Options for Top, Side and Bottom Finishes on Stage Curtains
When designing a custom stage curtain, there are a number of items to consider. One such item relates to the types of finishes – top, side, and bottom – that will work best in your specific situation. A number of factors will affect your decision regarding finishes, including how you will hang the curtain(s) and what fabric you have chosen. To help in your decision-making process, I have compiled information on the most commonly used top, side and bottom finishes.
There are a number of different top finishes, depending on how a curtain will be hung (and used). For a drape that will be hung from a pipe or batten and is not intended to travel (i.e. will be stationery rather than moveable), the industry standard top finish is webbing, grommets and ties. Heavy duty polypro webbing is sewn on the top back side of the drape. The grommets (strong eyelets with washer backings) are then set mechanically through the face of the drape and the webbing, at the center of each pleat. Grommets are generally set every 12″, but that may vary depending on the fullness of the drape. A continuous 36″ length of heavy duty tieline is then doubled over and threaded through the grommet, leaving ample room to tie onto the pipe or batten.
When a stage curtain will be hung on a traveller track, to allow the curtain to open and close, one of the most common top finishes is webbing, grommets and S-hooks. The webbing and grommets are set in the same manner as previously mentioned. However, rather than utilitize ties, metal S-hooks are instead inserted through the grommets. To hang the curtain, the top of each S-hook is threaded through the track carriers.
Both of these top finishes are generally used when the top of the curtain will not be visible to the audience, usually because it will be hidden by the proscenium or by a valance or border. In some cases, however, the top of the curtain will be visible to the audience, and therefore a hidden top finish is preferred. With Hidden Flush Sewn Snaps, a self-closing snap is attached to the back of the webbing first. The webbing is then sewn onto the top of the drape, leaving a clean appearance on the front of the drape. The snaps are then attached to the track carriers to hang the drape.
Another hidden top finish, one which is quite durable, is hidden grommets and ties. In this instance, a double set of grommets is inserted into the webbing. The webbing is then sewn onto the top of the drape, and tie lines are threaded through the grommets. Again, the front appearance of the top of the drape is unmarred.
Hidden sewn ties are a great way to not only give a finished appearance to the front of a drape, but also to hide the pipe or batten to which the drape is tied. Strong cotton twill ties are sewn to the back of the webbing, which is then sewn to the drape.
There are a few more top finishes, primarily used for temporary installations. For a border or teaser that will be stapled directly to a roof beam, a top finish of webbing only is used. For drapes that will be threaded onto a pipe (most commonly used in exhibit booths), a pipe pocket open hem is typical. This allows the user to create fullness from a flat drape, by making the drape wider than the pipe and then pushing the full width of the drape onto the pipe, thereby creating natural fullness.
In some cases, the fabric itself has a clean edge (selvage). As a result, for some drapes utilizing those fabrics, no side hem at all is required. This is often the case for simple one-width drapery panels (such as Exhibit Booth drapes or special event drapes). Encore Velour is one fabric that, when sewn into single-width exhibit drapery, is generally made with a selvage side finish. Voile drapes are also made with a selvage side finish, especially when sewn as single-width panels for special event usage. However, selvage sides are virtually never used for traditional stage drapes and are rarely used for multi-width panels (i.e. drapes that are unioned together to create a drape that is wider than the width of the original fabric).
The standard side hem for most custom stage curtains and backdrops is a double-turned 2-2 hem. This means that 2″ of fabric is folded in on the side, and then another 2″ is folded over and then the hem is sewn. This creates a clean finished edge to the hem with no chance of fraying. In some cases, the hem may be slightly different, such as 3-3 or 1-1, but the standard is 2-2.
Another option for a side finish is a half-width turnback. This involves folding the side edge back 1″, folding it again so that approximately half the width of the fabric is used for the side hem, and then sewing the turnback in place. For example, if the fabric is 54″ wide, then 27″ of the fabric would be used for the side hem. This side finish is typically used for the onstage edge of bi-parting traveller curtains (where the curtains meet in the middle). If the onstage edge of the curtain should flip open slightly while the curtains are being opened or closed (thereby exposing the back of the curtain), the audience will see the “good” side of the fabric rather than the back of the fabric. This side finish is also more durable due to the double thickness of fabric – the center point where bi-parting curtains meet is often subjected to more wear and tear, especially if the curtain is a walk-along (hand-operated rather than rope operated).
Often a traveller curtain will have different side finishes on the two sides – the onstage edge will have a half-width turnback and the offstage edge will have a standard 2-2 hem. However, in some cases, a half-width edge is designated for both sides of bi-parting traveller curtains. The benefit to this option is that, if the onstage edges of the two traveller curtains becomes frayed, the curtains can be reversed – the stage right curtain becomes the stage left curtain, and vice versa. Suddenly, the frayed edges are on the offstage edges (and are therefore less noticeable), with the more pristine edges now on the onstage edges (more visible to the audience in the center of the stage).
A 12″ turnback serves the same purpose as the half-width turnback – but is sometimes selected due to budgetary concerns, as this option saves a little money as less fabric is needed (just about 1/4 of a width of fabric vs 1/2 a width).
A very small hem (usually 1/2″ – 1/2″) is generally used for very delicate fabrics, especially sheers, when it is important that the hem be clean and finished but not noticeable. This side finish is often used for special event drapery that may be seen close-up (as opposed to traditional stage drapery that is generally seen from a distance).
Marrowing is a technique in which the actual edge of the fabric is sewn to provide a finished edge and prevent fraying, without actually folding back the fabric. This finish is often used for table linens.
The most common bottom finish for stage curtains is a lined hem with raised chain. A 6″ bottom hem is sewn to the bottom of the curtain. This hem is lined with a 4″ pocket (generally of muslin). Jack chain is then threaded into the interior pocket. Because the interior pocket is 2″ shorter than the hem, the chain floats above the bottom edge of the curtain hem. This prevents the chain from dragging on the floor when the curtain is opened or closed and also helps make a “seal” between the bottom edge of the drape and the (often uneven) stage floor.
A standard hem (2″, 4″ or 6″) is used primarily for drapes that will not travel, especially smaller drapes in doorways and drapes used for exhibit booths. This hem is similar to the previously mentioned hem, but does not include the interior pocket or the chain.
Theatrical backdrops and cycloramas are generally made with either a lined pipe hem or a pipe pocket with skirt front as the bottom finish. Both allow for a metal pipe to be inserted in the bottom of the backdrop, which allows the piece to hang “flatter.” The pipe hem appears very similar to a standard hem, but is open on both sides to allow the pipe to be inserted.
In the case of the skirted pipe pocket, the skirt hangs 1″ to 2″ below the pipe pocket. Like the Lined Hem with Chain, this bottom finish helps seal the drop to an uneven stage floor.
So, as you can see, there are a number of options in regards to the finishes selected for a custom stage curtain. If you aren’t sure of what would work best for your situation, your drapery supplier will be happy to offer a recommendation.