J.R. Burrows &
Lace Curtains: Practical Advice

Chapter on "Laces, Glass and Sash Curtains" from Practical Decorative Upholstery, Containing Full Instructions for Cutting, Making and Hanging All Kinds of Interior Upholstery Decorations, by F.A. Moreland, New York: Clifford and Lawton, 1889 and 1899 (Third Edition).

Editor's Note:

Many clients of J.R. Burrows & Co. ask about the correct original method of hanging Victorian lace curtains. As with much Victorian decorating, there is no simple correct answer, but this book chapter from the 1890's suggests some of the common treatments. At the time, most lace panels were sold in only one or two lengths (typically 126" and 144") which were much longer than needed, so the homeowner needed to decide what to do with the excess. It is a modern convenience that lace panels are stocked in a variety of shorter lengths. A careful investigation of the woodwork in your home might provide clues on the original method employed to hang the curtains.


LACE curtains that are to hang under long curtains or lambrequins should be arranged so they can be easily removed without taking down the other work. The practice of attaching them to the same rings that support the other drapery when poles are used is a bad one, as it brings them all too close together to allow either to drape well. The best method is to turn a hem at the top to receive a rod which is supported by hooks or brackets on the casing. See that in hanging they do not show over the other work. The laces will shirr nicely on the rod, and always hang well. They can thus be quickly taken down, and there are no hooks or rings to rip off when laundered. Use a brass or hard-wood rod, as iron will be apt to rust.

The curtains are usually much longer than is required for the greater number of windows, and for those people who object to having them cut off, some way is to be provided to dispose of the surplus length. When used under lambrequins, they can be folded over toward the front, so not to show from the street side, and can thus be hidden by the curtain or lambrequin. When they are used without other drapery and are pleated and hung directly from the poles, it is a different matter. Not over twelve inches can be folded away at the top without looking badly. Another foot can be left for the bottom, which can be kept off the floor by draping from the bottom. This will allow almost the full width to display the borders to good advantage. Grasp the lower edge near the back, and gather in the pleats until high enough to reach the loops. After putting the loop around, pick out and arrange the pleats.

Another way is to bring the lower back corner up to the side hook, gathering in the pleats fan-shape, and allowing the bottom border to hang vertically, the front corner just lying a few inches on the floor. Try it. Sew a loop of tape to the back of the lace to attach to the hook. Either method is of doubtful economy unless there is a prospect of their being required else-where. The best method is to cut them to reach the floor, and then they can be allowed to hang straight and yet be of proper length to loop back. The tops could be used as sash curtains if one so desired.

A very pretty way of treating the cream and colored madras curtains is to cut them off the proper length and use the top as a valance, fringing the bottom and shirring the top in with the head of the curtains. They should be cut off, as simply turning them over would show the wrong side of the goods. They could also be made with a hem at the top, run on a rod, while the tops were made up separately into a shirred or pleated valance to be hung to the pole over the curtain. The latter is preferable and could of course be carried out with any description of curtain. When necessary to clean the laces, it is best to send them to those who make a specialty of such business, but, if not convenient to do so, the following method, from "The Decorator and Furnisher," will be found very efficient.

"Soak them over-night in warm water with soap and a couple of spoonfuls of borax or ammonia. After soaking twelve hours, move them around in the tub and that will be sufficient to remove everything but stains. Rinse them thoroughly in clean, warm water. Stretch them a little and fasten them to frames to keep them from shrinking." Frames can be made of light strips of board screwed together at the corners so they can be easily taken apart and packed away for future use; or the curtains can be tacked out on the floor, previously covering the carpet with large sheets of paper. Be sure, when tacking out, that the front edge and bottom are at right angles. Keep the back edge as near parallel to the front as the work will permit. All the unevenness will then be at the top, and the curtains will dry out nice and square. The top will have to be trimmed off square and rehemmed for the rod. Use very little starch, as, the more flexible they are, the more graceful they will hang.

A common method of mending laces is to starch on the patches; some sewing will be needed, however, for large places. At the low price of laces, few people would care to spend much time and patience in extensive patching. The color of ecru can be restored by an infusion of coffee in the water. Try the tone of the dye before putting in the curtains. Laces are now sold so low that some kinds are within the means of almost everybody, and nothing freshens up the room so, or suggests to an outsider the refinement within, so much as a bit of lace in the window.

If using madras in place of lace for under curtains, it is best to select plain grounds in light cream, ecru, or pale gold, and avoid those containing strong colored figures, however handsome they might be in themselves, as it is better to have the curtains next to the glass coolest in tone.

GLASS CURTAINS are short curtains to go inside the casing, and are usually hung on a small rod with sockets or eyes on the stop beads, unless the window shades should be on the outside of casing. They will then have the rods supported by brackets projecting far enough to keep the curtain clear of the shade. Lace curtains of this kind are often used at the same window with long laces, and it is also a very tasteful way to drape chamber and cottage windows, and show the casing all round. Make them of some light material, silk, muslin, or madras, and trim them with soft fringes.

A dainty way of trimming glass curtains is to use a lace two or two and a half inches wide, or they can be had in regular pattern curtains, in pairs, in Cluny, Brussels, Swiss, Irish point, Nottingham, etc. Finish these in length to just reach the sill, or, as many prefer, a few inches below it. Tie back with ribbon or small silk loops.

The tops can be finished by turning a hem two and a quarter inches wide. Run another row of stitching through the middle of this hem. Run the rod through the lower division, and the upper section of hem will form a ruffled heading. If necessary to move them back and forward often, it will be better to shirr up the tops in place of hemming, and put small rings on the back. Making them this way, allow only one and a quarter inches to turn over for shirring. Gather them up so they will be an inch or two wider than the length of the rod. A narrow band of same material or a tape sewed on one inch below top of heading and small rings every two and a fourth inches.

A tasteful way of hanging short curtains for chamber or cottage windows is to place the rod with the brackets on the inside member of casing, so the ornamented ends will show on the face of casing. Shirr them at top and put rings close together and have them to open and close with the traverse cord and pulleys in the same manner as portieres. The pulleys are made with rings to slip over the rod, and can be had of any house doing an upholstery business. The cord must match the color of the curtains, and the tassels of lead covered and netted over with cord of color to harmonize with the curtains. Brass tassels are apt to break the glass by careless handling. These are to hang straight up and down or looped back.

Curtains made of thin silk in this manner had better have the bottoms weighted with a little shot. Make a case of the same material three-fourths of an inch wide and as long as the width of curtain. This is divided into compartments, as the shot is filled in a few in each. Slip the case into the bottom hem, and sew up, and it will keep the curtain from flying around when the window is open.

Some people prefer to have their glass curtains hung inside the shade, directly against the glass. It looks very pretty from the street, but of course would not show on the room side unless the shade were raised. If the window shade were in its proper place in the run of the window or that part where the sash cords are, the laces could be hung on rods placed between the shade and the glass, placing the sockets on the small bead separating the two sashes, or if the groove is so narrow as to bring the shade and lace too near together, the shade should be moved out, else they would be entangled with the curtain. If they, the shades, could not be placed on the outside of casing without interfering with the other drapery, notch out the top of the stop beads and move the shade brackets out into the space so made. All this can be quickly done by removing the bead. Leave on the front edge of bead to hide the bracket. This is better than placing the bracket on the bead, as it allows a wider shade. In using ribbons for tying back, allow four and a half yards to a pair.

SASH CURTAINS are usually made to cover three-fourths or the whole of the lower sash. Double-hem the top as explained and run on a rod with sockets, between the stop beads or outside with brackets, according to circumstances. The top hem will require two and a quarter inches, and allow one inch for the lower hem. Make them of silk, muslin, or madras, and allow about double fullness. Make in pairs for convenience in opening.

VESTIBULE CURTAINS are usually hung with rod top and bottom, and allow double fullness if possible. Finish them about five inches longer than the glass opening, so the hemming will not be seen on the outside. In hanging, place the upper rod first, slip the lower rod through the hem, and draw down tightly enough to cause the curtain to hang in well-defined pleats, screwing on the brackets to hold. For a door with single large opening, a pretty treatment is to have the curtains in pairs, fringed and weighted with shot. Shirr up the top, put on rings for the rod. A traverse cord and pulleys with dainty tassels to match are a nice addition, but as such curtains would be within easy reach one could dispense with the traverse.


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