Curtains in the early Victorian period were just becoming household items that regular people could pay attention to in their homes. Wealthy people had always had curtains made out of rich fabrics, and their curtains had been made with the suggestion of visual importance.
But with the onset of the industrial revolution, and the new availability of attractive, inexpensive fabrics that were attainable by middle-class and lower class households, then a great variety of curtains became available.
Magazines such as “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in the United States, and “The Family Friend” in England carried tips on home improvement. They told people how to fit out their homes on very little money, and how taste and appropriate décor was more important than ostentatious displays that were out of keeping to the greater surroundings. Suggestions on how to make chairs out of barrels with a bit of padding and some inexpensive chintz were examples of the thrifty tips promulgated by these popular magazines.
The knowledge that sunlight can damage furnishings is nothing new. In Victorian households, with the greater use of more fugitive vegetable dyes during that time period, damage by fading was a greater threat than it is today with more light-fast colours.
In 1859, one magazine was reminding its readers that “too much light is injurious to the objects on which it falls. Every one knows that curtains and carpets are faded by the sun; it is desirable, therefore, to have the means of shutting out the light, and this we can do satisfactorily by means of different kinds of blinds and curtains.”
So, in our present day and age of colour fast materials, we have to remember that Victorian interiors looked the way that they did for a technological reason: they were trying to prevent damage to their possessions, and they, being human beings, were trying to do that in as tasteful a way that they could.
Most Victorian windows had three layers of light protection. First were blinds. Early roller blinds were not spring loaded, but instead were controlled by “rack pulleys” – a small piece of hardware attached to the side of the window frame – which stopped the tape or cord from unrolling.
The second layer were lace or sheer curtains, to block light but let some of the view and light to be seen and enjoyed.
The third layer were the curtains themselves. Changed in summer and winter, these curtains would be the fashionable, more expensive fabrics that were meant to complement the interior design of the room that they were in.