When we tell students that The Total Experience class at the Custom Home Furnishings (CHF) School, Swannanoa, NC, is as close as you can get to a real-life experience of designing and sewing, we arenít kidding. In the real world, things never seem to go as planned. This class was no exception.
Installation of the draperies for the Guest Cottage on the Biltmore
Estate, Asheville, NC, was scheduled for a Friday last March. On
the Monday before that, we were told the fabric was out of stock.
Not only did we have the installation scheduled, but a reporter
with the local newspaper was coming out with a cameraman to do a
story on the project. And the week was just beginning.
SOME RULES ARE NOT TO BE BROKEN
The class consisted of three students: Debbie DiFrancesco, Grace
Thomas and Suzanne Davis, along with guest instructor Scot Robbins
of Scot Robbins and Co. (See page 22). The plan was to create an
elegant drapery treatment for the dining room in the Guest Cottage
on the Biltmore Estate. Robbins was asked to assist the students
with a formal design that would reflect the era of the home.
Students spent the morning on location at the Guest Cottage recording
information about the home. They learned how to record color information,
recall fabric patterns and properly measure the windows. Part of
the total experience is to go into the home and look around for
clues as to what the new window treatment should look like. After
the information is gathered, students sit in the room and discuss
possible styles that would work based on the furnishings in the
The fabric was chosen ahead of time and was going to be a formal
stripe in a poly-blend fabric. The fabric company we spoke to placed
the yardage we needed on hold two weeks earlier and was to release
and ship it the week before the class. When the fabric wasnít
at the school Monday morning, I called the company and asked where
it was. At that time I was told it was no longer in stock and the
25 yards on hold belonged to another person.
It was now 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon. I had three students, a reporter
and photographer coming on Friday, an installation class scheduled
to install the treatments, and no fabric.
Well, this is a teaching experience and the students learned firsthand
a rule that should never be broken in a workroom: Never schedule
an installation before all fabrics and paperwork are in your hands.
The town of Swannanoa isnít known for its vast array of fabric
stores. In fact, the only fabric store in town is just down the
road from the school. We loaded everyone into the van and headed
over. My initial thought was that there is no way we would find
a fabric with 25 yards in stock in the right color that would please
I was wrong. A coral damask became the new fabric for the dining
room. The problem was solved.
EXACTLY WHAT WE WANTED
Day two began the design process. Robbins sketched a wonderful treatment
incorporating tied-back drapery panels with a swag top. The design
was fabulous, but now required a contrast fabric for the inside
edge of the panel and everyone wanted to see the treatment loaded
with trim. Luckily, the trims werenít a problem. The school
had hundreds of yards of trims that had been provided by Trims Unlimited.
The issue was finding a contrast fabric that would work with the
coral damask and the large floral blue wallpaper in the dining room.
After an extensive search, it was located. With two-and-a-half days
to go, we could now begin fabricating the treatments.
The design was to create two pairs of drapery panels cut with a
swag embedded into the panel. The treatment would be stapled to
a board that peaked four inches higher in the middle. The panels
would be pulled back and break two inches on the floor. The leading
edge would be finished in a tassel trim, both on the outside and
the inside edge of the panel. The underside leading edge and bottom
of the panel was to be decked with an 8-inch strip of blue fabric
to cover the lining on the inside of the panel.
With the design ready to go, it was time to lay the fabric out and
cut the pattern.
The drapery panel would be mounted nine inches above the window.
The top of the window to the floor was 89 inches. With a two-inch
break added, that made the finished length 100 inches.
Because we were decking the underside, the bottom of the panel would
be pillowcase-stitched to the contrast and didnít require additional
fabric for a double-folded hem. Each panel was 11/2 widths wide.
The panels needed to be cut 100 inches long, plus mounting allowance
and seam allowance on the bottom edge. An additional 40 inches at
the top was added to accommodate the swaging.
The width of the panels was determined by the width of the swag
plus hems and a 3 1/2-inch return. The swag pattern size was determined
by measuring the finished width of the board. The board size was
80 inches, so each panel needed to cover 40 inches. The boards were
raised in the center, which increased the width by an inch or so.
The panels were cut, sewn and pressed. The fringe was attached using
Rowley Fringe Adhesive on both sides of the panel. A mark was made
101 inches up from the bottom edge of the panel to allow for the
finished length and the board mount. The widest point of the swag
was placed at this mark on the leading edge and the top and sides
of the swag pattern were marked and cut. This left a 3 1/2-inch
section of panel on the return side, which was necessary for the
return of the panel.
Robbins shared his method of using 4-inch iron-on tape to fuse the
sides of the swags. After two-and-a-half days, three students completed
four swag-top panels and two swags. The look was exactly what we
On Friday morning 10 people, plus the reporter and photographer,
crowded into the dining room. Within an hour or so the vision created
on Monday was hanging in a home on one of the most historic pieces
of property in America.
Now it was on to the living room for the next class. You wouldnít
think we would be faced with a greater challenge than the one we
just did, or would you? Weíll answer that question next month,
and you will learn what we discovered about our fabric selection
with that class.
Margie Nance owned her own successful workroom for 10 years in
Charlotte, NC. She teaches several classes at the Custom Home Furnishings
School. She also is the director of education for the school and for
the educational conferences (see D&WC, July 2004, page 24).
This article first appeared in the July 2004 issue of SewWhat? Magazine.