Friday, 12 August 2016

The Lampshade Book Diaries #3: Swathed pleats revisited

In  between the excitement and busy-ness of launching an upholstery school*, I have actually been working on My Book. 


This most recent chapter – which will end up somewhere near the end of the book – has been an experiment in bringing 1950s era swathed pleated shades out of their dusty vintage doldrums. It's a challenge indeed, as those wonders of folded gold and pink chiffon are beautiful. 60 years on, however, even the best-kept are dusty. 

It is time for a renewal.

Here's an original being unravelled... (look at all that glue!)

I decided to emphasise the swathed pleat-iness further by using candy-cane stripes of colour. In practice this isn't as tricky as it may sound: work a few pleats in one colour; stop; start again with another strip in a different colour. Once you read the chapter, it'll be easy, promise!

The beauty of this vintage shade is in its
tiny Marilyn Monroe waist

Swathed pleats work on two levels. Firstly, it is the angle of the folded pleat that allows the fabric to hug the curve of the shade. This is most important because the beauty of a vintage bowed empire shade is in its very tiny Marilyn Monroe waist... it’s right and proper to show it off. 

On my particular vintage shade, the correct swathe was two and a half panels. It was at this angle that the middle of the pleat just skims the centre of the bowed vertical strut.

The fact that the top ring is double the diameter of the bottom ring, makes the stripes sweep outwards towards the bottom, emphasising the corset shape. 

Colours were carefully considered. As well as being successful in its own right, this shade also has to be a balanced contribution to My Book. A subtle combo of shades would be cowardly. I needed to steer clear of 50s pinks and golds. Blues and greens are required elsewhere...  

So black and white it is, or actually a much softer version in Pongees' ‘charcoal’ and ‘pearl’ French chiffon.

Each stripe is three pleats, with four stripes per
panel, and 32 stripes in total

Once I'd made a start, I began to worry about how the raw edges of the black fabric would look when lit from behind? Surely they would be visible. Would they look crappy? Perhaps I should have chosen not-so-contrasting shades?

Here you can clearly see the not-so-clean-cut edge of the black
chiffon. This disappears when the next folded strips are added.

Happily, after working a few stripes, I shone a bulb through and the multitude of folds blended away any obvious evidence of raw edges, especially higher up where the fabric is most dense. That said, I paid particular attention to making sure that my strips were very neatly cut.    

Time for a tip…

'Oh no..!', I hear you cry, 'Perfect edges are easier said than done with silk chiffon, which jumps about and wriggles and creates a jagged cut line even under the sharpest of blades.' 

The answer, lovely lampshaders, is to draw out a single thread of the silk which will give you an even line to cut along. I found that drawing a single thread out of more than 40cm was tricky without it snapping, but even so, you have enough of a line to follow. 
(Do remember, this chapter will be towards the end of the book where the tricky projects live.)


I mentioned that swathed pleats work on two levels and here's the second.
By folding the fabric, light plays through the layers creating patterns as the density changes. Indeed, a swathed shade is all-glorious when lit. This is also explains why sheer silk chiffon is the ideal choice. 

I decided to push this theory when I considered my lining. I happened to have some ivory coloured sheer Japanese cotton voile with a floral self-colour pattern. Rather than hold up the creative process by ordering something plain, I plunged on in and am really please I did. Look…

The subtle floral pattern is gently revealed when the shade is
lit, especially where the pleats are less dense. Magic!

And this is where I've got to…

Ready for trimming (it's the photo that's wonky, not the shade ;)

It's not finished as I haven’t chosen a trim yet, but there comes a point when you can do too much on a shade. I may well have a little potter through Houles' scrumptious catalogue. Today I like this one...

Another tip…
When not fiddling with your lampshades it's wise to keep them under wraps. This isn't because of creative espionage, but because house flies think it’s funny to sneak into sheds through open windows and poo on lampshades. Not funny at all!!!! 

Everything lives under muslin

Useful resources:
Pongees Silks at
Houles Trimmings at
Bowed empire lampshade frames at

The Traditional Upholstery School* opens its doors this September with classes, courses and workshops in traditional and modern upholstery, soft furnishings and lampshade making.
While such busy-ness has been all-consuming, my creative doings in the Shed have become a retreat from the lists, mis-functioning email accounts and such-like time-consuming tasks. 

Thank goodness for lampshades xxx

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Lampshade Book Diaries #2: Starting in the middle

I once heard a grand film director claim that it's always a good idea to start the first day of filming with the most ambitious and crucial scene of all. Thereby you set the pace for the rest of the scenes to follow.

So I've plunged right in and started writing My Book at what will probably become page 63. This chapter is dedicated to explaining the intricacies and joys of making pleated lampshades. These grand dames are full of tricky pitfalls. This chapter must be both a project and a wider explanation of the general technique. And of course it must be very beautiful.

With such a grand task, I flung myself into making the shade. It was a joy and a relief to make a start. I made notes along the way when I thought up a handy tip or wrinkle. Here's sneak preview…

The choosing... 


I found the frame in the 'shop' at Denman (for anyone who's been there it's the cupboard behind the dining room stuffed with hand-me-downs of a thready nature). A small vintage straight-sided oval is a rare thing of beauty and just what I needed. The fabric is the most gorgeous palest of pale pink linens from the lovely Ada and Ina.

The making…


A pleated shade starts with lots of measuring... on the shade frame itself and even on the fabric. (You can see I kept the original binding on the shade as it was so very nicely done).

Nooo! Ran out of fabric just before the end and had to do a tidy join

Many hundreds of pins are essential. Folk often ask me if I use special pins. Lampshade makers from yesteryear would have metal headed pins just like dressmaking pins called 'lills'. I find these very hard on the fingertips, so I use bead-headed pins. It's most important that pins are very sharp and sturdy, not too long and flimsy. (Having tried and tested many I'd say Asda and Waitrose pins are tops.)

Pleated lampshades really must be stitched in order to keep those pleats nice and firm. I chose to line my linen shade in antique white muslin, which has an open weave but still diffuses the light well, has lovely 'give' on the bias and looks just fabulous with the soft pink linen. You can see 'lampshade stitch' in progress. Here's how...

To start the stitch, come out at A, in at B and out again at C. Then bring your needle back to B and stitch to C again. This extra locking stitch holds the stitching firm as you work and prevents slipping. (Don't worry, a proper artist will re-draw my wonky efforts)

The writing... and a bit of 'needs must'

Once the shade was safely wrapped and tucked away awaiting perfect trimmings, I wrote the words for this huge chapter, which took twice as long... a very long day indeed.

So that my lovely readers don't get lost wading through instructions, there must be at least four other identical shades in various stages of undress which will illustrate the chapter. But by their very nature, vintage shade frames are one-offs and additional straight sided ovals are not to be found. I had, of course, predicted this conundrum but convinced myself that it would be a doddle for a handy blacksmith to attach vertical struts to some of Dannell's most splendid oval ringsets. I posted some off and unfortunately the his quoted cost was similar to a long weekend in a luxurious place.

So I rummaged deep into eBay and found some ready-made straight-sided drums which, while not oval, will certainly do to explain the point perfectly.

No-one said it would be easy.

Number of words written so far: 5, 033

And one final thing... remember that gigantic box of lampshade frames sent to me by Dannell's (so big I could re-sell it on Rightmove?). Well, Mr H took great offense to my suggestion of allowing it to fill a corner of his newly tidied garage, so I have taken out all the shade frames and dangled them (neatly labelled) from the Shed ceiling. To all intents and purposes, they've disappeared. Magic!

This diary is about the writing of a book about lampshade making for Search Press. It will be published in summer 2017. The title is as yet undecided, so it is being fondly referred to as My Book.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Lampshade Book Diaries #1: Yes! Let's do it!


This post is the start of recording a year-long project (more or less) which is likely to be my biggest obsession of 2016. My Book.

My Book (as yet otherwise untitled) is completely and utterly dedicated to my love of lampshade making. It is written for the sole use of other lovelies who also enjoy rustling up bright affectations. It will be full of useful tips and wrinkles, very beautiful lampshade project ideas and will, I hope, share the joy that can be had with bits of wire and thread.

When working on the proposal for My Book there was precious little resource for folks who wanted to restore their own shades. Indeedy, my own stash of well thumbed ancient copies were written decades ago by lovelies called Phyllis and Olive. Back then craft books were designed to inform in an economic and largely monochrome way. I had decided to write A Sequel to these dry tomes, to bring the happy wonders of lampshade making to a new audience.

I sent out two or three copies of my proposal to my favourite publishers and it was the lovely folks at Search Press who saw the light and rang me that very day and said 'Yes! Yes indeed, let's do it!!'.

Such are the mysteries of the book publishing world that nearly a year has flown by. Five weeks ago (already!!) I went to meet my lovely publisher and editor, who were kind and enthusiastic and let me chatter about colours and shapes while they nodded and made notes.

And now my Shed is tidy (ish), my working life is reasonably re-organised to fit in this special task and there's nothing left to do but actually make a start. It is suddenly quite daunting. Indeed I have decided think about it only in chapter-sized chunks. I shall start in the places where I feel most at home and then, when I have got into the swing of it, venture into the daunting territories of not-quite-yet-resolved creative ideas. The fact that I won't be writing from the beginning and working my way through to the end isn't at all strange.

Each blog post will keep you up to date on my progress, making tips, creative planning, choosing fabrics and all the stuff and fluff that will go into writing a book about making things.

Meanwhile, I thought you might like to see what my world has started to look like...

my sewing room ceiling

my daughter's play shed... i HAVE promised i'll tidy up

the sewing room book shelves creaking under the weight of other fabulous craft books
the creative hub... the Shed

favourite treasures
i found these in a French car boot...

vintage lovelies that were lurking in the attic til quite recently (I'm not even taking you in there)
...and my lovely assistant Nellie who is a great secret keeper and snoozer

I'll try and keep you posted every week with progress. xx

PS I'm sitting in my Shed in a state of great excitement and anticipation as the lovely people at Dannells are sending a pile of their fabulous lampshades to me in a lorry TODAY!!!!! Yay! Needless to say I am hugely grateful for their generosity and happiness to be part of this great project. I shall, of course, tell you more about it next time ( where on earth I found storage space) xxxxxxx