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Technical Considerations for Theatrical Drapery

Planning the Work

In making draperies for theatres and public buildings there are requirements which but few drapery departments provide. Especially do they lack facilities for hanging long curtains. Few drapery workrooms have the space to hang curtains 30 to 40 feet in length and, as the writer found while decorating a theatre on the West Coast, a special place must be rented for this work. There are many lofts and public halls not in use where a stage or rigging of wood may be constructed temporarily. A successful theatre curtain may be made only by hanging it continuously as it progresses, because it stretches considerably from its own weight and must be tested and taken up at the top before the final heading is put on. The space between the seams will bag and this must be taken up. The seams themselves have little "give" and will form "pockets" in the finished curtain, unless the intervening fabric is caught up sufficiently to carry the same strain as the seams.

Seldom is it possible to get into a theatre (if it is a new one under construction) until a few days before the opening when the draperies must be hung. If the theatre is in use the same condition will prevail and the new curtain will have to be hung between midnight and morning. In the workroom special tables must be built around the sewing machines, at least 10 feet on the side and the same in the back, so that the material may not be too much crushed in handling.

Weight of Curtain



Another problem which must be worked out beforehand is the weight of the curtain material, including trimmings and canvas interlining, if used. In modern stagecraft counter-weights are usually hung against the side wall of the stage, which so balance the weight of the curtain that it may be raised to any height and will remain stationary, in perfect balance. The counter-weights are made in large sections (for the average theatre curtain will weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds) and are permanently installed in a steel housing or guide. The weights must be within 60 pounds of the actual weight of the finished curtain. To get the weight of the curtain one full strip of the material should be weighed and multiplied by the number of strips to be used. To this must be added the weight of trimmings, also the weight of the canvas interlining and the weight of the wood pole, if one is to be used, together with the hardware. In this way the approximate weight of the entire curtain will be nearly enough approximated for the stage mechanics to supply the required counterbalance. Additional weights are added in small sections during the hanging of the curtain.

In a great many theatres the back-stage draft is strong and a good canvas lining is necessary, with a wood pole across the bottom, about 2 feet from the floor so that in lowering the curtain this pole may not strike the stage. In regard to the canvas, a good awning-maker or sail-maker will double-lock-stitch the required number of strips of canvas and insert the pocket for the pole which hangs from the canvas, the curtain being sewn at intervals to this pocket.


In some cities the fireproofing of the curtain has to be given careful consideration and there are few places that do not require some degree of fireproofing. Spraying the back of the fabric with a fire-proofing solution somewhat protects the fabric but the subject of fire-proofing should be taken up with the local authorities to ascertain the requirements of the law. The subject is suggested here so that it may be investigated beforehand.

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