Drapery History

Draperies Through the Ages

WHEN A SUBJECT gets so old that it is almost forgotten, then it is in a fair way to become the vogue. The use of textiles for decorating doors and windows is a case in point. Modern books on interior decoration either dismiss it with a few paragraphs or omit it entirely as something to be accepted but not to be stressed. Recent writers in the United States have made the statement that modern draperies are a survival of the upholsterer's craft (and not decoration at all) that had such a free hand during the Victorian period of the past century. That is not strictly true as there are plenty of authentic documents available in any good library on architecture and its allied arts to show that textiles were used for decorating doors and windows many, many centuries ago.

He who looks back over the architecture of modern times to the beginnings of the Renaissance period in Italy, in the early fourteenth century, will perhaps find little that pictures or describes decorative draperies, except perhaps on high-posted beds and thrones of state during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It seems that textiles were used since the Renaissance for nearly every concei-vable decorative purpose except at doors and windows. The Flemish painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries depicted many decorative uses of fine textiles in their scenes of homelife but none, so far as the writer knows, shows decorative curtains or door draperies as we know them. So it seems reasonably accurate to say that, as far as is known, decorative draperies did not exist in modern Europe; and perhaps not to a great extent during the Middle Ages, of which, however, our information pertaining to the decoration of domestic habitations is meagre.

He who looks beyond the Middle Ages and beyond Europe, to the older Orient, will discover that textiles were probably used as decorative window and door ornamentation for a great many cen-turies before the Christian era. In the first place, as far as authentic historical records are able to inform us, the prehistoric Oriental civilizations of China, India, Persia, Assyria and Chaldaea possessed rich textiles which so influenced their architectures that ornamental forms peculiar to the weaving arts were copied, centuries later, in permanent materials, in their temples, palaces and tombs. Some of the oldest records of weaving that have come down to modern times are found in the architectural monuments of civilizations that originated in Asia and were brought to southeastern Europe by way of the early trading routes overland and by sea. During the early centuries of the Christian era when Byzantium, now Constantinople, was the center of the Eastern Roman Empire, fine textiles were an important article of commerce. Of course, no textiles now remain of these remote centuries but pictures of them and their use as decorative draperies may be seen in the glass mosaics of many an Early Christian Church in Italy, with their fixtures and trimmings, as though they had only recently been designed and made.

There is no intention here to spin theories or to enter into a philosophic discussion of the origin of textiles and their decorative application to architecture. This is a practical book. The antiquity of fine textiles and of decorative draperies is called to mind merely to place the subject in its proper perspective and to correct a wrong impression that decorative draperies are very modern and a survival of a degenerate period of the very recent nineteenth century.

Because there was a long hiatus in the use of textiles in door and window decoration, extending back virtually to mediaeval days, it seems advisable to say something about the decoration of architectural openings during the centuries intervening. The perfection or re-discovery of glass-making in Italy in the thirteenth century was destined to exercise a most important influence on window decoration for many centuries. Glass in myriad colors came, in time, to add its crowning glory to the great decorative windows of the Gothic cathedrals and gradually found its way into domestic architecture.

In the architecture of the Dark Ages the interiors of buildings were as dark as the minds of the masses regarding book learning. The walls of castles and fortresses were massive and windows mere slits to permit the inmates to observe an approaching enemy. It was an age when men lived by fighting. As life became more secure and the need for protection against enemies became less, windows became larger and interiors lighter. Thus was the era of the Renaissance ushered in and the foundation laid of the modern home. The larger windows called not only for privacy from prying eyes but for vision from within. The leaded casement of small panes came into being, to remain in vogue for several centuries as the best practical solution of window decoration. Meanwhile, clear glass had for some time been produced in larger sheets but, curiously enough, it was not much used in windows until the early seventeenth century and then only in moderately-sized lights with mullions and muntins. Towards the opening of the nineteenth century, in the Classic Revival period, people began to demand still more light in their houses and better vision of the out-of-doors. The problem then arose of regulating the amount of light admitted and shutting out the sun-glare. Wooden and afterwards metal shutters and blinds were the solution to this problem. The French still use them today in a most satisfactory and ingenious way with decorative draperies. When the Classic Revival period came to a close, about 1830-40, architectural development seemed to stagnate and all sorts of queer expedients were tried to solve old problems of architecture and decoration in original ways. Extensive use of textiles was made for practical as well as for aesthetic purposes. It was the period which ushered in the lace-curtain era.

The extensive employment of textiles for door and window decoration during the mid-nineteenth century was, of course, made possible only by the introduction of machinery to replace hand-work. Whether or not a greatly increased demand for carpets and drapery and upholstery fabrics ushered in or hastened the development of the power-loom does not concern our purpose here. Suffice it to say that prior to the end of the Classic Revival period all textiles were still woven entirely by hand and were, consequently, within the reach only of people of means. After about 1850 decorative textiles were increasingly available to modest homemakers and our modern era of textile production was getting into its stride. To the end of the nineteenth century the general run of decorative draperies in America, as well as in Europe, was nothing to be especially proud of. The best draperies were then designed and executed under the supervision of leading architects.

So many problems of window and door decoration are presented to the decorator today, in which there are no architectural features worthy of being emphasized, but requiring rather to be concealed or corrected, that the designer of decorative draperies needs courage and resourcefulness if he is to attack them successfully. If this be true where the architecture of the room follows traditional lines and forms, how much more ingenuity is required where there are no marked architectural features or where a strictly twentieth-century effect must be secured.

In the present-day conception of interior decoration no decorative element is more important than the draperies in a room. They are one of the three major fitments in the decorative scheme, the other two being the furniture and the floor coverings. Most unfurnished rooms in the home now consist of well-proportioned, conveniently placed, adequately lighted spaces, quite innocent of architectural embellishment. The plain walls, with their doors and windows and wood floors, present practically a clean slate to the decorator, whose problem it is to make of the empty space given him a decorative picture suitable and pleasing to the purpose and taste of the intending occupants. Where the architect has provided distinct architectural features in wood trim, decorative flooring or ornamental plaster-work, the decorator's problem is limited thereby to selecting only such fitments as comport with these architectural features of the background. Whether or not the decorator has been thus limited, the color question will be the first one he will have to decide and in doing so the draperies will at once claim his attention. To them he can and generally does attune wall and floor colors, assigning to each its just value, hue and intensity in the finished scheme.

Color then is a leading consideration in designing decorative draperies but it is not by any means the only important decorative element with which the decorator must concern himself. Of textiles, texture is the quality that distinguishes them from all other materials. Texture may be crudely defined as the "feel" of the goods. It depends upon the nature of the fibres used and the character of the weave, both being, to a degree, influenced by the play of light upon the pigments in the fibres. To select the wrong texture in a drapery material will give as disappointing an effect in the finished drapery as to select the wrong color.

Many draperies are composed of more than one kind of material. They must possess a pleasing contour and balance between the materials used. The character and size of the pattern in the material must be considered, in relation to the size and character of the drapery design, and to the size of the room, and in relation to the size and character of the furniture, which may also be decorated with fabrics.

Without going into a wearisome discussion of the principles of good designing, suffice it to say that good draperies (as draperies are now used in interior decoration) demand strict adherence to tried principles of design.

With the craftsmanship of the draper this book concerns itself only insofar as the reader may find a working knowledge useful or suggestive of the methods and devices employed by the skilled executant of drapery work. Draping workmanship calls for ingenuity and patience, as well as experience with the behavior of textiles as they are practically used. A competent drapery designer, of course, understands the technique of the materials in which his designs are carried out, but, if he be wise, he will always defer to the surer knowledge of the skilled drapery craftsman, whose judgment in manipulating the materials should be allowed to govern the best ways and means of securing a desired effect.

In the drapery designs pictured on following pages some of the fabric resources available to the designer are shown, since every fabric pictured is a "stock" pattern, available in the principal cities. Were the materials depicted merely figments of the author's imagination, the drapery designs in which they appear would lose much of their practical value for the user of this book. It is just as important a part of the stock in trade of the drapery designer to know his fabric market accurately as for the architect to know his building materials and devices. Without close touch with fabric production, the drapery designer's work would lack that practical touch so indispensable to the decorator who is seeking workable designs that he may adapt in his everyday work, or which the lay reader may have executed where no decorator is employed and the commission to do the work is taken directly to a drapery workroom.

The design problems illustrated in the color plates have been carefully selected to cover a great deal of ground. Many of them apply to rooms previously furnished, in which the decorative fitments are to be renewed. Some of them pertain to problems in the hotel, office and shop. A special chapter has been devoted to the technique of theatre curtains, perhaps the most difficult phase of all drapery work, requiring special knowledge of artificial lighting, construction and optics.

In the majority of the color plates usual decorative problems that occur in residential and apartment house work are treated. The reader will observe that special emphasis has been laid upon the casement window and glazed door, since the sliding or double-hung sash is tending to be less used in country and suburban homes, and the European casement is gradually taking its place, even in remodeled houses. Nor has the metal casement been overlooked.

While this book is concerned mainly with the decorative treatment of window and door draperies, the majority of the color plates present fairly complete decorative schemes. A drapery, shown alone and for its own sake, has limited value for those who are confronted by the problems of a complete decorative scheme. Color, line, scale and unity of all the major elements must be considered when draperies are designed. Because such complete consideration is often neglected in drapery installations results are disappointing. In depicting the furniture and decorative accessories suggested for each drapery design, the same strict adherence to current market productions will be observed by the reader, as in the delineation of the fabrics of which the draperies are made. The furnishings are actually those which may be obtained through the usual trade sources.

A wide range of taste is shown in the designs for the different rooms. In a few instances strict period reproductions are shown. In most of the schemes, however, while recourse has been had to the historic periods in different European countries, the handling has been modernized and adapted to American ideas. A number of the designs do not follow historic precedent but interpret, for the most part conservatively, the best tendencies in contemporary twentieth century interior decoration, again, in terms of fabrics, furniture and fitments that are obtainable.

In conclusion, Decorative Draperies is presented to the professional as well as to the lay decorator, in the hope that it will be practically helpful in solving drapery problems in the spirit of today's requirements and taste. As far as the writer is informed, this is the first book that contains designs for decorative draperies treated in relation to interior decoration and depicting the finished results in color, in actual materials that may be obtained and applied in practise. The designs suggested do not pretend to exhaust the entire field of decorative draperies but they do present, for the most part, problems of frequent recurrence, solved in a workmanlike, usable manner; and the results embody a sound knowledge of the principles of design.

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