Soft Furnishing

Most ready-made items of soft furnishing arc expensive, but you can make them just as well at home and much more cheaply. Curtains and drapes, Hinds and shades, cushion covers and bed linen require the minimum of sewing skills and little in the way of equipment beyond a sewing machine and an iron.

The choice of fabric plays a major part in setting the style of a room, creating accents of colour to enliven a neutral decor or coordinating different elements. Colour is an important consideration when furnishing a room light shades while dark and vivid shades will generally close it up. Many people play safe by choosing neutral shades which, although easy to live with, can look rather dull and impersonal.

The ideal colour scheme is usually basically harmonious one, with interest added by the judicious use of contrasting or complementary colours for some elements of the design. Soft furnishings, such as cushions or blinds and shades, chosen in fabrics to contrast with the overall colour scheme, can add just the right amount of colour to brighten up a room.

Making soft furnishings at home is the perfect way to experiment with colour and make a visual statement. Most items require a few metres (yards)of fabric at the most. A good point to bear in mind when selecting fabric is that there are no hard-and-fast rules, apart from trying not to mix too many different colours and patterns in one setting. Most good stores will supply swatches of furnishing fabrics without charge for colour matching at home.

Another consideration is that the chosen fabric should he suitable for the intended purpose – for example, heavyweight cloths will make up into good curtains and cushion covers, hilt will be too stiff and unyielding to make a successful bed valance.

Cotton is the fabric most commonly used for soft furnishings, often with small amounts of synthetic fibres added for strength and to improve crease resistance. Linen is extremely strong, although expensive and inclined to crease badly; the addition of both cotton for economy and synthetics to help prevent creasing is usual. Both cotton and linen shrink when laundered, and you should take this into account when estimating the amounts that you require. Some furnishing fabrics are pre-shrunk during manufacture, and you should also always check this when purchasing.

Man-made fibres have different properties, depending on their composition, but the majority resist creases and shrinking. Their most common use for soft furnishings, apart from being added to cotton and linen blends, is for making easy-care nets and sheer curtains (drapes) which are lightweight and launder well.

Fabrics suitable for making soft furnishings are as follows:

Brocade: cotton, cotton/synthetic blend or acetate with a woven self-pattern created by areas of different weaves. Used for making formal curtains and drapes and cushion covers. Calico: inexpensive, medium-weight woven cotton, either dyed or printed, or sold unbleached. Used for curtains and blinds (shades), in particular. Chintz: glazed, medium-weight furnishing cotton, traditionally printed with patterns of roses and other flowers, birds and animals.

Gingham: inexpensive checked fabric woven from cotton or cotton/polyester blends. Often used for making soft furnishings for kitchens.

Hand-woven fabric: heavyweight or medium-weight cotton with an irregular, rather rough weave. Used for curtains and drapes, cushion covers and bedspreads.

Linen union: hardwearing, heavyweight fabric made from linen with some added cotton, often printed with floral designs. Suitable for curtains and covering upholstery.

Bright, cheerful soft-furnishing fabrics make an excellent foil to a plain floor covering.

Madras: hand-woven pure cotton originating from Madras in India. Usually dyed in brilliant colours, often with a woven pattern of checks, plaids and stripes.

Poplin: a lightweight or medium-weight cotton, either plain or printed. Sateen: cotton or cotton/synthetic fabric with a slight sheen. Curtain lining is usually made of lightweight cotton sateen.

Sheeting: extra-wide fabric for making bed linen. Usually woven from a mixture of 50 per cent cotton and 50per cent polyester or other man-made fibre, making it easy-care.

Ticking: heavy woven cloth with narrow stripes. Originally used for covering pillows, mattresses and bolsters, but today used as a decorative fabric in its own right.

Velvet: heavy fabric made from cotton or cotton/synthetic blends with a cut pile, used for formal curtains and cushion covers. Corduroy (needle cord)is similar, but here the cut pile forms regular ridges down the cloth.

Voile: light, semi-transparent cotton or synthetic fabric. Used for sheer curtains and bed drapes.

Luxurious fabrics used for curtains or drapes, cushions and upholstery are often the ideal medium for adding patterned elements to a room’s decor.

Blues and greens are naturally cool, receding colours, ideal for well-lit south-facing rooms, but can be warmed by splashes of contrast in orange and yellow.