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Fabric Window Treatments

By HHI Staff

Originally, windows (derived from “wind eyes”) were just open holes in walls. As architecture advanced, windows also became important from an aesthetic standpoint. Today, more people than ever have added window treatments that are more decorative than functional. However, for certain windows, privacy and energy savings are still very important considerations.


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Unfortunately, most modern interior window treatments have real problems that few people seem to recognize. For example, many decorative treatments can’t be easily dusted or thoroughly cleaned. Also, the fabrics used to make typical curtains and draperies are usually synthetic. These can release chemical odors from the compounds making up the fabric fibers which are bothersome to certain sensitive people. Then, too, most fabrics, especially certain natural-fiber fabrics, will break down over time from having been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Deteriorating fabric creates loose bits of fiber that become airborne dust. This also means that nearly all fabric curtains and draperies must periodically be replaced.

The good news is that there are more practical and healthier choices for interior window treatments than many of the typical ones now used. Ideally, a healthy window treatment should be attractive, functional, made of all-natural materials (this would be of more concern to chemically sensitive individuals), be easy to maintain and not be subject to rapid deterioration by ultraviolet rays from sunlight. Here are some of the better fabric window treatment options to consider for your home.
Roman Shades
Roman shades often make an interesting window treatment. They’re a special type of blind made to fold up into continuous, uniform, horizontal layers when raised. If you decide on Roman shades, consider buying those made with chemically untreated, natural-fiber fabric. Linen is an especially good choice because it is resistant to deterioration from sunlight exposure. By the way, some shades are now also offered in natural grass and reed materials.

However, you should be aware of certain drawbacks with Roman shades. First of all, shades of this type can sometimes be difficult to clean. While you can gently vacuum any Roman shade with a dusting attachment, certain shades can’t be washed. Also, most of the fabrics used will eventually break down due to exposure to the ultraviolet rays from the sun.

To purchase Roman shades, first check local department stores and drapery shops. These retail outlets can usually custom-make them for you. You can also check online, or mail-order them. You may even find some companies that offer window-width, formaldehyde-free cotton fabrics in woven textures that need no ironing.
Roller Shades
Fabric rollers as window treatments have been around for decades. They’re simply rods equipped with a metal spring that have a length of fabric attached to them. Today, fabric rollers are generally inexpensive and made with synthetic materials such as vinyl. However, custom drapery departments and shops can often make fabric rollers in any materials and dimensions you choose.

Unfortunately, fabric rollers will eventually deteriorate when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, although linen is more hardy. Also, because most fabric rollers can’t be laundered, you’ll want to take them down occasionally and thoroughly vacuum them. To do this, lay them on a clean, smooth surface and completely unroll them. Then very carefully vacuum one side at a time using a soft dusting attachment. You may find you’ll need someone to hold the fabric down securely while you’re vacuuming.
Curtains and Draperies
Washable, untreated, 100%-natural-fiber curtains can usually provide a softer appearance for your windows than blinds, shades or rollers. Sometimes all-cotton curtains are available in ready-made sizes, styles and colors at local department stores and drapery shops.


Another popular window-treatment option is lined draperies. Linings help protect the decorative room-facing fabric from damaging sun exposure. Generally, lined draperies are much heavier than curtains and provide more privacy, but they can be fairly expensive. This is because most lined draperies are custom-made, requiring the labor and skill of a professional seamstress to construct them — and they require two layers of fabric. Unfortunately, many lined draperies must be dry cleaned in order to better maintain their shape. (Special wet cleaning methods may sometimes be an option.) Not only can this be expensive, but it means your draperies will acquire harmful solvent odors.

If professional cleaning must be done, hang the newly dry-cleaned draperies outdoors so the solvent odors can dissipate before rehanging them. (Note: Some chemically sensitive people may find that, despite their best airing efforts, enough solvent odors remain to make their draperies permanently intolerable for them.) Between cleanings, it’s best to regularly vacuum both sides of your lined draperies using a soft dusting attachment. For those particularly concerned about dust-mite control, vacuuming should be very thorough.

There are a number of mail-order sources for all-cotton curtains. But before ordering, please check to see if the style you’re interested in can be laundered at home or not. Of course, natural-fabric curtains and draperies can also be custom-made. Local department stores, upholstery shops and drapery specialty shops should be able to provide this service for you.

A swag is defined as a valance, or “festoon.” In home decoration, it’s commonly a swath of decoratively folded or gathered curtain fabric suspended over a window. A few years ago when the “country look” reached it’s peak, many swag treatments became quite complicated and, in some cases, just plain odd. Sometimes twigs, artificial flowers and even bird’s nests were combined with the fabric to be draped around windows. Fortunately, the zeal for such swag arrangements has waned. From a health standpoint, in an ideal household, swags should be made of washable, chemically untreated, 100% natural-fiber fabric, and be designed for easy removal and laundering.

During the country-look swag fad, special swag hardware became available so that nearly anyone could create attractive swags themselves. Some were metal units with baked-on, enamel-coated finishes that you could pull your fabric through easily (and remove easily, too). However, these have become much more difficult to find. While a few local department stores and drapery shops sell these do-it-yourself supplies, the hardware is often made of plastic. Sometimes plastic pieces can easily bend or break, and in some cases they can emit minor odors that certain sensitive persons may find bothersome.

A healthy, “do-able” swag option is to install either a large metal rod or wooden dowel across your window top, then simply artistically drape fabric over it. Another option is to mount large drapery hooks, rings or corbels on the upper sides of the window fame. To make use of these, first lay your fabric on a clean floor and gather it into large soft pleats. Then, carefully lift it up and insert one end over (or into) the hardware. Pull to even out the fabric length. Finally, comb the pleats with your fingers. By the way, besides draping, you can braid (use two or three fabric lengths) or create rosettes. To hold the rosettes in place, simply use brass cup hooks, which you can easily screw into the wood window frame. If done neatly, this method can make for very stylish windows.


From Creating a Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide For Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living, © 2000 by Lynn Marie Bower.



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Fabric Window Treatments:  Created on February 14th, 2007.  Last Modified on February 28th, 2011


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