living & dining rooms, part 3: making roman shades

10.02 "they can't be that difficult"...::facepalm::

click to see the full photo galleryIf you were following along with our (mis)adventures after we bought the house, you know that we had a hard time finding window coverings for the dining room windows that suited us. Admittedly, we were being pretty picky about the whole thing since we had a lot of requirements for them.

  1. They had to effectively cover the window for privacy (there's an apartment building next door).
  2. We didn't want them to cover up the woodwork at all (i.e., they had to fit inside the window casing) but they still needed to leave as much of the windows showing as possible when they're open.
  3. The dining room window consists of a large central window and two narrower side windows, none of which are standard sizes.
  4. They couldn't be blinds because...well, if you have cats, you know why. Plastic, metal, wood, it doesn't matter. Cats guarantee a very short lifespan for window blinds. Not to mention that the whole point of having blinds as a window.
  5. We wanted them to look...not rich exactly, but we have this beautiful dining room that we're using as an office/ library/ parlor. It has wonderful paneling, molding, and trim and we've got kind of an English library thing going on. We wanted the windows to reflect that. So I guess we did want them to look rich.
  6. But note we aren't rich. In fact, we're so far from rich that the light from rich would take 2.5 million years to reach us. Consequently, we couldn't afford to spend a lot on them. Not only were custom coverings out, most store-bought coverings were out, as well.

So what to do? Well, we did look around for quite awhile, trying to decide what we were going to do. We tried some creative ideas, scoured IKEA, Pier 1, and Target repeatedly, searched online.... Nothing was coming up that even vaguely met our criteria. It started to look like we would have to make them ourselves.

Now, I'm no stranger to making curtains and the like. I made the long tab tops for the living room that were originally made for the sliding glass door in the Laramie apartment, then served for the glass door in the Beaverton apartment, and by the time they came with us to the house, had become such a regular part of our lives that we couldn't bear to part with them so I simply cut them in half and finished off each side. I also made the valances in our living room and kitchen that also started life in the Laramie apartment. Note, however, that all of those projects involved nothing but rectangles. Big rectangles for the curtain part, smaller rectangles for the tabs. Slap some buttons on the top and voilà! Instant style!

In other words, we're not talking terribly complicated projects or anything. The most complicated projects I've ever done were a small lap quilt and a comforter for our bed. I had help -- a lot of help -- from my mother on both projects, who, as you may or may not know, is the quilting queen. The love of sewing and especially quilting is not genetic, however, which is why that was the one and only quilt I ever made. Well, that and the fact that although my mother is a good teacher and I'm a good student, we are Iran and Iraq when she's the teacher and I'm the student. Or vice versa. Seriously. I'm talking bombs going off and heavy casualties.

But I digress.

As the search for the coverings in the dining room continued, it became increasingly clear that the best answer was going to be Roman shades. In fact, they would be the perfect answer. And if we could find a good price on some fabric, they'd be relatively cheap. Problem solved, right?

Well, yes and no. Sure, they seemed to be the way to go. Unfortunately, I'd heard repeatedly from several sources -- including my mother, aunt, and grandmother, all of whom are great seamstresses -- that Roman shades are the most difficult kind to make. Indeed, every "how-to" book I picked up seemed to say the same.

By the way...the reason they say that? Because it's true.

Still, I was not to be dissuaded. I had pretty well figured out how to make them (they're deceptively simple) and Sal picked out some great fabric that would go nicely with our walls when we painted them purple (which would happen several months later). Oh, you should also know that I'm not one for patterns. I've used them but if I'm looking at a project that I can't just figure out on my own without using a pattern, I know for certain that I won't be doing it. I sew out of necessity, not as a hobby or anything, so I tend to pick things that are simple geometry. Hence the previous history of rectangle-based window coverings.

Anyway, Sal and I measured the windows, bought the fabric and other stuff we'd need, and set to work. Two weeks and many frayed nerves later, they were done. I'd like to say they went according to plan -- after all, they're just rectangles, right? -- but they totally didn't. I figured out after completing the first one that right angles? EXTREMELY important in Roman shades. Not that I can't sew a simple rectangle, but I'm not so great a seamstress that there isn't a slight variation from the ideal right angle of, oh, say plus or minus one percent. Normally, not a problem. In Roman shades, though, very big problem. And this was compounded by the fact that my sewing machine tends to pull to the left. I know how to compensate for it, but when your project requires surgical precision, it's rather like attempting brain surgery wearing boxing gloves.

So yeah, after sewing and ripping out seams and re-sewing, I ended up making enough Roman shades for the Roman Coliseum. The good thing, though, is that after the four-hundredth time, you get pretty good at it. Oh, I have no doubt Martha Stewart would sneer at the finished product but since she's facing a little time in a white-collar minimum security prison, I'm thinking ol' Martha can keep her comments to herself. Sal and I like them just fine.

The larger, central window is an upholstery fabric with a darker gold/rust background with black curly cues all over (they're kind of hard to see in the photo). The side windows are a solid rust fabric, like heavy canvas. They go nicely with the dark wood and although the walls weren't yet painted in the picture, they look sharp with the purple walls. Since the fabric is heavy and all the shades are lined, they provide the added benefit of keeping the room warm when it's cold outside. The original windows having been installed in 1915, they're single-paned and not very efficient. That's not a terribly big deal in the Northwest where it doesn't get very cold in the winter, but the heavy fabric, means it's not even an issue. So they turned out to be a really great solution.

click to see full photo gallery