike in any one room. A variety of materials that are related in design and color is more interesting.

Any woman can make a slipcover, provided she has patience. The procedure is somewhat as follows: Lay the material over the chair and cut it into approximate lengths roughly, allowing plenty of material. Center the pattern carefully on the back, seat, arms, and sides of the chair, using many pins, and fastening together the pieces of cloth so that the seams come over those of the original covering of the chair. Fit the pieces to the chair, keeping the material smooth, by pinning darts or gathers wherever needed, and leaving plenty of material around the back edges of the seat to allow for the movement of the springs. Mark and cut the opening if one is needed. Then remove the cover from the chair and finish it, preferably by machine.

The easiest method of finishing the slipcover is to stitch it on the right side, then trim the seams evenly about 3 s inch from the stitching and bind with folded tape. Another method is to fit and baste material on the chair wrong side out, stitch the seams 3/8 inch nearer the edge than the basting, and then turn the cover right side out and stitch a French seam. The seam then appears on the right side and looks like welting. The most difficult but the most professional way to finish the cover is to sew welting in the seams. The material is fitted on wrong side out and pinned, then removed from the chair and turned right side out. The welting is inserted by removing a few pins at a time, basting the cord securely in place, and later stitching it. Ready-made cording or welting can be purchased. It is well to buy a bolt of it, with the privilege of returning the amount not needed.


The type of couch cover used depends upon the room where the couch stands. For use in combination study and bedroom the cover must be more reserved in color and darker than for a a couch is rather large, the cover should or it will become the center of interest

bedroom proper. Since not be too prominent in the room.

The material used for couch covers should be heavy enough so that it will not wrinkle easily and should also be pleasant to touch. This last requirement eliminates some American Indian and Kis-Kilem rugs that one might otherwise want to use. In winter a soft, fine, pile rug might be pleasant, but not in summer. Heavy velour, denim, corduroy, monk's cloth, novelty cloth, or other fabrics make good couch covers in rooms where they are appropriate. Plain colors, mixtures, stripes, plaids, or checks are best, because they produce a tailored effect which is especially desirable on a couch. It is often well to use plain cushions with a figured couch cover, or vice versa, so that the amount of material of one kind will not be so large as if all were alike.

Couch covers can easily be made at home. A satisfactory cover can be made by sewing French seams on the outside. A box-like cover that -lust fits the couch is often desirable. If the couch is regularly used as a bed, the cover should be large enough to permit the bedding to be kept on the couch during the day. A deep hem on a couch cover is ordinarily preferable to a pleated ruffle. One length of a wide, very heavy pile material that hangs to the floor on the front and ends of the couch makes a good couch cover without being cut in any way. For a bedroom couch a large India print may serve as a cover with the addition of a plain cotton border if the print is not large enough. Textiles distinctive in design and texture should be sought for use as couch covers.


Bed covers should suit the atmosphere of the rooms where they are used. In Early American rooms there may be handmade covers such as patchwork quilts, candlewick spreads, woven coverlets, or peasant spreads from other countries. India prints, chintz, calico, plaids, or checked materials are also suitable for bed covers in such rooms. Bedspreads are often made from cotton taffeta, upholsterer's sateen, plain English broadcloth, arras cloth, slipcover cloth, colored cotton crepe, or unbleached muslin. A bedroom of very feminine type may have a taffeta or a similarly fine bedspread. For a room shared by a man and a woman, the bedspreads and other textiles should not be too feminine in feeling. The bed cover in a man's room should be heavy and rather dark, such as brown corduroy. Usually the bedspread should be patterned if the carpet is plain.

In a small home, bed covers should not be too good to use freely. If a busy woman wants to lie down for a few minutes' rest without removing her shoes, the spreads should be dark enough to permit this. There should be a folded shawl of harmonious color and pattern on the bed for use by anyone who lies down during the day.


Although some table tops are so beautiful that they should not be covered, most tables and case furniture need a bit of fabric to lessen the severity of the plain wood and to add color and pattern to the room. These pieces should be selected with care, because there is a chance for variety and beauty in them, although in many homes they are commonplace. Among the poorest are the hand-embroidered ones with foolish little sprays of natural flowers carelessly sprinkled around on them. Welldesigned white mats should be dyed if necessary to fit the color scheme where they are used.

In elaborate homes all the mats should agree in their fine quality, but should have variety. Chinese embroidery appearing on several tables and cabinets in a room produces a monotonous effect. Old brocades, damasks, old velvets, and rare embroideries are suitable for fine traditional rooms. A small, fine Oriental rug might be placed on a large table in the winter time. It is difficult to find lace suitable to use on wood, because there is little textural relation between lace and wood; however, the heavier laces with solid parts and angular designs are often used.

For the table tops in a rustic home, woven grass mats, felt mats, or muslin squares decorated with bold designs in wax crayon are all in the right spirit. In a simple cottage small braided mats, hooked mats, hand-woven mats, or appliques might be used. Even pieces of cardboard that have been beautifully decorated with poster paint are usable on table tops. Three or four overlapping sheets of colored papers in adjacent colors are interesting to use on tops of furniture for a few days.

On a table it is possible to use a cover slightly smaller than the table top, or a runner, or some small mats under the articles on the table. A runner may be placed on an upright piano, so that it hangs over the ends about six inches. A grand piano needs no fabric on it. Placing a textile askew on a piece of furniture is without reason because it violates structural lines.

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