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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.

27 10, 2015

Debunking a Few Myths about Stage Drapery Fabrics, Lighting, and More

By |October 27th, 2015|Authors, Education|1 Comment

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. ( )


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. ( )

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 ( )

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 (

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 (

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!

Contact us for more information – or join us on one of our many social networks to participate in the conversation.







15 10, 2015

Choosing Fabrics for Custom Stage Curtains

By |October 15th, 2015|Education, Fabrics, links|1 Comment

In the market for new custom stage curtains, but confused about what type of flame retardant fabric to choose based on your specific needs?  I can understand your confusion.  There are many different types of flame retardant fabric available, but not all fabrics work for all situations.  For example, one fabric might be great for blocking light, but you actually need curtains that allow diffuse light but still allow it to shine through.

If this sounds like you, we have a terrific resource available to you on our website.  It is called “Opaque, Transparent, or Translucent? Tips for Making the Best Fabric Choice for Stage Draperies.” In the article, we explain the differences between these three terms as well as give you specific examples of situations and fabrics. To access the full article in Adobe pdf format (to download, print, or read online), click here.


Another helpful resource is the eSwatches section of our website.  This section lists a number of different fabrics, categorized by fabric type, and identified as to the most common areas of use for each fabric.  When viewing a specific fabric eSwatch page, photos of the fabric’s color range are provided as well as additional information on that fabric (such as suggestions on when to use the fabric, more details on whether it is opaque, transparent, or translucent, and more.

Of course, another great resource is our experienced staff members.  Feel free to contact us online or by phone – we would be happy to advise you on the fabrics we think would work best for your project.

20 08, 2015

The Magic of Sharkstooth Scrim

By |August 20th, 2015|Digital Printing, Fabrics, Products, Projects|3 Comments

Have you ever been in the audience of a stage play or concert, and somehow a scene slowly appeared on stage as if by magic?  If so, chances are this effect was created with a special fabric called Sharkstooth Scrim.

Sharkstooth Scrim is an open rectangular weave fabric (similar to net).  Its special weave allows for special effects to be created based on how it is lit.  When lit correctly from the front (and with a dark stage behind), the scrim will appear completely opaque, hiding any people or objects that are on the stage behind it. However, once the lights in front are turned off, and objects behind the scrim are lit, the scrim becomes transparent so that the objects come into view.  It really is an amazing effect – no matter how many times I see it happen, it still surprises me every time.


In addition to being used on its own as a backdrop material (creating what is referred to as a “Scrim“), Sharkstooth Scrim is also used in other ways.  It is often used as one of the components in a Mixed Media Backdrop, such as the one we made for Flogging Molly, in which the windows were cut out of a digitally printed backdrop, with Black Sharkstooth Scrim inserted behind the window cutouts.

Flo Mol_1

Available in several colors and a variety of widths, Sharkstooth Scrim is also used as a scenic substrate for digital printing and hand-painting.  By printing or painting images only on portions of the Sharkstooth Scrim, proper lighting techniques allow for the “plain” areas to disappear, making the scenic portions appear to float in mid-air.


In this video, our sewing shop works on a digitally printed scrim for award winning recording artist Sam Smith.  Stay tuned to the end of the video to see the finished scrim in concert, with the printed areas appearing to glow and float.

As you can see, Sharkstooth Scrim really is an amazingly versatile fabric!  Whether used on its own or with other materials, as a stand-alone fabric or a scenic substrate, the ways it can enhance a theatrical or musical design are countless.

23 02, 2015

Metal Mesh Drapes Electrify At Austin City Limits Live

By |February 23rd, 2015|Clients, Products, Projects|3 Comments

It’s always so exciting to see our drapes being used in “real world settings”, and this instance is especially thrilling for us indeed. Recently, we had the honor of working with the Austin City Limits Live, which needed some special stock set pieces for their show that would be versatile enough to work with all kinds of musical performances. By showcasing artists and bands of numerous types of genres and styles, they needed something that would be both eclectic and electric . Working with their lighting designer Billy Heaslip, we came up with some magnificent and adaptable custom 30’h x 10’w Metal Mesh Drape panels for their stage to help cover their truss towers on stage. We also added Velcro on the sides of the drapes which gave them more functionality by being able to either be used as single panels together or with negative space between them, or simply as one big backdrop.


Metal Mesh drapery is so incredibly dynamic too, by just adding a splash of some colorful theatrical lighting, they can completely change the mood and feel of the stage design from song to song or artist to artist. Metal Mesh drapes are ideal stage pieces for venues featuring a wide-ranging group of artists. Being so lightweight makes them super easy to hang and transport, and their durability makes them perfect for tours and stages both inside and outside. Austin City Limits’ Automated Lighting Programmer Bryan Schrumpt with Go Show Pro LLC did an amazing job showcasing the drapes’ versatility by adding some various dazzling colors to them, which were then beautifully photographed by House Photographer at ACL-LIVE, Scott Moore.


These were custom drapes manufactured by Sew What? for Austin City Limits Live, but for those interested in a rental option, Rent What? Inc. also offers similarly dazzling metal mesh drapes as magnificent rental pieces, too. With lots of sizes and styles to choose from we can offer you some great options for your single event or concert tour. Let us help you find the perfect metal mesh drapes for your next big show!

Photo Credits:
Photographer: Scott Moore – One of the House Photographers for ACL-LIVE
Lighting Design: Billy Heaslip, Entertainment Consultant
Automated Lighting Programmer: Bryan Schrumpf – Go Show Pro LLC