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Drapes to Shades to Blinds : The History of Window Treatments

The birth of window coverings

When humans learned to build homes for themselves, apertures and openings in walls and ceilings to allow light and a view of their surroundings, must have must have been construed as an obvious necessity for safety and comfort. Add to this the need to enjoy or prevent the free movement of air according to seasonal requirements, and you can imagine the circumstances under which the concept of the curtain was born.

These fundamental requirements that prompted human beings to install door and window coverings have remained unchanged through the ages. We can easily imagine the progression from makeshift arrangements to the more sophisticated and practical ideas that were introduced for the purpose. Until about a 150 years ago curtains were the de-facto standard for door and window coverings of homes. Initially natural material like fiber, wood, bamboo, reed, grass, shell and hide, obtainable in the vicinity, was used, and the designs were simple. Natural material is still widely used for doors and natural window coverings.

Curtains, more than all other types of window coverings have evolved to become the primary focal points of interior decor. They are simple in construction, being lengths of cloth hemmed along the edges. Each independent unit is referred to as a panel. The top hem of a panel, also called the heading, gives a definition to the overall look of the arrangement – whether it casual or formal. The heading also contains the controlling components providing the functionality that allows the panel to move and remain suspended from its holding rod. These controlling components could be hooks, rod pockets – which are channels incorporated into the heading through which the rod is inserted. Rod pockets give curtains the gathered effect suiting decor that require a casual effect. For a more formal decor requirement, the headings can be pleated and operated with drapery hooks or rings. For a relaxed, laid-back effect tab-top headings can be used. Tab tops are straps, usually of cloth, which are stitched onto the heading to suspend the curtain. To adapt tab tops to give a feminine touch, they could be tie-tops.

Sheer curtains are ideal for windows with a view or in rooms without much natural light. They are loosely woven and lacey. As the name suggests, they are light-weight and translucent. Their principal function is to provide covering without hindering the view. They allow almost 80% of natural light and suit seasons of warm weather. Sheer curtains do not have any thermal insulation properties. When thermal insulation is necessary, thermal or blackout curtains can be used. Blackout curtains are tightly woven and multi-layered. They block out light, retain warm internal air during winter and keep out the warm outdoor air of mid-summer. Very often home decorators feel that heavy curtains can do with adornment and use valances to cover the upper portion of curtains. Valances can be done up in a variety of colors and patterns to spruce up even the most unassuming curtain panels. We hear of rod pocket valances, tab top valances, back tab valences and so on …….a valance for every decorative idea.

To have high levels of light absorption and heat insulation in a curtain, linings are used. A lined curtain has uncoated fabric in the front so that the curtain look and feel remain intact – this combination now becomes a drape by definition. A separately coated fabric is attached at the rear of curtains to provide the isolative qualities. The coated fabric is typically referred to as a lining. Almost every fabric material can be converted into a curtain. Calico, damask, gingham, jacquard, lace, linen, satin…the list goes on.

Curtains are generally controlled physically. Tie-backs are used to hold them back. Though a very simple and straightforward accessory for drapery, tie-backs have embellishment value too, and can pronounce the decorative aspects of drapery panels. Tie-backs can be of cloth, cord, Velcro or even metal. Another method used to control curtains is with a draw pull that is a rod made of wood, plastic or metal. Roller shades can be used for automation.

Unfortunately, the unique decor enhancing property of a curtain – its panel length continuity, which covers an entire opening, is also a minor drawback because curtains become dust and ultraviolet ray traps. When in the path of direct sunlight, they fade fast. They have to be lined to provide protection. Drapery has to be maintained through monthly or weekly vacuuming and will have to be dry-cleaned when dirty. They tend to get dirty in homes with children because children use them as props for concealment during playtime and often as napkins too. Always follow the supplier’s recommendations for curtain care. Curtains are made from a variety of material, each requiring its own procedure and detergents.

With such an unbroken history as a pivotal window dressing definition, it is not surprising that curtains are available in innumerable ranges of style and color. Get into any website dealing with window treatment like, for example, and browse through the drapery pull down to get an idea about what’s on offer to a potential buyer. Spring is in the air. Very attractive discounts are being offered. Elegant curtains are up for grabs. Grab them; curtains will always be in fashion.

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