( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The modern window, with its huge panes of glass and simple framework, makes an insistent demand for curtains. Without curtains windows of this kind give a blank, staring appearance to the room and also a sense of insecurity in having so many holes in the walls. The beautiful windows of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Italy, England and France, give no such feeling of incompleteness, for their well-carved frames, and over-windows, and their small panes of glass, were important parts of the decorative scheme. Windows and doors were more than mere openings in those days, but things have changed, and the hard lines of our perfectly useful windows get on our nerves if we do not soften them with drapery. In that hope-less time in the last century called " Early Victorian," when black walnut reigned supreme, the curtains were as terrifying as the curves of the furniture and the colors of the carpets. Luckily most of us know only from pictures what that time was, but we all have seen enough remnants of its past glories to be thankful for modern ways and days. The over-draped, stuffy, upholstered nightmares have entirely disappeared, and in their place have come curtains of a high standard of beauty and practicality — simple, appropriate, and serving the ends they were intended for.
The effect of curtains must be taken into account from both the outside and the inside of the house. The outside view should show a general similarity of appearance in the windows of each story, in the manner of hanging the curtains and also of material. The shades throughout the house should be of the same color, and if a different color is needed inside for the sake of the color scheme, either two shades should be used or they should be the double-faced kind. Shades should also be kept drawn down to the same line, or else be rolled up out of sight, for there is nothing that gives a more ill-kept look to a house than having the shades and curtains at any haphazard height or angle.
And now to " return to our muttons." The average window needs two sets of curtains and a shade. Sometimes a thin net or lace curtain, a " bonne femme," is hung close to the glass, but this is usual only in cities where privacy has to be maintained by main force, or where the curtains of a floor differ greatly. Thin curtains in combination with side curtains of some thicker material are most often used.
Curtains either make or mar a room, and they should be carefully planned to make it a perfect whole. They must be so convincingly right that one only thinks at first how restful and pleasant and charming the whole room is; the details come later. When curtains stand out and astound one, they are wrong. It is not upholstery one is trying to display, but to make a perfect background for one's furniture, one's pictures and one's friends.
There are so many materials to choose from that all tastes and purses can be suited; nets, thin silk and gauzes; scrims and batistes; cotton and silk crepes, muslin or dotted Swiss, cheesecloth, soleil cloth, madras, and a host of other fascinating fabrics which may be used in any room of the house. The ready-made curtains are also charming. There are muslin curtains with applique borders cut from flowered cretonne; sometimes the cretonne is applique on net which is let into the curtain with a four-inch hem at the bottom and sides. A simpler style has a band of flowered muslin sewed on the white muslin, or used as a ruffle. It is also added to the valance. There are many kinds of net and lace curtains ready for use that will harmonize with any kind of room. Some of the expensive ones are really beautiful examples of needlecraft, with lace medallions and insertions and embroidery stitches.
When it comes to the question of side curtains the supply to choose from is almost unlimited, and this great supply forms the bog in which so many are lost. A thing may be beautiful in itself and yet cause woe and havoc in an other-wise charming room. There are linens of all prices, and cretonnes, both the inexpensive kind and the wonderful shadow ones; there are silks and velvets and velours, aurora cloth, cotton crepe and arras cloth, and a thousand other beautiful stuffs that are cheap or medium-priced or expensive, whose names only the shopman knows, but which win our admiration from afar. The curtains for a country house are usually of less valuable materials than those for a town house, and this is as it should be, for winter life is usually more formal than summer life. Nothing can be prettier, however, for a country house than cretonne. It is fresh and dainty and gives a cool and delightful appearance to a room. Among the many designs there are some for every style of decoration.
The height and size of a room must be taken into account in hanging curtains, for with their aid, and also that of wall-paper, we can often change a room of bad proportions to one of seemingly good ones. If a room is very low, a stripe more or less marked in the design, and the curtains straight to the floor, will make it seem higher. A high room may have the curtains reach only to the sills with a valance across the top. This style may be used in a fairly low room if the curtain material is chosen with discretion and is not of a marked design. If the windows are narrow they can be made to seem wider by having the rod for the side curtains extend about eight inches on each side of the window, and the curtain cover the frame and a part of the wall. This leaves all the window for light and air. A valance connecting the side curtains and covering the top of the net curtains will also make the window seem broader. A group of three windows can be treated as one by using only, one pair of side curtains with a connecting ruffle, and a pair of net curtains at each window. Curtains may hang in straight lines or be simply looped back, but fancy festooning is not permissible. There is another attractive method of dividing the curtains in halves, the upper sections to hang so they just cover the brass rod for the lower sections, which are pushed back at the sides. These lower sections may have the rod on which they are run fastened to the window-sash if one wishes. They will then go up with the window and of course keep clean much longer, but to my mind it is not so alluring as a gently blowing curtain on a hot day. I have seen a whole house curtained most charmingly in this manner, with curtains of unbleached muslin edged with a narrow little ruffle. They hung close to the glass and reached just to the sill with the lower part pushed back at the sides. The outside view was most attractive, and the inside curtains varied according to the needs of each room.
Casement windows should have the muslin curtains drawn back with a cord or a muslin band, and the side curtains should hang straight, with a little top ruffle; if' the windows open into the room the curtains may be hung on the frames. The muslin curtains may be left out entirely if one wishes. Net curtains on French doors should be run on small brass rods at top and bottom, and the heavy curtains that are drawn together at night for privacy's sake should be so hung that they will not interfere with the opening of the door. There should be plenty of room under all ruffles or shaped valances where the curtains are to be drawn to allow for easy working of the cords, otherwise tempers are liable to be suddenly lost.
All windows over eighteen inches wide need two curtains, and the average allowance of fullness is at least twice the width of the window for net and any very soft material, while once and a half is usually enough for material with more body. Great care must be taken to measure curtains correctly and have them cut evenly. It is also a good plan to allow for extra length, which can be folded into the top hem and will not show, but will allow for shrinking.
Stenciling can be very attractively used for curtains and portieres for country houses. Cheesecloth, scrim, aurora cloth, pongee, linen, and velours, are a few of the materials that can be used. The design and kind used in a room should be chosen with due regard to its suitability. A Louis XVI room could not possibly have arras cloth used in it, while it would be charming and appropriate in a modern bungalow. Arras cloth with an applique design of linen couched on it makes beautiful curtains and portieres to go with the Mission or Craftsman furniture.
There is an old farmhouse on Long Island that has been made over into a most delightful country house, and the furnishing throughout is consistent and charming. The curtains are reproductions of old designs in chintz and cretonne. The living-room, with its white paneling to the ceiling, its wide fireplace, old mahogany furniture, and curtains gay with parrots and flowers, hanging over cool white muslin, is a room to conjure with.
In town houses the curtains and hangings must also harmonize with the style of furnishing. When the windows are hung with soft colored brocade, the portieres are usually beautiful tapestry or rich toned velvets, and care is always taken to have the balance of color kept and the color values correct. There are silks and damasks and velvets, and many lesser stuffs, made for all the period styles, whether carried out simply or elaborately, and it is the art of getting the suitable ones for the different rooms which gives the air of harmony, beauty, and restfulness, for which the word home stands.
In hanging these more formal curtains the shaped valance is usually used with the curtains hanging straight at the sides of the window, so they can be drawn together at night. The cords and pulleys should always be in perfect working order. Another method is to have the curtains simply parted in the center, either with a valance or without, and drawn back at the sides with heavy cords and tassels, or bands of the stuff. If a draped effect is desired great care must be taken not to have it too elaborate.
If the walls of a room are plain in color one may have either plain or figured hangings, but if the wall covering is figured it gives a feeling of unrest if the curtains are also figured. Sometimes one sees bedrooms and small boudoirs where the walls and curtains show the same design, but it must be done with skill, or disaster is sure to follow.
Plain casement cloth or the different " Sunfast " fabrics are attractive with plain or figured papers, especially in bed-rooms of country houses.
If one has to live in the town house through the summer do not make the fatal mistake of taking down the curtains and living in bare discomfort during the hot season. If the curtains are too handsome to be kept up, buy a second set of inexpensive ones that can be washed without injury. It is better that they should stop the dust, and then go into the tub, than that one's lungs should collect it all. Curtains are useful as well as ornamental, and a house without them is as dreary as breakfast without coffee.