Curtains for Early Victorian Homes 1845 – 1880

Even piano chairs {not always a stool!} were covered in chintz covers for the summer, protecting the more expensive permanent upholstery on the chair.

Slipcovers in cotton chintz, matching the summer curtains, would serve a dual purpose. They would protect the more expensive damask upholstery fabrics on all of the Drawing Room furniture from fading, and they would also protect the good upholstery from dirt for half the year, while imparting a fresh, summery, floral look to the room.

In the fall, heavier winter drapes would be hung, replacing the light weight chintz curtains, and the matching chintz slip covers would be taken away to be washed and stored, and the stoves and stovepipes once more would be reinstalled in the house.

Heavy winter weight curtains would not only block sunlight, but were necessary to block cold draughts, and keep heat in the rooms. Suitable fabrics for winter-weight curtains would include ‘moreen’ which was a woolen fabric that had been embossed, through heat and pressure, with a attractive moiré, or ‘watered’ effect. ‘Moreen’ was widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Rack pulleys {the vertical pieces of hardware in the centre of the page of this 1865 hardware catalogue} were used to control blinds {or curtains} before the invention of spring-loaded roller blinds. A rack pulley was screwed onto the side of a window frame, and was used to control the tape or cord that raised and lowered the roller blind by holding it in place at the desired level.

The other pieces of hardware were brackets to hold the ends of roller blinds to the window frame.

A rack pulley from the 1860’s with a white porcelain knob.

Sometimes curtain treatments were simple, as seen in this 1880 example of a “window garden” where curtain treatments would get in the way of the propagation of the plants, which was an approved activity for young women.

This exquisite painting is from 1852 and is a room in Germany of the Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Marianne.

It is included to illustrate the variety of curtains that personal taste {and wealth} can create, while keeping to the general fashion of the period.

The illustration is from the book:
“Authentic Décor: The Domestic Interior 1620-1920” by Peter Thornton. Published by Five Dials, U.K. 1984; 1993; Paperback 2000.
This book is highly recommended for all students of interior design.

Curtains in period homes looked the way they do because of a variety of factors. Availability and type of fabrics; available budget of the homeowner; practical reasons for the use of curtains (privacy, light control, heat control), the method of construction (hand sewing); hanging (rings, pulley tracks) and attractive design, all combine to give a distinctive appearance to every age.

Early Victorian curtains combine simpler hanging techniques with a great need for preventing fading of valuable home furnishings. As curtain design develops through late Victoria and into the simpler Arts & Crafts time periods, curtain design changes in each period, aligning itself with the changing fabrics, taste and requirements of each age.

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