One of the greatest challenges I found in the development of our company and products was learning how to relate each particular fabric to how it would play under professional lighting.

Unlike the garment industry, where the cloth used for clothing will be seen under natural light – when it comes to theatrical drapery you might venture to say that the drapes are almost never (if albeit rarely) seen by an audience under sunlight or natural light.  The few exceptions are of course daytime festival events – or outdoor special events. Certainly not the bulk of scenarios that we are selling into.

Having no “formal” training in lighting design – it was often hard for me to relate to the output variance between, say, an LED light source and an incandescent light source.

Also – discovering that certain fabrics will absorb light – versus others such as polyester or nylon based cloth that will in fact react to and reflect light.  These small tips and tricks were often close to deal breakers in the beginning.

Hard to put all the rules of thumb into a few short paragraphs – but I did think it might be useful to some for me to pen a brief summary. With so many new players entering the softgoods construction marketplace – it might be helpful for some clients to know what they want to ask for.  Why not take advantage of what has been done wrong before you!

I’ll present as myths and facts – hopefully that works!

MYTH – you need to use white poly silk to do a backlight silhouette effect.

FACT – you can in fact use ANY color poly silk to do a backlighting silhouette effect.  Some of the most unexpected and dramatic silhouette reveals have been done with black silk in fact.  With a focusable light source behind the drape and the right amount of throw between the light / object / drape, you will get an amazing silhouette effect.  If you want a light colored drape – then go for medium grey silk rather than white – as it will show less dirt if you are planning on touring the piece. For the best effect, select from the “wide” silk color palette – the less seams in the drape, the cleaner the gag will be.

MYTH – you can’t kabuki anything but silk or ripstop.

FACT – honestly this isn’t so.  I have seen anything and everything dropped from kabuki solenoids – up to and including a full blown Austrian style drape.  It IS a fact that the cloth decision will somewhat affect the amount of flutter you get when the solenoids fire…….. however, in many cases a kabuki is in fact dropped or released when the stage lights are out.  In which case a silky cloth is irrelevant.  If you are touring – choose a durable cloth. Once the drape hits the ground (ever so gracefully), it will then be manually dragged off the stage (not so gracefully) by some Doc Marten-clad stagehand and shoved (more often than not) into a travel hamper.  If you plan to do this night after night, you might decide to go with a poly muslin over a poly silk.  Or a rip stop for durability.   Watch a “white poly muslin kabuki drop” hit the stage deck in this short video. (https://youtu.be/aPKPVNs7Zyw )

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MYTH – you can sniff or reverse kabuki any size drape

FACT – a reverse kabuki – or a sniffer as many in our industry call it – is in fact quite an elaborate piece of stage drapery motion control. You have both the functionality of a kabuki drop – as well as that of a drum motor. So it IS a science.  It’s certainly not a good plan to fail to calculate the weights, strength, durability and size of the drape as it relates to the system.  I always advise clients to get the drape from the company that is supplying the motion control.  That way you won’t have any issues.  They will calculate what drape will work and supply the motion control to give the desired effect.  If you need a referral for a motion control company in the LA area that offers Reverse Kabuki systems, let us know.  We will be happy to offer some local recommended vendors. Want to see a reverse kabuki in action? Check out our logo emblazoned sniffer drapes here in this short video showing the opening of the Foo Fighters tour. (https://youtu.be/Ss3HQRzq30w )

MYTH – using a stretch fabric for a roof treatment means that you can “pull it out tighter” and get a flatter ceiling installation.

FACT – this is about as far from the truth as we have ever found – unless the ceiling piece is “very” small.  For large fabric installations where you are looking to get a large surface area to stretch out tight…….. you want to select a material with the least amount of stretch possible.  That way you can “crank” it out into place.  But remember – you are only as strong as the weakest link…………… and that means that if you over stretch against your sewing lines you may well split the seams.  Our advice usually includes – stick with non-stretch fabrics.  Flat-fell seams when possible for added strength. Add some pick points for the inevitable spans of aircraft cable that may be needed to support extremely long runs.  AND – don’t forget to bear in mind the environmental factors such as: cotton will stain if it gets moist up in the ceiling of a tent overnight…………… vinyl will billow and eventually tear if water collects on top of it because you didn’t factor some method of runoff in case of rain………… no tent EVER seems to be the exact measurement that the plans said it would be.  When it comes time to install a ceiling, you will want to have factored in some “variance” opportunity to ensure that you can install onsite without having to have a seamstress to cut and sew.

MYTH – if you have a flame cert you won’t have a problem at the venue.

FACT – it’s a good start to have your flame certs – and we don’t suggest that ANY client ever hit a stage or venue without their certs and burn samples.  But just know – that when in Rome you will be obligated to do as the Romans do.  A fire marshal can legally demand a burn test – they don’t have to accept your certs if they don’t want to. They can demand a re-spray of your drapes, at your cost, if they feel it necessary or appropriate. Beyond that – there is no such thing as a certificate that fits ALL FR standards.  Every country has different requirements, as well as some states in the USA having their own standards beyond the national standard.  Basically – always go prepared and try to plan ahead with each venue so that you know their needs ahead of time.  MOST problems exist when arriving at a venue without the appropriate documentation.  A call in advance could be the difference between a show with, or without, drape. Learn more by reviewing our white paper section on fabric flammability and flame retardancy (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/flameretardancy.php )

MYTH – that you can create a portal style entry for your artists when you rent a traditional Austrian style drape.

FACT – you cannot effectively create an artist’s entry with a standard sewn Austrian.  If you want to lift the lines of a drape at different heights and or at different speeds to create a unique silhouette at the hem line you will need to order a CONTOUR style drape.  Be sure to know what it is you want the drape to do before you invest in such an elaborate drapery piece.  With so many different names to often describe the same thing it can get very confusing. We have lots of information that relates to Austrian/Pouff drapes and how they operate versus Venetian/Contour/Waterfall drapery styles on our website. Check out our Drape Descriptions page (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/stage_drapes.php)

MYTH – outdoor vinyl coated mesh isn’t see thru.

FACT – outdoor vinyl coated mesh – whether traditional solid color direct from the mill OR digitally printed with a custom graphic – will indeed be see thru if you have a lot of light behind.  Just be sure that you are selecting a blow thru product for use in the right places and for the right reasons.  Blow thru 73% vinyl coated mesh is great for outdoor use, where there is a concern regarding wind load (73% textile and 27% open space to let air pass thru).  This also means that it will only grab three quarters of the lighting that you throw at it – and that it will be significantly transparent.  It really doesn’t light that well in an indoor environment and is kind of glossy looking.  Stay clear of vinyl products unless you have a specific need for their weather resistance and or blow thru capability.  Here are some close up shots of some name brand coated mesh products – check them out (http://www.sewwhatinc.com/outdoor_textilene.php)

Just a few – plenty more where they came from but as Rome wasn’t built in a day, I shan’t share all the findings in a single blog post!

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