Friday, August 11, 2017

My Curtains Are Lemons! It's Making Me Bananas

The best things in life are free. I need to remind myself of this because I just spent $400 on lace curtains from a company* in England, woven on old Scottish looms in 95% cotton. I'd spent days poring over patterns online and making up my mind. I chose a fairly simple, all-over floral pattern in a shade described as "cream." They were having a sale, so $400 was an excellent deal for Scottish curtains. At least that's what I told myself.

True confession: My current lace curtains are in such bad shape at the hems that I've opened the larger holes with scissors so the cats won't get their heads caught. No one can tell but me and the cats, unless they go around inspecting my housekeeping (which no one should ever, ever do). I didn't want to live like this anymore. So you can imagine how pleased I was to order new curtains and how it felt like Christmas when they arrived.

That was last Friday. I opened the box with anticipation . . . and was horrified to discover that they are not cream but yellow! They are the pastel yellow of bananas, whipped butter, or lemon chiffon — bright, obvious, cheerful. The design and quality are what I expected but, boy, they look terrible against my old white woodwork, and they even clash with our warmer, golden-yellow walls, being a different, cooler yellow.

My curtains match my breakfast.

I've written to express my disappointment and will summarize the response here in future posts. Since they were custom-hemmed (to 78"), I was not hopeful, and indeed, I was told they were not exchangeable or returnable. Yet I persisted: the photos on the website do not show the curtains as looking yellow at all. And the color  name "cream" doesn't suggest yellow in the least. They seem to understand: they told me they are sending me samples of curtains that a true off-white, and we'll continue the conversation from there, perhaps resulting in an exchange. I'm trying not to get my hopes up, but we'll see.

I had corresponded with customer-service representatives Kate and Zoe for help in choosing the right pattern and confirming the length for custom hemming. It never occurred to me to ask how cream "cream" was. Lace curtains are usually available in two colors: white, which is often a chemically brightened white that looks too blindingly new. The other choice is usually described as "natural," "cream," "ivory," or "ecru."

To me, "cream" is the lightest of these color options: a soft off-white. And that is exactly how these curtains look in all the photos:

Do these look yellow against those white windows and walls? 

I honestly wasn't all that fussy about the color; knowing they wouldn't be bright-white was fine with me. I would have been satisfied if they turned out darker than shown, so I didn't stress about it. The reps had told me there wasn't time for me to request samples by mail while the sale was on.

But yellow? I can't make that work. If you have a use for six lemony 78" x 59" panels, let me know.

Lace curtains are out of style — Grandma — in America if not the U.K. But in an old-fashioned room, I don't think anything looks as beautiful or appropriate, especially when they are billowing in the breeze. For city dwellers, lace provides privacy while allowing sunlight, and their intricate patterns are rarely overpowering. I find them downright bohemian these days, being so rare. And most of the grandmas I know have heavier, more elaborate window treatments anyhow: pinch-pleats, fancy valances, shutters, blinds. The modern alternative to lace is voile sheers, which are inevitably cheap polyester that does nothing for me, even billowing in the breeze.

Twenty years ago I had loads of options for lace panels in the US, but today's pickings are slim. There are two types: 100% polyester from China that looks like what it is, and finer cotton laces from Scotland. The latter are sold by a handful of dealers in two price categories: if you're lucky there will be a couple of garden-variety designs for around $100, or you'll have to splurge on finer, fancier designs, exactly like the antiques in historic house museums, in the vicinity of $300 per panel. That lace is arguably original rather than reproduction as it was woven on the same Scottish "Madras" looms used in the 19th century.

I've known a local (expensive) lace curtain seller for about 25 years, and since last year  I've been telling him in person and by email and voicemail about my interest in buying his curtains. He has not replied beyond vaguely saying he'll get back to me. I'm giving up. Perhaps he's out of the curtain business although they are still advertised on his website.

I felt lucky to find this English company.* They have a variety of patterns in all price categories, and will hem to custom lengths. I'd like my curtains to hit the floor, which is de rigueur these days. But in each of my three rooms there is a big cast-iron radiator underneath one window, making that elegant look impossible. But I recently realized that those radiators have been there for about a century, so my shorter curtains must be more period-appropriate in here after all.

I'll post again when I receive the samples, which will likely be after we return fromvMaine. I'll also post on some other long-postponed little home-improvement projects that are happening, and tell you why I've finally gotten off my duff to spiff up the place. . . company is coming!

* I'll reveal the company's name, or not, depending on how things go from here.


  1. Stupid question, but did you actually hang them and see how horrible they look?

    1. No stupid questions here. I held one up next to the window and it was putrid. The yellow is too cool and bright to match the color of our walls, and they look even more yellow next to white window frames. But, hey, if you want them. . . .


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