Q&A with Phoebe Clive from Tinsmiths
Selecting the right type of window treatment is even more challenging than finding the right frame for a painting. Phoebe Clive from Tinsmiths shares her know-how on curtains and blinds…
Q. Curtains or Blinds?
A. The first thing to consider is how is the room used? Blinds are more suitable for functional spaces like bathrooms and kitchens, whereas spaces which require a warmer, more luxuriant feel need curtains. The overall decor should be looked at: simple roller blinds can suit a spare ‘industrial’ style interior, whereas curtains are more suitable for a traditional English country house look. There are some less obvious practical considerations. Contemporary rooms with a lot of ‘hard’ surfaces like glass, stone or concrete can have very poor acoustic quality. In these spaces curtains provide a greater ‘soft’ surface area to stop sound bouncing around and can greatly improve the acoustics.
Q. What types of curtain headings are there?
A. Over recent years pelmets have gone out of fashion and this has placed a greater emphasis on the various styles of curtain headings. The curtain heading is essentially the way the fullness of the curtain is distributed along the width of the curtain pole or track. It allows for both the mechanics of how the curtains draw and the overall style of the curtains.
The two most widely recognized are ‘pencil pleats’ and ‘triple pleats’. Pencil pleats have a soft, informal look, making them a popular choice for bedrooms and cottage interiors. They are formed using a tape at the top of the curtain with the strings drawn up to provide a neat row of gathers when the curtain is hung. The Tinsmiths’ workroom also make pencil pleats by hand for some customers; although laborious, this definitely adds something quite special to the overall look of the curtains. Triple pleats (sometimes called pinch pleats) have a smart finish. They ‘stack back’ in a tailored manner which makes this an ideal heading for formal rooms. Forming triple pleats by hand ensures a much better finish than the various tape options.
Over recent years, Tinsmiths has also created some headings particularly suited to some of our favourite fabrics. Our hand-made ‘cartridge pleats’ have very little fullness, which allows the illustrative prints by St. Jude’s Fabrics to take centre stage. The ‘mid-century’ nature of these designs is also more suited to this spare making-up style.
Washed linens or fabrics which are supple and floppy and have a wonderful drape are well suited to a soft flat pleat, with slightly greater fullness than a cartridge pleat. Softly flattened, there is no buckram (stiffening) in the heading, which allows for a luxuriant drape.
Q. Poles or Tracks?
A. In a well-proportioned period house with large rooms and high ceilings wood or brass poles (between 19-35mm diameter) look excellent. Where pelmets are not desirable, poles are the obvious choice. For many other properties, without grand proportions and with perhaps more quirky window placement, more thought is required.
As we are based in Herefordshire, we have many customers with barn conversions or farm cottages and we often recommend our 16mm wrought iron poles which sit very happily in this type of property, where ceilings can be low and furnishings are country style.
Over the last couple of years we have had many customers who have had wide expanses of glass incorporated into a new build or remodelling scheme, often with bi-fold doors. Whilst the initial thought has been not to curtain these, this often proves harder to live with than anticipated. Here the channel pole system works very well. This is essentially a track within a pole which give you the look of a pole but the function of a track, enabling you to have very long lengths with brackets at the intervals required (ordinary curtain poles have a maximum length of 3m). Whilst sheers are often specified for these spaces, these channel pole systems are sturdy enough for very heavy curtains and can also be an excellent solution for bay windows.
Q. Should curtains be interlined and what are the lining options?
A. Curtains should, in most circumstances, be at the very least lined. The lining will protect the face cloth from UV damage, help to reduce fading and prolong the life of the curtains. The addition of an interlining will provide thermal insulation and gives the curtains a wonderful, heavy drape.
Blackout lining is much softer than it used to be. It does black out light very effectively and provides some insulation; however, drape can be compromised. Using interlining with blackout lining improves the drape but the curtain can become bulky and extremely heavy. In the Tinsmiths‘ workroom we do not use ‘bonded’ linings or interlinings which we feel compromise drape.
Coloured linings can fade rather disappointingly. The darker the colour of a lining, the more evident any fading will be.
Q. How can we avoid the effects of light damage to curtains and furniture?
A. Using a lining and interlining will help to reduce fading. However, the ‘leading edges’ remain vulnerable. If you have a very sunny window you need to consider the choice of fabric very carefully. We would not recommend silk (light rots silk as well as fading colour) and would discourage strong flat colours which tend to make any fading obvious. Taking the curtains down every year and swapping the side from which they hang will prevent one edge becoming obviously more faded than the rest of the curtain.
A Holland blind or roller blind in a semi-sheer fabric behind the curtains can help to reduce the damage done by strong sunlight. In addition to this, we often specify anti-fading UV window films which are extremely effective, whilst being very discreet. Although an extra cost, either blinds or film will help to protect the investment made in curtains, carpets, furniture and artwork, which can all suffer from light damage.
Q. When are ‘extra wide’ fabrics a better option than standard width?
A. An extra-wide fabric is the ideal choice when selecting a sheer for a wide window. Made from an unlined, lightweight fabric, sheers do not look great with width joins. Tinsmiths has two 100% linen sheers, Padstow and Helford, which are 330cm wide and have a hem weight sewn into one selvedge. They can therefore be used for any window with a drop less than 320cm in a continuous piece for a smart finish. Extra wide fabrics can also be the thrifty choice when vast metreage is required.
Q. What are the merits of different blind styles?
A. I am a fan of roller blinds. A sheer roller blind behind curtains provides a discreet sun screen on bright days. Tinsmiths make roller blinds in virtually any fabric. Some of the bolder prints look stunning in otherwise neutral kitchens and bathrooms. Because they pull up to just the roll size, roller blinds allow maximum light to enter a room.
A Roman blind dresses a window and has a less utilitarian feel than a roller blind, but does cut down on light. When a Roman blind is pulled up, the top measures approximately 20cm in depth, which can make the room feel significantly darker, especially across a wide shallow window.
In our own workroom we use a lining and include blackout thermal interlining in Roman blinds as standard, which makes a more substantial blind that folds neatly and provides good thermal gain as well. Our Roman blinds also have the rod pockets sewn into the lining so there are no sewing lines on the blind face or unattractive tapes on the back of the blind.
If you live in a period property and you have shutters, lucky you! Get them refurbished so that they work well and use them. I am surprised at how often I am asked to measure up for blinds when windows have shutters in the casements, although they may need some love and attention to get them functioning again.
For further practical advice on their bespoke curtains and blinds, see tinsmiths-made-to-measure.co.uk