Great places for discount purchases Wednesday, Apr 13 2011 

Quite a few of you have been asking about some of the fabrics I’ve shown here.  Others about paint and so on – so this post is the list of where to find great bargains.

For fabric, I search on Ebay.  I have a favourite seller, from whom I buy almost all of my upholstery fabric.  This means I never see it in person.  And I pay up to $200 shipping from the US.  But the prices are so good, it is still usually about 10% of what you’d pay in Australia.

They stock the absolute pinnacle of fabrics in the world.  Silk velvets, hand printed linens, manufacturers (like Scalamandre, shown below) that are not available to the public.

They take their photos with flash, which, while it makes the fabric look amazing, can distort the colour.  Silks and velvets tend to come up a little more yellow.  If you need an exact shade of cream or white, this may not work for you.  You can find their shop here.

You may think I’m being kind sharing this, when you may bid against me.  But you will soon see that I have not been kind at all.  You may, like me, find yourself drooling over the fabrics you never thought you could afford (and now can), find yourself resolving to recover chairs, remake curtains, find yourself buying rather more than you need and then suffer weeks of guilt or frantic activity as you now have to make a zillion things.

You won’t be thanking me….

If you want cheap books (not a problem in most of the world – but if you live in Australia, they are ridiculously expensive) – this store ships them free all around the world.  It takes about a week and it’s just magic!  They even ship heavy interiors books free…. (I have no idea how they are making any money).

For example – they are selling this hardback for A$27.  Free postage.  Tempted??

Or this one for the same price?  These are usually $50-60 in shops.

The floor paint I use is from an Australia company called Shipways.  They make an amazing variety of industrial strength paint that will never scratch or chip.  It does contain VOCs, so is not environmentally friendly in that sense.  But it is, in that you won’t ever have to re-paint it.  So, if you want a white floor what won’t yellow over time (as polyurethane does) – they can supply it for you.

For furniture, I favour auctions (the ones where the dealers go).  My favourite in Sydney is John Williams (their beautiful dog, Bella, always helps advertise their new sale – below).  I also like eBay, and of course, whatever people put beside the road to chuck out.  I still have a pair of chairs fourteen years later, that I loaded into my convertible….  they are in their third incarnation and are still going strong.

 Finally, on the clothes front, the best fun you can have is to host a swap party.  Invite all your girlfriends (and their friends) and send the men out for the night.  Ask them to bring over the clothes that they bought that were mistakes, that are pretty much unworn (and therefore as good as new) but they can’t bear to throw out as they are too nice.  You know the ones.

Supply a bit of wine and after about half an hour of modest chit chat, and a few private changes in the bathroom, some kind of madness takes hold…  suddenly everyone is tearing off their clothes and passing items round.  Everyone hoots with laughter as something looks amazing on one person and terrible on the next.  The short girls’ offcasts work on the tall girl, the dress rejected by the slim boned woman is brought to life on a curvy friend.  You’ll be astounded at how you can pass clothes between women of all different sizes.

It’s such a lot of fun.  And you get a heap of new clothes for free, and clear your closet of guilt and unworn clobber.


How to make a roman blind Monday, Jan 24 2011 

A few days ago I posted about what curtains and blinds work for which windows and which colours and fabrics to use.  As promised, here is the first ‘how-to’ – for a roman blind.

You can make a roman blinds starkly modern with a crisp strong fabric, blousily Victorian with a floral print, or even moodily historic – it all depends on the fabric.  And these are so easy to make, it really doesn’t cost the earth (although a curtain maker will ensure that it does…).  So have a go – all you need is a basic sewing machine, and the courage to give it a try.

The first step is to measure your window.  Decide whether your blind will hang inside the frame, or up to the ceiling.  Add 10cm to the width for hemming and/or attaching the lining.  You’ll need to add 20cm to the length (for attaching and hemming).

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Once you have cut out the fabric, sew the lining and the blind fabric together, ensuring that about 2cm of the blind fabric folds round the back (that way if it flaps open in the breeze you don’t see the lining).  Press the seam flat.  Yes really – this is important.  I always skip steps if I can, but this will make it look neat.

Above you can see the blackout fabric as lining, with a toile-de-jouy turned over.

Then work out where you want the folds in the blind when it is pulled up.  If you want a 10cm drop when it is closed, you will need to sew the blind tape at 20cm intervals, so it folds in half to a 10cm drop.  Take time to do this calculation several times.  There is nothing worse than sewing the tapes on and then realising they are all in the wrong place and you have to unpick them all and start again.

Actually, there is something worse – spilling red wine over your nearly complete blinds.  But we won’t go into that here.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains blind tape

Sew your blind tape horizontally across the blind.  This is a very easy way of ensuring your blind is horizontal and even when folded.  All you do is tie your blind string to the lowest tape and feed it up through the others until you get to the top of the blind.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Hem your blind.  Iron the hem.

how to make roman blind interiors curtains

Then cut a length of timber to the size of the top of the blind, less about 5cm (so that the wood doesn’t show).  Staple the blind to the wood, ensuring that the drop length at the front is the right measurement (you can make it longer or shorter at this stage).

Once it is attached, screw in small loops to the underside of the wood (as shown in the photo above) and thread your string up through the lines of tape to the loop (this should all be in a straight vertical line) at the top, and then feed it along the loops until the end.  This will be where you pull it up and down.

You can then attach the blind to the wall by drilling two holes through the wood, and putting it up with rawl plugs and screws.

It will take a week or so before it ‘settles down’ and starts hanging naturally in the folds that it is designed to.  For the first few times you take it up and down you may have to straighten the folds by hand.

If you want stiffer folds, you can make pockets in the lining (just 1cm wide) and use long steel dowels about 2mm thick to stiffen it.  I only do this for very wide windows.

Which colours and fabrics for curtains and blinds? Wednesday, Jan 12 2011 

double silk lined curtains drapes interiorReams of embroidered silk; yards of thick nubbly linen; thick and heavy velvet, glossy with its silken weave…  I could spend hours looking at fabrics for curtains, dreaming of windows I’ll never look out of, and fantasising about châteaux and villas I’ll never wake up in.  But a good curtain can prolong the dream….

Caramel Silk curtain drape fabric interior

Curtains can be very expensive.  Good fabric can cost a lot of money and curtains eat up the yards, meaning that you can spend thousands of dollars (or pounds) before you know it.  So it definitely pays to get this one right.

silk fabric curtains

My first recommendation is that if you are tempted by an outrageous fabric – save it for a cushion.  You want to get at least ten years out of your curtains, so choose something relatively plain that you won’t tire of and that won’t date.  If you know you always like outrageous things – then fair enough, go for it.  I just tend to tire of pattern and strong colour after a while.  It’s fine for clothes which you only wear for a day.  But curtains are something you’ll see day in, day out.

cream silk curtains drapes

The easiest way to get a curtain looking good is to choose a colour close to the wall colour.  Just a shade or two lighter or darker makes the curtain blend into the room and gives a relaxing feel.  The change in texture of the fabric will give enough interest.

If you want your windows to be the focal point, then pick a bold colour or a strong border to make them stand out.

Velvet is a luxurious, rich choice.  it catched the light, muffles sound and looks sumptuous.  Make sure you pick one using the newer technologies that give the depth of sheen seen above.  Silk velvet is by far the nicest, linen velvet is the most durable, but most thread combinations are pretty good these days.

damask curtain fabric interior

Damask is a fabric that can look slightly dated.  It can be used to great effect to create a feeling of grandeur and timelessness.  But use this one wisely as it can definitely look as though it was your grandma’s.

silk stripe curtain fabric interior

Stripes hung vertically will really emphasise the height of a room. 

Horizontally is a harder one to pull off. 

You have to get them matching exactly on all blinds and curtains, and it will create a sense of movement around the walls, which can be disconcerting.

Subtle embroidered patterns in the same colour as the background can work well.  However larger patterns like chintz are more challenging.  You won’t see the pattern properly on a curtain as it folds back on itself, and it can be overwhelming if there are lots of colours or a busy pattern. 

If you like this, then you’re really committing to a certain look.  (I’d have this as a cushion or a loose chair cover that I could change).  Simpler chintzes – like the one below that consists of a single colour will be easier to live with.

chintz fabric curtain interior

Silk is one of the most beautiful fabrics for curtains.  But it actually rots in sunlight.  This hasn’t stopped me using it for blinds with some sumptuous Indian trim, as shown here.  The secret is to line it so that the sunlight hits the lining not the silk itself.  Six years later the blinds are showing some wear, but aren’t too bad.

Polyester and other man-made fabrics overcome this issue, but they never look quite as good as the real thing.  Linen doesn’t have this issue at all and looks gorgeous at a window.

In terms of lining, the most common lining is a blackout fabric which blocks out all light (particularly useful in bedrooms where you need it dark).  I prefer to use a lovely contrast as a lining if I don’t need total darkness.  This makes a curtain look stunning and very luxurious.

I’ll also use layers of curtains, with muslin or something light behind a heavy ‘statement’ curtain.  You can read more of that here.

muslin and linen curtains texture

In the next couple of weeks I’ll take you through making a curtain and a blind…. believe me – this is far easier than choosing the fabric.

Which window treatments (curtains, blinds) are right for your room? Monday, Jan 10 2011 

striped curtains lining drapes window interiors

I just love curtains – great swags of silk and sumptuous velvet… the hush of drawn thick warm curtains on a winter’s night.  Billowing white muslin in a tropical villa.  Light filtering through summer sprigged linen.   Curtains and window treatments have the power to transform a room.  Or to wreck it.  Here are some hints to get you on the right track.

Firstly, assess your window.  If you have soaring sash windows and high ceilings, then you have no need of any advice.  You have the Kate Moss of windows.  You could dress them in a garbage bag (bin liner) and they’d still look great.

cream silk curtains interiors

If, like the rest of us mere mortals, you have low ceilings, windows that aren’t tall and graceful – then read on.  Just as careful dressing can make most of us look quite good, so can some skilful curtaining hide a multitude of sins.

roman blinds interiors

Aim for height above all else.  The eye responds to high ceilings and tall windows, so go for everything that will maximise height.  This means:

1, ALWAYS hang your curtains from the top of the wall (or the ceiling).  Never hang them just above the window.  Hanging them just about the window will make any window look squat, and most ceilings look low.

2. (Almost) ALWAYS hang them to the floor (if you have a little cottage that is hundreds of years old with tiny crooked windows – they will be swamped by this – so you will need small curtains).  But for most of us – hanging them to the floor is best. 

If you follow this advice, when your curtains are closed, they will form a panel from floor to ceiling, which also looks better than a fabric square in the middle of the wall.

If you are thinking of blinds rather than curtains – you can do the same.  Here you can see I have attached the blinds to the ceiling.  I have them hanging to cover the top of the (low and ugly) window – making you believe that I have tall windows that stretch to the ceiling. (tall windows, long legs… I wish).

Wonderful window-sills might make you want to hang you blind inside the window frame, so that it is framed like a picture.  Older buildings usually have high enough ceilings and interesting enough architraves for this to be a good option.

roman blind to cover window

When choosing between curtains and blinds – firstly consider how much room you have – curtains take up more space.  When open, they need room to spill onto the floor.


Then think about the look you’re going for.  Curtains can be more opulent, more cosy, more atmospheric.  Blinds are sparer, simple, often modern, clean lined.  Blinds are great in kitchens and bathrooms, where they are practical.  Curtains and drapes a lovely for bedrooms and livings rooms where you want to feel cocooned.

Finally a word on pelmets…

These are designed to hide the track.  I have to say I hate them!  They look so dated.  They are heavy above the window and usually create a strong oppressive horizontal line just where you want vertical lifting lines giving height.

Today’s tracks are either invisible, or beautiful in their own right (with lovely finials to complete them) so there is no reason to hide them.

Pop back in a couple of days and we can talk about which fabrics are best (and which actually rot in sunlight – and how to overcome that), and the colours that will work in your room before moving on to actually making the things yourself (surprisingly easy!)

Inspirations from Abroad: embroidery, beading and textiles Monday, Aug 30 2010 

doesnt cost the earth velvet cushion

I would have really struggled had I been born a century or so ago – the thought of endless evenings of embroidery and needlework fill me with the immediate and urgent need to go for a long run.  I do, however, covet the output of all this painstaking labour.

A few carefully selected textiles can make a world of difference to a room, particularly antique or vintage fabrics, and those with texture.  So much is written about colour for interiors, and yet for me, the lack of texture can render a space totally flat.

The exquisite bedspread below is several hundred years old.  What dreams must have been dreamed here?  What plans hatched and what sorrows wept into the pillows?

Antique embroidered bedspread

Antique textiles

I love using touches of this forgotten world to soften the edges of our technological age. 

Samarkand embroidered recycled cushions

These exquisite cushions are made from pieces of embroidery from Samarkand – that ancient and mysterious city.  They would look beautiful in so many contemporary homes and summon memories of times long past.  The saddle cloth below is lavished with gold thread: its workmanship and intricacy are breathtaking.

Antique embroidered saddle cloth

So how to work these into today’s homes?  The most obvious and easy way is through cushions – a little bit of texture is easily added that way.  In addition, you can hunt out your own exquisite pieces while you travel and then make them up when you get back.

Fabric can look great on walls and I have successfully framed pieces of textile before.  This is cut from an antique Indian sari, embellished with beads and metallic gold thread.  It looks magnificent in almost any room.  Make sure you find a good framer who is prepared to stretch the fabric evenly and preserve the embroidered pattern.

framed recycled sari

Alternatively, you can scour antique shops and auctions for old tapestries: straight away you can be transported to European castles, hunting parties and fairy tales…  The older ones are much more desirable as they are dyed with vegetable colours, meaning the palette is much softer.

recycled tapestry

Tapestries, when hung on the wall, also perform an important acoustic function.  I find that today’s homes are often designed with hard floors and surfaces, so that sound bounces in a very aggravating way.  It can sound as though you are in a gallery, not a comfortable home.  Tapestries absorb the noise wonderfully and soften all those echoes and clatters.

sequinned cushion

For an injection of high-octane glamour, this sequined cushion is hard to beat.  It is actually from Zara Home, but in Australia, Country Road has an almost identical one, unfortunately at three times the price.  However – you don’t need an airfare…

I have also used the trim from vintage saris to edge blinds:

Antique sari trim

You can see more on this older post:

I do have some more sari trim that I’m just waiting for the perfect project….  The Indians are so fabulously talented with their embroidery and fabrics.

Antique sari trim

Other fertile hunting grounds in Asia include Japan: an Obi can make a fabulous border for a blind or curtains.  They are so long that they can also be hung either side of a doorway to give it focus and zing.  Here is one that I’m just dying to use – cream and black woven into a coral-red.

Recycled Japanese Obi

You can find pieces all over Asia: small fragments or even whole coats and kimonos that can be hung or framed.  You might have linens passed through the family that are sitting in a drawer.  Don’t let them rot unseen!  Frame them or include them in a cushion so that you can enjoy them every day.

Otherwise, you can buy fabrics that look as though they have provenance.  I’m a sucker for silk velvet, with softness and amazing lustre.  Some fabric houses are now also producing intricate textiles with the patina of age.

recycled silk velvet

What ever it is that you love and treasure – make sure you inject some of it into your home.

Hand beaded trim on gold silk blinds Saturday, Apr 24 2010 

I love shopping in India – the chaos, the haggling, the to-ing and fro-ing until you settle on a price. I love the discussions over hot, sweet tea, the laughter when you make and offer, the shaking of the head. I always take an empty suitcase with me (it’s so cheap and easy to get your clothes cleaned) and fill it up with purchases. And the thing I love buying most over there are the show-stopping textiles.

On my last trip, I was lucky enough to find a selection of antique beaded trims from very expensive and exotic saris.  These are all made by hand, and are a cornucopia of gold thread, beads and pearls, creating a heavy and lavish effect.  Utterly stunning.

One of the loveliest ways to use this is on window treatments.  This way you can see it every day.  This splendid trim was applied to gold silk blinds for a bedroom.  Along the bottom of the smaller blinds, the trim (it’s amazingly heavy with all that gold thread) acts as a weight, which helps the blinds hang well.  On the larger blind across the french doors, it was applied in two vertical stripes, to emphasise the ceiling height.