The challenge of putting prints and window treatments together successfully can range from "easy" to "it just won't work." The key word here is successfully. You certainly can fabricate any window treatment from any fabric, but that does not mean the end product will proclaim its value as a true artistic custom creation.
Then again, it could be a situation in which the print and the treatment go together, but the fabrication was not executed in a way to make the team look good together. Just look at ready-mades or the draperies in hotel rooms. In many of these cases cost outweighs the value of skilled custom fabrication.
As a custom drapery workroom or designer/decorator, it is not just your job, but your challenge to bring fabric and window treatment together as a statement of beauty and value. Sometimes the window treatment is chosen first and sometimes it's the print. But either way, the print has to go through an analysis to determine how best to use it.
Look at the size of the print. A really large design, e.g. a big bouquet of flowers centered in the whole width with the bouquet itself covering up to 27 inches or more, must be used in a large design window treatment, or maybe simply used for its colors in drapery panels.Trying to center such a large pattern in a box-pleated valance probably would have a less than satisfactory visual impact. It not only would detract from the distinctive lines of the box pleats, but would certainly reduce the impact of the print design.
Looking at this same size print from the fabrication perspective, such a large print would not work well as a balloon shade either. Balloon shades have finished poufs perhaps 15 inches wide at maximum. To center this print in each pouf would require not only one whole width allowed per pouf, but each width would have to be cut down to avoid having too much fullness in the shade. (The greater the fullness in a balloon shade, the greater the drop of the pouf.) Therefore, this treatment would require two times the normal yardage for a balloon shade and additional labor.
However, if this print were used in a flat Roman shade about 36 to 40 inches wide and long, it probably would be dynamite. It would almost look like a framed picture!
Mini prints and overall designs lend themselves well to just about any window treatment as their emphasis is more on color than on print design. The medium sized prints and motifs with a central design that ranges in size from 12 to 15 inches lend themselves exceptionally well for centering in most top treatments from swags to box pleats to balloon valances and shades. Visually they can be marvelous and the most efficient for fabrication.
It is well worth the time to stand back and examine the print in relation to the window treatment.
How Is the Print Centered?
Just because the size of a print lends itself to centering in your treatment does not mean it is positioned in the width for efficient or pleasing centering. The most versatile prints are the ones in which the same motif is centered in each half width. This usually will afford the most efficient use of fabric and labor as well as providing a visually pleasing treatment.
There are many prints, usually with larger motifs, that are arranged in what I call a zigzag design. The motif in the left half of the width is different from the motif in the right half. The left motif then repeats under the right motif and vice versa.
In normal balloon shade fabrication techniques resulting in one pouf per half width, using a zigzag print would mean the left and right motifs would alternate across the full width of the treatment. If your customer is adamant about having the same motif repeat across the width, then additional labor and yardage must be calculated. However, the balloon shade will look quite acceptable and balanced with the alternating repeat design as long as you use an odd number of poufs. That way, the same repeat will be on both ends of the shade to balance it.
If you have more than one shade in the room spaced a distance apart, it probably would be more pleasing to have the outside poufs match. But if you have two windows very close together on the same wall, having the alternate motif on the outside of the second shade would be more pleasing to the eye.
There are zigzag designs in which there is no dominant motif in the adjacent half width-it may be only blank space. Such a design would not be so pleasing to have alternating across a balloon shade. So analyze the print carefully.
The drop-match (or half-drop match) can create a dilemma in a pair of draperies. With the most versatile print, in which the print in the left side of the width is repeated exactly in the right side, a pair of draperies will have the same design at both leading edges and provide the most pleasing appearance. The problem with a very dominant drop-match is that the motif only drops half the repeat, making it appear as if the fabricator miss-cut a width. If you were to shift one panel so the motif is either a whole repeat off or exactly ALIGNed, it may make the leading edges more pleasing but may throw off the overall repeat of the pattern across the pair.
Drop-matches vary considerably in how they are designed so it really calls for individual analysis for each situation. They also require more yardage than straight matches to start with and shifting the design could increase the yardage needed even more. This is definitely a situation that needs to be resolved jointly by the workroom and the designer before the job is sold.
Straight Lines, Stripes or Plaids
If you are dealing with a woven stripe or plaid in a fabric, chances are excellent you can get the lines straight, but a printed stripe is another matter. Usually vertical stripes running parallel to the selvage will be straight, but it would be a miracle if horizontal printed stripes are straight. The printing methods used by the mills cannot guarantee perfectly straight and square horizontal stripes. Usually they are bowed in the middle and may also have a drift.
Using horizontal stripes in any window treatment usually is quite a challenge and really should be avoided for such treatments as Roman shades or soft cornices where the horizontal line will really stand out and where it is absolutely a must to get the lines straight. If there is enough "give" in the fabric, it may be possible to stretch horizontal stripes straight on hard cornices.
Included in this discussion of horizontal stripes should be small prints, especially mini prints, that create the appearance of a horizontal line across the width. Here again, it may not be possible to straighten them. Prints larger than mini prints may camouflage the discrepancy adequately. However, beware that gathering (as in rod pocket headings) tends to accentuate a crooked line.
There some wonderful prints that have beautiful borders on them, but these borders can present a problem. Some prints have the border on both sides of the width and others have the border only on one side. Either way, you may have a dilemma.
In both cases, you probably will cut the border off all the edges of the widths that will be seamed together in a drapery panel. It's a good idea to do this before you cut all the widths if you are planning to use the border on the hem line or elsewhere. It would be better to have it all in one piece instead of many. If the border is on one side only, you must cut and apply a border to the leading edge of the opposite width for a pair of draperies.
Most of the time, borders are not designed so there is an allowance for a seam for the border and the body fabric, so the body fabric may not match the edge of another trimmed width. Therefore, a wide Roman shade requiring seaming in the body probably would not work well with a bordered print. In pinch pleated draperies in which the seams are hidden beside the pleats, mismatched seams would not likely be noticed.
Another common problem with borders is that there usually is not enough selvage allowed to make the standard double 1 1/2-inch side hem on draperies. Your only choice may be to pillowcase the lining to the edge of the border. Sewing this on a straight stitch machine will definitely cause some pucker and prevent the leading edge of the drapery from hanging straight. In this case, iron-on hem tapes may be a better solution for pillowcasing as they will not pucker as long as they are applied correctly. If the border is on the bottom of a gathered valance, then slight puckering from stitching probably will be unnoticeable.
Print on Print
This type of print is presenting quite a problem for fabricators. Commonly, you see this as a damask type body fabric with another design printed on top of it and the two designs are not squared and centered to each other. Therefore, if you center one in your window treatment, the other one isn't.
This type of print certainly would be better as drapery panels where centering is not required. However, if you must do a treatment, e.g. a box-pleated valance, where you are forced to make a decision on which print to center when the remaining print still will be quite visible, go with the most dominant print. Stand back and look at the design and envision what it would be like hanging on a window. Whatever your eye goes to first is what you must center.
By all means, discuss it with the designer before cutting. This is definitely one case in which the designer may have entirely different thoughts on how this print should be treated. When I think print, I think center, but I have had designers tell me not to center the print. Talk about a challenge!
There is a lot going on with prints that can add to or take away from a window treatment. When dealing with prints, it is well worth the time to stand back and examine the print in relation to the window treatment. Ideally, the designer should order a width sample of the print to analyze, preferably in conjunction with her workroom before the job is sold.
In any event, it is the workroom's job to do the final analysis, many times in consultation with the designer, before the cutting and fabricating begins. Even though the designer may make the final decision, it's the workroom, with all its skill and fabrication understanding, that must engineer the creation and ultimately determine how a print will work with a window treatment.
Kitty Stein, WCAA, is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 18 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.