Valancing Act

Readers,

What did it take to go from this:

A very sad valance accompanying spindly mini-blinds in the kitchen of our 1958 house when we bought it.

To this:

The sad valance is gone, thankfully–but what window treatment would be best?  Not a lace cafe curtain, that’s for sure.

To this?

Got a minute?  I’ll tell you.

I’m a fabric person, so I wasn’t thrilled to conclude that the best window treatment for our kitchen was a blind. Not floor-length draperies (obviously), or little cafe curtains, which would leave too much hard, dark, shiny window glass exposed before sunrise and after sunset when days are short.

No, for what we wanted–to be able to watch the passing neighborhood scene or shut it out, according to inclination–a blind was just the thing. Back in February I called the blind and curtain company Smith & Noble to send a designer over. She walked me through the whole process of choosing the widths and colors of slats and twill tape, did the measuring and the ordering, and in a couple of weeks our blind was installed.  It looked and worked great.

I lived with the blind very happily, but it wasn’t long before I returned to the matter of adding more colors, patterns, and shapes by way of fabric into the view of our kitchen window wall.  I knew which fabric I wanted to use, too: a printed cotton from the legendary French fabric producer Souleiado.If you have ever seen Pierre Deux’s French Country: A Style and Source Book you may recall the gorgeous fabrics chapter showcasing Souleiado.

My well-thumbed copy, which I bought in 1985.

I had found this faded but still vibrant Provencal print at my favorite store in the world, Grandview Mercantile (right here in Columbus, Ohio), covering a little homemade comforter. I was immediately taken by the unusual combination of mustardy yellow, spicy brown, and vivid turquoise balanced by a terracotta pink. These weren’t conventionally pretty colors, but I found them arresting. I bought the little comforter for $35.

Months later, I took out my seam ripper and carefully undid the stitching of the comforter. That’s when I discovered this enchanting pattern was made by Souleiado. That was as exciting for me as it would be for someone else discovering that a lamp picked up at a garage sale was made by Tiffany.

I wanted to use this fabric where I could enjoy it every day, but I didn’t want to ruin it. That was a quandary so familiar to me as a clothing sewer: longing to use a fabric but fearing cutting into it before being certain the fit and the style of the garment were right.

How could I get to the point of being brave enough to cut into my precious, perhaps irreplaceable, fabric?

I thought, okay–I’ll just have to do a lot of mockups. Instead of thinking I would never know enough to be able to cut into my fabric, I thought about how many easy, cheap or free, reversible experiments I could run.

How about tracing the outlines of the kitchen window wall from a photo? After I did, I thought, “Everything but the faucet is a right angle! I want to mix in some curves!”

Here’s the photo…

…and here’s the tracing. It was when I traced the basic outlines of the wall that I noticed they were all right angles. How about adding some curves to this view?

Paper is cheap. How about testing shapes and sizes of valances in paper?

Better yet, how about color-photocopying my fabric at our local library for 50 cents a sheet? Tape the pages together and hang them to get a sense of the impact of the colors and patterns mixed with the existing colors and patterns on the window wall?

I also thought to try finding more of this fabric and set up a daily search on the word “Souleiado” on eBay. After a couple of months, a three-yard piece turned up, in perfect condition–a very lucky find.

I set up a Pinterest board to collect valance and cornice pictures. (I mostly found designs I didn‘t want.)

I used a scrap of the furring strip to balance the staple gun. Jack held the mount steady while I stapled down the Velcro.

I wanted a valance I knew could be machine-washed if it got dusty and dull-looking. That definitely meant I had to create my own construction plan to guarantee washability. But the instructions for the Zigzag Pelmet/Valance from the book Curtains and Blinds by Lucinda Ganderton and Ali Watkinson turned out to be very helpful.

I had two main questions to answer about the shape of this valance: the depth, and the bottom edge. I studied pictures to get a sense of what looked proportionate–not skimpy, and not like a hat that’s too big for its wearer. Then I tried paper mockups.

The mount was attached to the wall with angle irons.

I realized after trying out some curves in paper mockups that determining the right size is not as easy as it seems.   It was only after studying the print for awhile that I noticed the unbroken lengthwise curve that supplied the obvious shape of the border. I cut my photocopy along the curve–another cheap, easy, risk-free test–and had my answer.

On the taped-together photocopies I cut along the curve in the print. Would this curve make a nice border? Yes.

A closeup of the mount

The lining for the valance was another question. It had to be machine-washable and the right weight and drape. In my stash was a white cotton flannel sheet I had been saving for interlining coats that turned out to work very well.

All during this project I wished I could get a few minutes’ input from a designer for aesthetic guidance and from a window furnishings maker about construction techniques. That would have boosted my confidence and saved me time.

My idea of using separate pieces of Velcro for the returns helped to create crisp turns around the corners.

Instead, I dithered about the size and shape of the valance, questioned the completeness and accuracy of the instructions I was more or less following, and worried about drilling holes in the wall in addition to worrying about chopping into my fabric.

I had a lengthy conversation with the hardware store clerk about the right size of angle irons and wall anchors to buy as well as the dimensions of the furring strip for the valance mount.

The instructions I used did not call for pressing in a crease at the turns. A crease gave a much better look than the original floppy ends.

In the absence of professional advice I did learn a lot along the way, and I applied knowledge from curtain- and garment-making to create a pretty nicely finished, proportionate–machine-washable, even!–valance from a beautiful fabric.

Monday afternoon I finished the stitching and pressing, and Jack installed the valance on its Velcro’ed mount.

The lining can be glimpsed from the front, so I’m glad the flannel I used didn’t have a cute print!

What works, what doesn’t?

What works is, I’m satisfied with the construction.  With my level of knowledge as a home sewer of mostly garments, I don’t think I could have done better.

What doesn’t work? The best way I can put it is, I think this burst of color, shape and pattern will work better when the eye can travel around the room and pick up on other bursts of colors, shapes, and patterns that will set up an intriguing rhythm.

Putting objects in a room is just the first step. Creating relationships among the objects is where a lot of the fun is going to be. I have more of this beautiful print and am thinking about how I can use it to delight the eye.

A few of my favorite things

Field Trip: American Craft Council Library, American Fabrics

Readers,

Last summer I discovered the most wonderful old trade journal, and I’ve been wanting to go back and look at it ever since. It’s called American Fabrics. Have you heard of it?

An advertisement from a woolens manufacturer--with real swatches.

An advertisement from a woolens manufacturer–with real swatches.

Well, I hadn’t till I was doing research last year for “Sewing Destination: Twin Cities,” which came out in the February-March 2014 issue of Threads magazine. That article was a roundup of places and events in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota of interest to lovers of sewing and fashion.

Detail of an advertisement for Sunbak: rayon satin backed with wool.

Detail of an advertisement for Sunbak: rayon satin backed with wool.

I had put the American Craft Council library on my list of places to check out because, having been a librarian myself for 22 years, I knew there had to be wonderful resources begging to be better known and used–things that may never, ever get digitized–that sewers and fashion lovers would be thrilled to learn about.

After the movie star glamour of the satin robe...

After the movie star glamour of the satin robe…

When librarian Jessica Shaykett showed me the complete set of American Fabrics (later titled American Fabrics and Fashions), published from 1947 to 1986, I knew my search was over. I was so glad Threads let me include this fascinating time capsule in my article.

...is a style that's as sleek and modern as anything you'll see today.

…is a style that’s as sleek and modern as anything you’ll see today. (Note the fabric swatch at the top.)

Earlier this week I finally made my return visit to this library, which is open to the public, to browse the bound volumes and give readers a taste of American Fabrics that the article’s limited space prevented me from providing.

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

I naively thought I could look through the set in one morning, take representative photos, and be on my way by lunch. Ha! In an hour and a half I’d gotten through only the first three issues, published quarterly starting in 1946.

I love the graphics of these garment labels. A fabric mill is boasting of the many garment lines using its products.

I love the graphics of these garment labels. A fabric mill is boasting of the many garment lines using its products.

The trade journal continued to 1986 (changing its name along the way to American Fabrics and Fashions), so I have a long way to go.  Judging from issue numbers 1, 2, and 3, that’s good news.

Detail. The wonderful design that used to go into labels!

Detail. The wonderful design that used to go into labels!

Paging through American Fabrics, Number 1 (from which all of these illustrations were taken), I couldn’t help wondering about the state of the textile industry in the U.S. following World War II and what happened to it.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

For a moment I was both tantalized and daunted by the prospect of learning about the history of the US and world post-war economy and globalization in the context of the textile industry…or was it the textile industry in the context of the US and world economic…whatever…American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall 1946

And then I came to my senses.American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall 1946.

I just wanted to page through American Fabrics Number 1 and let the images and words speak for themselves.

When did poodles become fashionable? What is going through that boxer's mind?

When did poodles become fashionable? And what is going through that boxer’s mind?

I wanted to notice word choice and writing styles.

This informative column could be deadly dull...

This informative column could have been deadly dull…

...but it had me at "lamb-chop."

…but it had me at “lamb-chop.”

Detail of contents, American Fabrics, issue 1, Fall, 1946

This table of contents sounds downright literary.

I wanted to notice snapshots in time…IMG_5443 (345x460)

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…and be surprised by something being around longer than I had realized.

And I thought the word "imagineer" was a recent invention.

And I thought the word “imagineer” was a recent invention.

I wanted to look at graphic styles, too.

Tools of fabric design and production, beautifully rendered

Tools of fabric design and production, beautifully rendered

The lettering!

The lettering!

And of course, I wanted to look at the fashions.

A big, boxy coat of the late '40s.

A big, boxy coat of the late ’40s.

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Yes, those are pineapples on his swimming trunks.

After this first taste of American Fabrics, I’m hooked. My ambition is to page through every volume and fill up my sensory banks with words and graphics, year by year, fabric swatch by fabric swatch. Along the way, who knows what I’ll soak up?

Just you wait and see, lamb-chop.

Loretta says "Thanks for stopping by--come back soon!"

Loretta says “Thanks for stopping by–come back soon!”

(Note: Complete and broken sets of American Fabrics are available in hundreds of libraries in addition to the American Craft Council library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ask your librarian to help you find them.

(Thanks to humans Jessica Shaykett and Alanna Nissen and corgis Penny and Loretta of the American Craft Council for their help and encouragement.)

Vintage Buttons from Wayward

Readers,

Souvenirs of Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store in St. Leonards On Sea, a little town on the English Channel.

Souvenirs of Wayward, the vintage haberdashery store in St. Leonards On Sea, a little town on the English Channel.

Here are buttons I bought at Wayward, the shop I visited on a day trip out of London last Saturday. They deserve their own post.IMG_5046 (362x460)

I’ve never thought of myself as a collector, but…now I think I’m a collector of vintage buttons. They’re irresistible. (They’re also easier to tote home in a suitcase than fabric.)IMG_5047 (337x460)

I continue to entertain the ever more remote possibility that I’ll use all of the hundreds of vintage buttons in my possession now on jackets and coats. I hate the thought that they’ll stay on their cards for more decades. They should be out being useful and adding everyday beauty and pleasure to the world.IMG_5048 (332x460)

My problem is finding the right buttons for my fabrics or finding fabrics that complement my buttons. I keep trying, though, because when the right elements are brought together it’s very satisfying. The jacket at the top of my home page, which I made from a 1936 McCall pattern, has buttons I was told are Bakelite, although I don’t know for sure. All I know is that they’re just right.IMG_5049 (361x460)

I look at that jacket and at the blue and white linen one I made to use some wonderful Art Deco-era buttons and think they’re two of my favorite sewing successes ever.IMG_5050 (345x460)

Wednesday I fly home from London. Back in the sewing domain I’ll spread out my new purchases and try new combinations with my fabrics and patterns. What will I discover? I’m itching to find out.IMG_5051 (329x460)

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