30-Minutes with Workroom Tech: Episode 23 / Italian Stringing

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

a theater drapery made in the tableau style

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

Bed with curtains at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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

A pair of curtains made with italian stringing by Susan Woodcock.  How-to instructions can be found in her book Singer(R) Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments.

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

A pair of italian strung curtains with soft fullness.

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