One of the best ways to create such distinctive treatments is with the creative use of prints. By using a few simple rules and thought processes, you can create fabulous eye-catching treatments.
It is amazing how many workrooms and designers are unaware of the importance of centering prints in their treatments. Following this one rule can elevate the quality of your products far above your competitors who have never considered it.
If you want to see what a difference it makes, just keep your eyes open as you thumb through decorating magazines on the newsstand. The most blatant oversight of this rule usually is seen in balloon shades or valances. If you can find a balloon shade with a nice motif uniformly centered in the poufs and compare it to one without any attention to centering, you will see the distinct difference.
I once visited a decorator showhouse where one room had three balloon shades all the same size made from a print with a large motif. However, the motifs not only didn't match from shade to shade, they weren't uniformly centered in each shade either. The whole effect was very busy, which detracted from the shades and dampened an otherwise elegant room.
While it is easy to center a print in a cornice with only one component, the aforementioned example illustrates the importance of uniformity within a treatment. When you are making a treatment such as a balloon, Kingston or scalloped pinch pleat valance -or any treatment in which the treatment design is repeated -it is important to uniformly repeat the print as well.
The same example also illustrates the importance of uniformity from one treatment to the next in the same room. Each treatment of the same size in the same room should match. However, there are two schools of thought on how to match treatments that are different lengths. The first theory is that all the bottoms should match and, of course, the second theory is that all the tops should match.
I vote for the second position, because I believe the eye automatically moves to the top of the windows where the interesting top treatments are. From there the eye is carried smoothly around the room.
The next rule is to determine which feature of the print and which feature of the treatment need to have the focus. For instance, consider a balloon valance. The folds at the bottom of the pouf are fussy and contrast with the relatively flat area above the folds. In a solid fabric the folds attract attention first and then accent the shape of the valance. The design of the treatment itself is the focal point.
When a valance is made from a print, there are three effects that can be achieved:
1: Neither the treatment nor the print stand out, but blend together to become a unified focal point. Using the balloon valance as an example, an overall small- to medium-sized print with no dominant motif will tend to reduce the contrast between the folds and the flat portion. Even though you may be using a small print, centering or repeating the print will help to outline the distinct shape of the valance.
2: The print may become the focus and actually create stress for the eyes if it overwhelms the treatment. This can happen when a relatively large print with one or more dominant motifs is not centered in the treatment and the eye darts around trying to settle on a focal point. In this case, the print and colors are being displayed and the treatment is merely a means of presentation.
3: The print is the definite focus with the treatment very visibly accenting it. A print with a large dominant motif that is centered in the space above the pouf folds of the balloon valance will become the focal point. The folds would underline and highlight the print as well as emphasize the shape of the treatment. This is the type of treatment that proclaims the skill and talent of the designer and the fabricator.
As a fabricator, there are certain steps I go through when presented with a print. These steps also can be used by a designer creating a treatment for a client. Choose the motif or the part of the print that is to be centered or repeated. Some prints are very obvious, but others can be quite subtle. For those, look at the print from a distance or even squint at it.
Many times, such as in an overall vine print, there is a definite horizontal line that will not be obvious until the treatment is made up. Sometimes, using the outline of the print to create the treatment will be an option. If you are a workroom that fabricates for designers, be sure to ask the designer's preference, but don't hesitate to discuss alternatives with the designer. Often, two heads are better than one!
Evaluate the position of the motif in the width. This is such a crucial step and requires a knowledge of how the treatment is cut for fabrication. It also requires seeing a whole width and a whole repeat of fabric. For a designer, it is well worth the extra time and expense to order a piece of the fabric to play with. Neither the workroom nor the designer need any surprises when the bolt of fabric arrives.
This is the same reason why a workroom should always request a width of fabric by one repeat minimum to quote estimates. Don't forgo the fabric sample just because the designer says, "It's only a small print." Small prints can create more challenges than a large print.
The motif position will tell you how many cuts you can get from one width of fabric. For instance, if you were doing a Kingston valance (a succession of swags separated by bells across the window), you would look to get a whole swag and one bell from a width.
Often, especially with smaller prints, it is necessary to play with the fabric to determine the effect the treatment design will have on the print. Lay the fabric out without cutting it and roughly fold the fabric into the shape you need. You may find that centering and repeating actually may be impossible or undesirable. You also may find you can't get the cut you need from one width, or that in order to center it properly you may have to make many cuts and add much more yardage. Of course, extra planning and cuts means more labor. Covering these extra expenses is why the designer and the workroom should go through this creative process before an estimate is given.
Determine the motif cut. Without cutting the fabric, take a ruler or yardstick and measure out the finished size and the cut size of the treatment around the motif. Be sure the print is balanced well. In other words, if there are dark, heavy colors or designs used, be sure there is the same amount of this heaviness on both the left and right sides of the overall design. Generally, positioning the dark, heavy designs in the lower portion of the overall design also gives more balance to the treatment.
Of course, centering is also necessary, not just from left to right but also up and down. Remember to consider the appearance of the end product. For example, when planning a balloon valance as mentioned above, be sure to remember that the design needs to be centered in the upper portion of the cut. That's what will be visible after the poufs are created.
Check the square of the print in the width. Depending upon the type of print and how you are using it, it may not be necessary for the print to be square. If a square print is necessary and the print is not square in the fabric, then you must determine if the problem can be fixed. Unfortunately, the square of a print cannot be predetermined by a fabric sample, unless you can reserve the bolt from which the sample is taken.
Be careful when dealing with mini-prints. Even though they are small, they have a definite horizontal line that must be kept straight. Gathering them tends to emphasize the horizontal. As a rule, "hard" horizontal stripes that are printed on the fabric are not straight. They actually dip in the middle of the width.
The accompanying photograph shows a treatment I fabricated. This valance used fabric with a print with approximately two- to 2 1/2-inch-square diamonds of various colors and designs. I could not fold all the knife pleats that were required and still make them match without cutting the fabric into many pieces and using an excessive amount of yardage, which I didn't have. Also, I had to deal with three dramatically different window widths.
I determined that the best approach was to cut all of the wide flat spaces to match as closely as I could among the different sizes to maintain continuity. I then deliberately mismatch all the knife folds as far as the color and print design in the diamonds. I did repeat the triangular design in the knife pleats. Doing this created interest and accented the knife pleats while it helped to break up the monotonous repetition of the diamonds. Unfortunately this design still required a lot of pieces and seams, but the end result was worth the extra time.
The truly creative use of prints in window treatments shows a high level of quality in the custom business. If you are willing to spend some extra time stirring up your creative juices, you will be able to produce a dynamite showcase of your talent and craftsmanship, which will translate into the higher income you definitely deserve!
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.