Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Shady situation

A snippet of fabric from my old roman shades

I hold the shade firmly in place with two hands, being sure not to let go, while Tony positions the drill at the far end and reverses the screw. Taking down. Coming down. Down, down, down. Our family room roman shades, sewed by my sister-in-law and me, nearly thirty years ago. Thirty years, as told through curtains - wow!  

I remember how excited I was to make my own curtains. Was this simply me, nesting, with my young family? I cannot imagine taking on this task right now. Certainly, to create my own curtains was the most affordable solution. We had just completed an addition to our home, a large, open family room. The addition was completed mere days before our second child was born - and, though I knew that furnishings could be purchased and arranged over time, the five big open windows needed some sort of covering just for privacy's sake. My sister-in-law Linda lived nearby back then, and she, a skilled sewer, assured me that we could make roman shades together. 

I made so many trips to the fabric store, trying to choose just the right one. Carrying my newborn in a chest pouch, I made my way through tall, vertical rolls of fabric, awash in florals, geometrics, ripples, stripes, checked, getting lost and confused, trying to imagine them in my house. This place overflowed with rolls of gorgeous cloth - so many different textures, so many different patterns. I took home fabric swatches to quiet my mind from the confusion of so many choices, and to share with Tony to make sure we were in agreement. In the end, we liked the multi-colored fabric shown above - predominantly earthy red, with touches of grey blue, dusty pink, muted green, off-white. I loved the varied colors, I liked the way the fabric felt between my fingers, I even liked the way it smelled. 

It felt like a hard and crazy decision to make at the time, buying that much material. Others assured me, "it's only fabric - you can change it whenever." Ha! 'Whenever' is thirty years later, and I still don't WANT to change it. I simply MUST. 

Yes, those shades hung out through countless hours of arts and crafts and toys, so many television shows, videos, and movies, sleepovers and cousins visiting, extended family on the pullout couch, endless meals and celebrations, so many Friday night pizzas and wine for Tony and me...imagine! They simply became part of the background, taken for granted. Quiet, unobtrusive. But, like an easy-going student who simply will not be ignored any longer, they decided to fall apart. The tattered state of these roman shades was stunningly obvious during this time of endless days at home. (In fact, the whole house seems to be suffering from thirty years of deferred maintenance!) The shades wrinkled and bunched up in unexpected ways as they hung, no longer looking 'neat.' There were uneven fade lines at the folds, from where the sun soaked them during the day. The once strong and 'room darkening' backing became neither; instead, it faded, weakened, and discolored from so many years of bright sunlight, and actually disintegrated in sections. This meant, when I raised the shades each morning, I had to take care to adjust and refold the fabric so that the worn holes didn't show. Oh my. Yes, it was time. My goodness, it was long past time - these shades went from beautiful to comfy to plumb wore out. 

I cannot imagine sitting down and sewing new roman shades right now, even though, surely, I have the time. I remember Linda coming over to our house to sew - we'd lay the fabric on the floor, and measure, mark, and cut. We'd sew and chat alongside each other at our machines, in and amongst my nursing the baby, running after my preschooler; my ten year old niece helped greatly with the preschooler's entertainment. (Blanket forts!) With Linda's guidance, I created shades for the two single windows and the small one in the kitchen, we worked together on the double window, and she figured out the intricacy of the triple window. Ah, this triple window! Linda was amazing with this - fearless. I remember how she sewed these large panels together and asked what I thought, did the patterns align well? I assured her that I thought they aligned beautifully; however, she shook her head no, in disappointment. "I don't think it's quite right," she critiqued. With that, she pulled out all the seams and restitched - while I sat with my mouth agape in astonishment! This story is now family legend - Linda's beautiful work. [The photo above shows a swatch of fabric from the fading and worn shades, spotlighting Linda's perfect seams.]

Our new roman shades? These were a much less meaningful process. I "researched on-line" (no fabulous sensory immersion in a fabric store, this time), I ordered a few swatches, I went with a softer, muted neutral...though, if I look very closely, I see soft lines of grey blue, dusty pink, muted green. I measured the windows, placed my order, and voila, a few weeks later, they were delivered to my doorstep. 

Our rainy afternoon yesterday was just perfect for installing them. Yes, it was a simple, efficient, and sterile process, really.

Strangely, I feel more alert; reorganizing and updating has this effect on me. It's not just the windows that are different - the room, too, is much cleaner and brighter, simply due to all the straightening and cleaning we did as we took down the old ones and put up the new. I have always been someone who tidies and culls, before settling into writing or a project. As a teacher, before a 'tough' conversation with a preschooler's family or a colleague, there I was, cleaning off the top of a cabinet, tossing stuff into the trash, making things tidy. Honestly - before my final exams in college, I had a meticulously cleaned room. That's just me. 

So, here I sit. My first morning with these new shades.Yes, they look nice and clean...they hang nicely. A much-needed and long-overdue change. I know this. 

But it feels odd. 

I'm still not sure about these new shades. When will their newness wear off? When will they become ordinary background? What chapters of my life will they witness? What's their story?

Give me time.

Speaking of stories about curtains, I am reminded of Virginia Woolf's dreamy story Nurse Lugton's Curtain:

Over them burnt Nurse Lugton's golden thimble like a sun; and as Nurse Lugton snored, the animals heard the wind roaring through the forest. Down they went to drink, and as they trod, the blue curtain (for Nurse Lugton was making a curtain for Mrs John Jasper Gingham's drawing-room window) became made of grass, and roses and daisies...


I wrote this post for Slice of Life.  All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, on Tuesdays. Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!


  1. I’m fascinated by this “shady” memory. I’d love to see a photo of your new shades. I share this tidying ritual and find myself thinking about what in my home shows signs of age and what a I’ve replaced. Soon I’ll be replacing the window treatments. I made the Roman shades in my front room and glanced at the broken dowel rod in one as I read your post. It is exhausting the way a house needs constant care, much like a child.

  2. Maureen, I echo Glenda's desire to see the newly shaded room. I love how Linda's painstaking detail to making the seams perfect had become part of the family lore. That was a sweet detail.

    I loved how you speak of the shades personified, hanging out through all those crafts TV and movies, sleepovers, meals, wine and pizza. That was beautiful. And then to wonder about the chapters the new shades will witness. You have written eloquently about this everyday item that is so much more.