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Monthly Archives: November 2015

24 11, 2015

Explaining the Differences between Muslin and Canvas

By |November 24th, 2015|Education, Fabrics|1 Comment

We get frequent requests for custom backdrops and cycloramas, sometimes to be used in their plain fabric state, and sometimes to be hand-painted onsite for end use as scenic backdrops. With those requests, we find that occasionally there is a confusion regarding the differences between cotton canvas and cotton theatrical muslin.

Cotton canvas is a sturdy woven fabric used for a variety of home and commercial purposes. There are two types of canvas – plain and duck cloth. Plain canvas, which has a looser weave, is used in applications needing greater flexibility, such as shoes and backpacks. The tighter-weaved duck canvas (also called duck cloth or scenery canvas) is more commonly used stretched over frames (for paintings, other art pieces, and theatre scenery pieces) and for items such as tarps and tents, and is available in both flame retardant and non-flame retardant options.

As duck cloth accepts dye very well, lighter weight versions are manufactured in a variety of colors for use in retail displays and special event décor. Canvas, whether in the plain or duck weave, is not suitable for theatrical backdrops or cycloramas.

Cotton muslin has a similar plain weave to cotton canvas, but typically has a smoother, softer hand. Lighter weight versions are used for a variety of applications, including apparel, whereas heavy-weight theatrical muslin is traditionally used for backdrops and cycloramas.

Heavy weight theatrical muslin (also known as scenic muslin) is used extensively in theatres, film and television studios, photography studios, and live music performances, primarily in the form of custom made stage backdrops and cycloramas. As it is available in a standard version in widths up to 126 inches and in an extra wide version in widths up to 39 feet, scenic muslin allows for the creation of seamless panels as large as 38’ h x 180’ wide. If seamed, there is even greater flexibility in size.


Scenic backdrop for Little Big Town, hand-painted onto heavy weight theatrical muslin. Photo Courtesy Bobby Simmons

All widths of heavy weight theatrical muslin are available in a natural color (the undyed color of the fabric), and depending on the width desired may also available in additional colors, including bleached white, black, light blue, dark blue, light grey and dark grey (not all colors are available in all widths). Theatrical muslin is sold as both flame retardant and non flame retardant.


The same scenic backdrop for Little Big Town. Under UV lighting, the under-painting is displayed. Photo Courtesy Bobby Simmons.
18 11, 2015

Environmental Factors and Fabrics

By |November 18th, 2015|Education, Fabrics, Flame Retardancy|2 Comments

Summer seems to have finally ended here in sunny SoCal – and now out come the sweaters and the scarves.  Which brings me to thinking about the environmental effects that seasonal changes have on many of the fabrics that we cut and sew (and sell) right here at Sew What? Inc.


Generally speaking, the trend over the last few years has been to shift over to polyester textiles, especially Avora and Trevira polyesters – mostly for their extreme durability in terms of being flame resistant – often times for the life of the fabric. Because flame retardancy is added during the manufacture of the fibers themselves (rather than through a topical treatment of the fabrics), the fibers (and the resulting fabrics) are considered inherently and permanently flame retardant. The flame retardancy will not be removed through washing or dry-cleaning.  Needless to say, these technological changes in fiber content and the resulting fabrics has been industry changing for the entertainment softgoods market.

But there is yet another benefit to staying within the polyester based fabric lines – and that is their resistance to climate changes.  Unlike a cotton or a cotton mix – you won’t get shrinking with moisture.  Traditional cotton velour will shrink as much as an inch and a half every 10 feet (which can be significant on a 40 foot high drape).  Cottons are topically treated with chemicals to ensure their flame resistance – and did you know that those chemicals will “frost” if exposed to high moisture?  You have likely seen some old school drapes that has what look like water marks on them.  That’s where the chemical treatment has been exposed to water or high moister and the chemical has effervesced.

Polyester velours, such as Encore Velour – offer the buyer both flame resistance and weather resistance.  NOT that I am suggesting you hang them out in the rain.  That would not be wise as they are not UV resistant!  But the fact that you can have poly drapes in a venue where there are heavy shifts in moisture or temperature – (such as when water cooled air conditioners are employed) or if you have dehumidifiers in use just “some” of the time.

I also like the polyesters, such as poly muslin, for their color fastness.  We have in rentals some drapes that have been well washed – and have worked hard – and the color is still good and solid. For black drapes where you don’t want a “fade to grey” the poly based products again win hands down.

I’m a fan of 100% cotton for specific uses – the cotton velours are more gorgeous and the absence of any man-made fiber means that they aren’t reflective.  This can be a lighting designers dream!  Love to see traditional cottons used in traditional theatrical environments – with both controlled climates and controlled lighting conditions.


The 100% poly products bring it home for venues and locations that are high traffic – high wear – and even high humidity.  Gymnasium retrofits, cafeterias, touring productions going into a variety of venues, house of worship environments with lots of drapery changeovers.  And of course concerts – rock and roll means the drapes work hard.  The polyester textiles will do so much better in the long run.  More durable and more likely to successfully pass flame testing and a variety of venues over an extended period of time.

16 11, 2015

Rockin’ Red Drapes Help Halloween Design Really POP!

By |November 16th, 2015|Products, Projects|1 Comment

We love being a part of celebrations all over the country, but we have a LOT of fun when we get to be a part of our clients’ holiday themed special events, parties, productions, and trade shows, too. There is just something so magical about the transformation of an “ordinary” space when it’s all decked out in the holiday colors, styles, and embellishments that help make the event become truly SPECTACULAR!

RR_Vox Productions Red Supervel
This past Halloween we were thrilled to work with designer Shawn Sedlacek with Vox Productions, and provide him with some gorgeous rental 12’h x 10’w Red Super-Vel pleated theatrical draperies from our Rockin’ Red Drapery Collection. He was able to use these drapes for the extremely memorable event design at this year’s Playboy Mansion Entrance Facade at the 2015 Carnival of Screams.  He needed something for their entranceway that was lightweight, easy to hang, yet durable, and of course he wanted something to stay within the event’s motif, too.

RR_Red Sup PB
The pop of the rich red color from these drapes, and some added sensational touches of macabre Halloween enhancements and dramatic lighting, all ended up being perfect for their vision. His inventive use of color and design create a real “Scream” of an entrance for this year’s festive party guests!

12 11, 2015

Considering a New Digital Backdrop? Here’s What to Consider to Get Started

By |November 12th, 2015|Digital Printing, Education|1 Comment

So, you’re the manager of an up and coming indie band about to start their first club tour.  Or you have a trade show booth and you want your booth to stand out from the crowd.  Or you are with a church or school about to debut a new production.  You think you want a digitally printed backdrop, but you’re feeling a little intimidated because you don’t know much about the process of purchasing a custom digital backdrop.   Well, I hope this post starts you on the path and relieves that intimidation just a bit!


The first thing to consider is how the backdrop will be used, as different fabric substrates work better for different applications.  Will it be frontlit or backlit?  Will you be using it indoors or outdoors?  Do you want it opaque or sheer? Do you plan to use it as a kabuki?  Are you planning to project on it?  Are you looking for a traditional fabric substrate, or something along the lines of a vinyl or vinyl mesh?  Think about these issues, and then discuss your needs with us so that we can recommend the substrate that is most appropriate for your project.



Because traditional stage backdrops and custom stage curtains are priced on an individual basis, according to a variety of factors including size, face fabric, lining fabric (if any), fullness, design complexity, and much more, it is difficult (if not impossible) to give a “ballpark” on the price of a stage curtain.  There is not an “average”, because there is no such thing as an “average” theatre drape – there are just too many variables.

However, digitally printed backdrops tend to have much fewer variables.  Nearly all of them are sewn flat (unpleated), and the number of available substrates is relatively limited.  For that reason, digitally printed backdrops are typically priced by the square foot, based on the substrate and print method.  This allows you to have a rough idea of the price as you make decisions on size and substrate.




The custom digital backdrops that we produce are based on print-ready artwork provided by the customer (though we do offer limited graphic services to assist in preparing or repairing your file).  You may purchase the image from a stock image source (there are a number on the Internet), you may create it yourself, or you may utilize the services of a commercial graphic designer.  Keep in mind that, due to copyright laws, you must be the copyright owner (or have permission from the copyright owner) to print an image.

Typically, you will be asked to provide the artwork to Sew What? in a digital file.  At Sew What, we work with Windows PC-based files only (rather than Mac files), and we prefer that files be saved as an EPS or a PSD file, as we work primarily in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.  All files should be in layers, in CMYK color mode.  We can also work with Vector art that is delivered as an EPS or .AI file.  Files may be delivered in a variety of methods, including floppy disk, Zip disk, CD/DVD, e-mail, or FTP, depending on the size of the file.  More detailed information may be found in our File Preparation Guidelines.

Tri Horse_1_SM

Well, I hope this post gives you the information that you need to start planning your digital backdrop.  Feel free to call us with any questions  – we’d be happy to help.

10 11, 2015

Sew What’s Talented And Energized Sewing Staff Gets The Job Done Right!

By |November 10th, 2015|Company, Rent What Team, Sew What Team|1 Comment

Our warehouse staff is always buzzing with energy and talent, and it shows in not only the quality of our products, but in the expediency we are able to get our soft goods out to our eager clients. Recently videographer Tom Underhill recorded a little bit of a “day in the life” of our warehouse sewing, cutting, and quality control teams here at Sew What? Inc., and it is so much fun to watch!

Seeing the entire “Whatters family” working so hard to provide some of the most amazing, beautiful, and durable stage draperies and theatrical curtains in the industry is very satisfying for us. With music by Brainspoon, this piece is truly a great showcase of our diligent, skillful staff doing what they do best—hand-sewing the theatrical backdrops and drapes that our clients always envisioned!