In episode 23 of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech (air date September 18, 2019), Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock discuss a draping style called "Italian stringing". It's not a method that's used very often and it has a little bit of mystery. When you see a drapery with Italian stringing you might think... "how does the drapery do that"?
Listen to the podcast here: Italian Stringing Episode 23
What is Italian stringing?
Italian Stringing is where the drapery is pulled up with cords on the back, behind the drapery. It’s similar to how a soft shade works. Rings are sewn to the back, and lift cords are threaded through the rings to pull up the fabric. This allows a drapery panel to be pulled back without the use of tiebacks or holdbacks. It can be functional, opening and closing with the use of lift cords, or fixed at an attractive level.
The origins of the name most likely come from the theater where this technique is known as "opera drapery" or "tableau", and workrooms who specialize in theater drapery will also call this "tab" drapery. The photo below shows the ropes and rings used to lift a heavy, stage drapery, and the video shows an animation of how the drapery lifts up and to the side.
Photo credit: Wikipedia / Grand théâtre d'Angers
Video by Rose Brand Theatrical Curtains
Italian Stringing in Residential Interiors
Italian stringing can be used for formal or casual room decor, based on the hardware and materials used. This type of curtain stringing has been around for a long time. It was a very common in Colonial America, and may be called a “festoon curtain” or “pull-up curtain" in historic books. "It's not just on windows", Susan shared, "I’ve seen this used on beds at Colonial Williamsburg. Imagine how that works! You can lower all the curtains while in bed with cords and pulleys. In modern times we would use a remote control".
Photo from Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Fabricating with Italian Stringing
You can achieve a wide variety of styles by the amount of fullness used, and how the cords are routed. How much fullness? It depends on the look that you are trying to achieve. You can use Italian stringing on a flat panel without any fullness, or a drapery with 3-times fullness.
The “stringing” is the technique, not the drapery.
The key is – and the difference from how shades are made... is to sew the rings in an arc from the leading edge to the top on the back of the panel, and not in a straight line.
Susan shares her approach... "For a flat panel, I like to have the first ring at the bottom start inset from the bottom and side, and then the rest of the rings are placed in a slight arc up to the top. It’s an easy style to make. One flat panel will be pulled to one side which is perfect for a pair of windows – one pulled up to the right, and the other pulled up to the left, or you can have a pair on one window. This isn’t a full-length curtain. One of the mistakes that can be made is for the cord to be taken too sharply to the side. The cord needs to come up under the curtain, not close to the return edge...lifting to the side and up at the same time. That allows the fabric to drape and creates a pretty swag effect also known as the "belly", and the part hanging below is the "tail".
The room below shows a pair of Italian strung flat curtains. Black banding outlines the edges. Instructions for making this style of curtain can be found in the book Singer(R) Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments by Susan Woodcock.
Photo credit (c)Susan Woodcock 2016
The same style can be softened with just a little fullness across the top.
The example below is made with slight fullness, and the two panels overlap in the center. The style is updated with a modern print and inset tape in citrus colors, and wooden, painted tassels. Photo credit: Susan Woodcock
Italian strung curtains are commonly board mounted but they can also be on a rod with rings if you plan for a way to secure the cord. If you make a pair the center might need to overlap, so that it covers the board, or you can add a design element like a jabot, or rosette.
Planning for Cords and Rings
Susan recommends testing the ring placement with safety pins first. "By clamping the drapery heading to the table, you can run a cord through the safety pins to see how it’s going to pull up", she said. "If you have room, you can hang the drapery and do the same thing. Remember that the line of rings is sewn in an arc up to the top, and inset from the return edge".
The examples below show how important it is to arc the path of the cord. A straight line will not pull up properly. See the different results below with the same panel but the rings sewn in a different path on the reverse side.
This panel is pulled up following the purple line "A"
This panel is pulled up following the green line "B"
This panel is pulled up following the straight red line "C"
Italian Stringing for Large Windows
For large windows with multi-width drapery panels, the cords will likely pulling up the leading edge only, and much of the drapery will be hanging straight. For example, on a 60 inch wide finished panel, the cords could be pulling up 20 or 30 inches inset from the return end.
The photo below shows Italian stringing on arched drapery by Barry Dixon Interiors.
Ceil asked, "what about the leading edge, and how it hikes up? Is that the preferred way to finish the drapery, or do you want the drapery to be even at the bottom"?
"It’s all up to the client" Susan replied, adding... "I let them know that when you pull the drapery back, whether that’s with a tieback or Italian stringing - the leading edge hikes up. It can be made even… but that’s an additional cost because it takes more time". To create an even length, drape a cord – I like bead weight chain – to determine how long the leading edge needs to be to compensate for pulling back. Then the drapery is made with the leading edge longer than the rest of the drapery. This will be a stationary panel but Italian stringing is often stationary anyway, especially on a big drapery. The drawing below shows an example of draping a cord at the window to determine the finished length for the leading edge when an even bottom hem is desired. Drawing by (c)SusanWoodcock 2018
Compliance with Cord Safety Standards
Italian stringing is a corded window covering, and professional, custom workrooms will need to comply with the WCMA Standards for Window Covering Products. The use of cord shrouds or Safe-T-Shade(R) ring locks is the same as with Roman shades. Susan pointed out that "when pulling back a panel with Italian Stringing, the fabric will bunch up tightly where the weight of the drapery is being pulled. It’s actually nice to have the larger size Safe-T-Shade Ring-Locks for a little spacing between the rings - and cord safety too"!
If you are using a clutch with bead chain loop, you will need to use an approved hold-down device, and label the window treatment following the cord safety standards. All of that information can be found on the Workroom Tech blog, and podcast Episode 5 and Episode 7.
For a heavy, lined, pleated drapery, Susan recommends that it be pulled back and tied off, or fixed - and not operable. It would be better to plan a blind, or shade under the curtain for privacy and light control. The photo below is of a multiple width silk drapery with french blackout lining. This drapery was adjusted at installation to achieve the desired look. The drapery was partially stacked back so that it didn't meet in the center for more light, and pulled up and fixed at the desired position.
Photo credit: Kathy Corbet Interiors, Richmond, VA. Workroom: Susan Woodcock