A weblog about theatrical drapery and stage curtains for Production Managers, Set Designers, Custom Drapery Resellers, and local/school/church Productions
Last month, I got a comment on my post Reader Poll: Price vs. Service from Scott Smith. Scott, in addition to being the Vice President of Watson Companies, a domestic auto dealer, is also pursuing his MBA with the University of the Southwest.
In the course of a couple of e-mails back and forth with Scott, I learned that they had used Sew What? Inc. as a case study in his class. Apparently, we were featured in the textbook “Management Information Systems.” Scott said that they studied our “use of IT (information technology) pertaining to the manufacturing processes and the uses of IT in streamlining manufacturing and customer satisfaction.” Another graduate student e-mailed us and mentioned that he was also studying our company in his MBA class at Florida Tech.
It is almost surreal to think of Sew What? Inc., a small family-owned niche company making custom stage curtains and digitally printed backdrops, being featured as a case study for a college textbook and in MBA classes! But it reinforces all that we have tried to do over the last few years, in terms of building our technological infrastructure to become more efficient and better able to meet our customer’s needs (more on that in future posts).
I recently learned about Trevira CS Bioactive. It has all the FR characteristics as the regular Trevira CS, which I posted about recently, but it also has something extra.
Just as additions are made in the chemical stage to make Trevira CS inherently flame retardant, silver ions are added in the chemical stage to make Trevira CS Bioactive permanently antimicrobial, without diminishment through washing or age.
The information that I am reading seems to focus mainly on Trevira BS Bioactive in use in apparel (the manufacturer mentions it is “compatible with skin”), so I am not sure the extent of the need for antimicrobial properties in stage curtains, but it certainly is interesting.
I am constantly looking for interesting websites, blogs, forums, etc. related to the theatre, rock ‘n’ roll touring, set design, etc. I thought I’d pass on a few today.
ControlBooth.com: Lots of great information on staging, including lighting, sound, scenery (including drapery and other soft goods), costumes, stage management, and much more. While you do need to become a member (free, quick and easy) to post, you can browse to your heart’s content without becoming a member.
Spotlight: A blog focused primarily on the theatre scene in the UK. However, some amusing posts, so fun to read even if you are in the US or not involved with traditional theatre. I particularly liked this post.
Lets Look Up: OK…this blog has nothing to do with theatre, rock ‘n’ roll touring, special events…however, it is rather fun so I am passing it on. Who would have though that photos of ceilings would be so fascinating? What brought me to this blog was this photo of a theatre ceiling . It is a gorgeous photo, and I was surprised to find that it was taken at the Kodak Theatre, right here in So Cal (home of the Academy Awards and much more).
Rod Stewart Tour Custom Plaid
In late 2006, we were approached by the tour’s designer. The designer had a great idea – design the entire set around fabric. But not just any fabric – the Stewart Family Tartan. The problem: there wasn’t a Stewart Family Tartan fabric available in the grand scale needed for custom stage curtains – most available tartan fabric is on a scale that would be lost in a large arena. Despite (or perhaps because) of the challenges, we jumped right in to find a solution. Here is what we did:
- Found a traditional textile dye house with a drum printer that could print this grand scale Stewart Family Tartan onto 1,500 yards of 100% cotton fabric
- Had the printed fabric custom flame-proofed through topical treatment
- Cut the fabric extremely carefully to allow exact pattern matching (very difficult in a large format)
- Sewed those 1,500 yards into pleated skirting and drapery, including a 36′ h x 160′ w Austrian Drape, which would be hung on a circular mechanical truss and raised and lowered for this “In the Round” show
- Did it all in three weeks from start of project to delivery of finished soft goods, in time for rehearsals prior to the tour’s mid-January 2007 opening show
Here is a photo of the finished drapery, installed for rehearsals
Isn’t this gorgeous and dramatic?
I am often asked how it is that I ended up doing what I am doing, that is being the founder and President of Sew What? Inc. – a Concert and Special Events Softgoods Supply Company. I usually respond with “wrong place at the wrong time.” Well, in all honesty it was not planned nor do I think it was preordained. Rather that it was the result of not having a real job and wanting more for myself than a studio apartment and a diet of cigarettes and peanut butter.
I knew not of digitally printed backdrops and the equipment required to produce them. Nor did I have any experience in theatrical drapery manufacturing of grand drapes or sharkstooth scrims. I could not even sew! I seem to recall that from an early age sewing made me nauseous. (Don’t you recall the clickety-clack of your mother’s knitting needles while you were trying to watch the Cosby Show?).
My move to California from Melbourne was mostly inspired by some amazing and dedicated roadcrew whom I met in 1989 in Australia. Steve Gomes, Dave Agar, Bobby Thrasher – just a few of the friendly faces who were touring with Billy Joel on the Storm Front Tour. I got to meet lighting designer Steve Cohen, and as production driver for the crew and band I had a great gig – traveling the Southern states of Aus with them inspired me.
I would go to America, be an electrican – or failing that possibly a rock star.
Yes – you have my permission to laugh loudly.
So enough of my reminiscing – or there will be nothing for next time.
Fast forward 20 years later….now a stage drape selling, karaoke-loving wife, mother, and seamstress, who is very proud of her Sew What? family – I am contemplating enrolling in the next round of Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp. I am figuring it could only be good to get my “rock and roll” energy out – and belt out a few Meatloaf tunes while I am at it. If I do, you will be the first to know. I promise. (Really).
I’ve been doing a little research lately, in regards to Avora and Trevira polyester fabrics. I thought it would be interesting to find out what distinguishes them from each other and from the old garden-variety polyesters, and then pass that info on to my readers.
Apparently, there was intially one fabric called TreviraFR. At some point, the company that manufactured TreviraFR split into two completely separate companies. One company began making “Avora®FR” (typically refered to as “Avora”) and the other began making “Trevira CS” (typically refered to as “Trevira”). However, from everything I have read, it appears that both fibers are manufactured in the same way.
During the manufacture of the fiber, an organic phosphurus compound is added to the polyester polymer, changing the chemical structure of the polyester fiber. The resulting fiber has a lower melting point than “regular” polyester fibers, which allows causes the fibers to melt away from the flame. This means less combustion, fewer melting drips and self-extinguishment.
Because the flame retardant compound is added during the manufacture of the fibers themselves (rather than during the weaving process of turning fibers into fabrics), the fibers (and the resulting fabrics) are considered inherently and permanently flame retardant. The flame retardancy will not be removed though washing or dry-cleaning.
By comparison, “regular” polyesters do not have the extra organic compound added to the chemical structure of the fiber, they are not considered “inherently” flame retardant. While as a general rule most polyesters tend to be permanently flame retardant (as opposed to many natural fibers, such as cotton, which are considered non-flame retardant unless topically treated), not all polyester fabrics are permanently flame retardant. Some are, some are not. Some factors that may affect the flame retardancy of a polyester fabric are: the fabric weight, the type of weave, and the nap (if any). Those that are permanently flame retardant are referred to as “durably flame retardant,” meaning that the flame retardancy is long-lasting and generally will not be removed by normal washing and dry-cleaning.
Not surprisingly, fabrics made from Avora and Trevira fabrics tend to be a little more expensive. Why? Because of that extra step in the fiber manufacture, in which the chemical structure of the fiber is changed to increase its flame retardancy. Does this mean that a fabric made of ”plain” polyester is a lesser choice? Not necessarily. It just means that you should understand what you are buying and, if you are not sure of flame retardancy specifications of that fabric, ask for clarification from your fabric or drapery supplier.
Recently, the question was posed of us regarding an FR fabric that we were recommending to a client, “In the event that the onsite Fire Marshal holds a match to this fabric, will it burn?” This brought up the common misconception in regards to the difference between flame retardant vs flame proof.
Flame retardant does not mean that a fabric will not burn. Just about any flame retardant fabric will burn to some extent, depending on the degree of heat. What distinguishes an FR fabric from an NFR fabric is the degree to which each will burn. A flame retardant fabric will experience much less burning – when fire is introduced to the fabric, the flame retardant properties of the fabric will cause the flame spread to be slowed considerably (sometimes to almost nothing) and the flame will self-extinguish. With an NFR fabric, there is nothing to retard the flame, and therefore the flame will spread rapidly through the fabric and will continue to spread even after the initial flame source is removed.
It would be unfair to ask any provider to guarantee that any FR/IFR/DFR fabric will not burn if flame is introducted, because it will burn to some extent. However, the provider’s Certificate of Flame Retardancy verifies that the fabric is flame retardant and has been tested to ensure that the burning is minimal and that the flame extinguishes rapidly, according to standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.
Is there such a thing as flame proof fabric? Recently I have heard of one – Glass Cloth.
Glass Cloth (also known as Woven Glass) is composed of 100% woven fiberglass. According to my research, Glass Cloth is considered non-combustible (i.e. flame proof) due to its extremely high heat resistance (2075 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a manufacturer of this product).
I haven’t yet worked with Glass Cloth (or even handled it), so I don’t know how appropriate it would be for custom stage curtains. I also suspect that it may cost a little more than traditional stage fabrics. But it certainly sounds interesting.
A Contour Curtain is made as a single panel with great fullness, usually about 200% of the curtain width. The curtain, which is made of a thin / soft fabric so that it drapes well, is raised and lowered by a series of draw lines attached to the bottom edge of the curtain and running through rings on the back to pulleys attached on the batten above the curtain. As each of the lift lines act independently, by varying the lift on the individual lines, the curtain takes on many different contours.
In this drawing, less lift is applied on the outer edge lines (noted as # 1 & # 6), and then greater lift is gradually added going toward the center of the curtain. This creates a graceful arched opening.
Iridescent Silky Charmeuse is an excellent fabric choice for a contour curtain. The type of track or rigging required will vary depending on the size of the curtain, the number of lift lines, and whether a motorized application is preferred. A Contour Curtain can also be used as a stationery decorative set piece; in that case, since it would not need to open or close, it can be hung from a batten with fixed lift lines.
While the majority of the scenic backdrops that we make are digitally printed, we do offer custom hand-painted backdrops as well. In other situations, the client purchases a “plain” backdrop (typically in natural or white muslin) and then hand-paints it themselves.
Recently, a client asked us for a New York City Certification of Flame Retardancy. We were providing the fabric and sewing the backdrop, but they were planning to paint it themselves. In discussing the situation with the client, we realized that there are probably others out there wondering whether their painted backdrop can be certified as flame retardant. So, here is a brief explanation.
Yes, if the fabric itself is flame retardant, the fabric can be certified as FR in NYC. However, NYC regulations require a final FR certificate for the “completed composition,” of which the muslin is only one component. Therefore, the certificate for the fabric alone will not suffice for a painted backdrop.
However, it is possible to get certification of a hand-painted backdrop, provided certain steps are taken:
1. Both the underlying fabric and the paint are flame retardant. This would be accomplished by utilizing FR fabric (such as FR Muslin) and by adding an FR chemical to the paint used. However, even with this step, the painted backdrop may not pass flame retardancy testing. Therefore, it is recommended that the user (or a certified applicator) also spray the back of the painted backdrop with a flame retardancy chemical.
2. Contract with an registered NYC tester to have the backdrop tested for flame retardancy.
3. Prepare a sample of the painted backdrop (usually done by painting / FR treating a smaller sample piece at the same time as the main backdrop). All treatment of the sample should be the same as that of the full-sized backdrop (i.e. the same original fabric should be used, as well as the same paints and FR chemical additive, and the back of the sample should be sprayed with FR treatment just like the full backdrop).
4. Write a statement verifying how you treated the backdrop (such as what FR chemical(s) was used and whether you added the chemical(s) to the paints and/or sprayed it to the back of the finished piece), and send the sample and statement to the NYC registered tester
5. The NYC registered tester will perform a “match test” to see if the sample meets NYC standards in regards to flame retardancy. If so, the tester will provide you with a flame certificate, which you would show to the FDNY Fire Marshal onsite when the backdrop is in use in New York City.
This is the process for New York City, but I am sure that a similar method would be conducted for other locations throughout the US. If in doubt, check with the local or state fire marshal in your area.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, Sew What? Inc has a sister company, Rent What? Inc, that specializes in renting stage and special event drapery, hardware and supplies. Since Rent What? started about a year ago, we find that we do have some crossover. Someone might call Sew What? to inquire about purchasing a custom stage curtain and then, in the course of the conversation, they will find that a rental option from Rent What? is more appropriate for their needs. The same thing happens in reverse.
In considering that crossover, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips to help you decide whether purchase or rental would work better for your situation.
Reasons to Purchase:
- Your intended use is for an extended period of time, or you will have many opportunities to reuse the drapes
- You are willing and able to maintain the drapes
- You are willing and able to store the drapes (if you do not plan to use them “full-time” over the long-term)
- You are willing and able to have the drapes re-tested each year for continued certification of flame retardancy
- Your needs are customized, and you want a unique fabric and/or size, or you have specific color matching needs
- You want to own the drapes, and you have the budget to purchase them
Reasons to Rent:
- Your intended use is for a shorter period of time, after which you will have minimal opportunity to use the drapes
- You aren’t interested in dealing with the long term maintenance required to keep large drapes in good shape
- You don’t have space to store the drapes when they are not in use
- You aren’t interested in the liability or responsibility of annual testing for flame retardancy certification
- You don’t have custom needs, and you are willing and able to be flexible in regards to fabric, size, and color
- You don’t want to own the drapes and/or you do not currently have the budget to purchase drapes