Building Custom Curtains for Stonover Barn

Posted by on March 27, 2016 in Theatre, Tools and Methods, Weddings | 0 comments

Grommeting the top edge

I’ve got an upcoming wedding this season for which my client requested ivory-colored curtains to frame and decorate the rustic sliding barn door entrance into the big barn at Stonover Farm, similar to the curtains pictured here, but in a different fabric. Though I specialize in lighting design, my technical theatre skills do include soft goods construction and rigging know-how, so I gladly took it on.

Stonover Barn viewed through burlap curtains

Here’s a wide shot of this beautiful barn completely unadorned in the middle of winter:
Stonover Barn in winter
…And here is a shot of the barn with my lighting and with flowers and décor by florist Crocus Hale, a friend and colleague with whom I collaborate frequently.

Burlap curtains and Chuppah at Stonover Barn
These burlap curtains, designed and built by Crocus, are a popular choice at Stonover, as their rough, natural jute-colored fabric feels very down-on-the-farm. My clients, however, are after a slightly more refined look, using a palette of clean ivories and creams. I did some swatching of various fabric options at Rosebrand, B&J Fabrics in the garment district in NYC, and at a few big box discount stores, to give them a broad range of options at various pricepoints.
ivory swatches closeup 2

We settled on a simple medium-weight muslin that is a perfect match to her linens and chair cushions. It’s an unbleached cotton fabric that has naturally occuring dark brown specks throughout. I bought 20 yards and got to work.
Bulk muslin
A nice bonus of selecting a fabric so commonly used in theatre, and purchasing from a theatrical supply house: It’s available already pre-treated with flame retardant, saving me quite a lot of work on my end. The law requires that all décor materials used in a public assembly space be either inherently flame retardant or treated with a solution to make them so, and at events held in a barn with no fire suppression system, the fire chief often shows up to check up on you!
Muslin Curtains Flame Cert

My loft in the Eclipse Mill, a former textile mill in North Adams, Massachusetts, has a huge open studio space that is perfect for large custom construction projects. Fortuitously, during the week I wanted to build the curtains I had a curious and industrious 16-year-old on loan from extended family during his spring break. When we weren’t trotting around the Berkshires looking at small liberal arts colleges he’s interested in, I put him to work on the curtain project.
Trevor laying out our first curtain

Sewing a giant curtain is actually not too hard when you’re working with a fabric that is user-friendly–not so heavy-weight you need an industrial-grade sewing machine, not so stretchy you can’t control it, not so fragile you can easily damage it–and they don’t get much more user-friendly than muslin. Cutting to size, hemming the edges, reinforcing the top and sinking grommets every 6″ was well within our capabilities. It was definitely nice to have an extra pair of hands managing the fabric, especially during the sewing work.
Prepping bottom hem for sewing
We rigged up an aircraft cable with a turnbuckle between the exposed beams along the wall of my studio, and… voilá! A 16-foot-tall, 110″ wide muslin panel–the first of four.
Seitel Lighting LLC Custom Muslin Curtain 2 jsfwSeitel Lighting LLC custom muslin curtain jsfw

This beautiful Aleko heavy duty benchtop grommet machine is my new favorite shop tool. (Well, actually, Trevor is. But this tool ranks #2.)
Aleko benchtop grommet machine

Unfortunately I had to ship the 16-year-old back to his mother in Florida so I’ll have to do the remaining schlepwork myself… but that’s okay. Building soft goods is very zen.

More pics to follow, when I install these in the barn in June….