A weblog about theatrical drapery and stage curtains for Production Managers, Set Designers, Custom Drapery Resellers, and local/school/church Productions
Recently, I was fortunate enough to see our drapery in action at a concert by Leonard Cohen, and it was a real treat. Any fan of Leonard Cohen knows that his deep voice, even at the age of 78, projects each and every note with a sultry, soothing “audio decadence” that has the ability to speak to a fan base that spans generations. The simplicity and comfort of his vocals sing perfect poetry laced with heaven-like harmonies with the assistance of his back up vocalists and stringed instruments. As a fan of design and a designer myself, it is rare to find a production that is able to create a cohesive visual marriage between what the fans are hearing with their ears and what they are seeing with their eyes.
For this production, Sew What Inc. provided Grey Sharkstooth Scrim legs and backdrops sewn with 50% fullness. It was used in an non-traditional way by projecting light through front lighting, while complimentary colors were used to backlight – giving the pleats in the scrim the optical illusion of being gauzy and transparent, yet at the same time, giving more dimension and depth through the use of color. Sew What also provided 3 Braille-style digitally-printed backdrops that were used at the beginning, intermission, and end of the show. Each drop was veiled by a scrim drop that was lit in way that caused a muted and ghostly effect to visually symbolize a timelessness of Leonard’s voice.
I love the way that the custom stage curtains provided by Sew What? complemented the sultry romanticism of the music – it is so inspiring to know that we were part of such a beautiful concert.
Today it sometimes seems like everything you buy is made in another country – electronics, clothing, and so much more. Meanwhile, America’s economy is struggling and unemployment is high.
That is why we are so proud here at Sew What? that our custom stage curtains, band backdrops, and scrims are proudly “Made in America,” right here in our manufacturing facility in Southern California. This allows us to directly provide employment to about 40 people. We also source the majority of our fabrics and other theatrical equipment and supplies from U.S. manufacturers, supporting even more U.S. jobs as a “trickle-down” effect.
To show our pride, we are beginning to sew “Made in America” labels on our drapes and place similar labels on our shipping boxes. Click here to read our announcement.
I was thinking recently about what it means to be a catalog company – or more importantly to us – not a catalog company.
I confess – I love nothing more than the convenience of looking at pictures, seeing a description and then reading the endless consumer reports on any given product. With the internet has come the voices of the nations – fear not – there is an opinion for everything – good, bad or indifferent. If you want it – someone else has had it or done it or worse yet is about to do it
I used an online catalog recently when shopping for a pair of slacks online – and indeed – they were perfect. That was until I found myself waiting in line at Starbucks a week later behind two other women all wearing the same pants. I think to myself….. bad enough that I am “one of them,” but now I even “look like” one of them. Hysterical! I’m all for consumerism – but individualism must prevail!
So – perhaps it has been my leery fear of this phenomenon that has led us to shout from the fly rails……… KILLER SHOWS DON’T COME FROM CATALOGS!
We are here for those that say No to look-alike performance spaces – for the few stage hands left standing who aren’t afraid to wear color – and for the industry vets who aren’t afraid to mix old with new and couture with (dare I say) cheap.
Happy to be here to provide the stage “Bijoux” as you might say. Accessories make the moment, just as an Austrian Stage Drape will steal the scene……. We are also good for the day to day standards – the Levi’s and white T-Shirt – that are the Scrims, the Cycs, Backdrops and the stage masking drapes.
But ………no point and click shopping carts here….. just conversations.
Look forward to chatting with you again soon.
Recently, we got an e-mail from Leslie at Rutherford High School in Pennsylvania. The school had purchased a custom scrim from us last month, and Leslie was raving about it – not just about the scrim itself, but about its use as a teaching tool. As Leslie said, “Talk about a teachable moment–the day we installed it, my stagecraft students spent about 30 minutes just marvelling about how ‘seriously cool’ it was!”
I hadn’t really thought about this aspect of Sharkstooth Scrim before. Most of the time, scrims are purchased by professional theatres and music tours – those places with professional lighting technicians on staff who know how to effectively light the scrim so that its “magical” properties appear. But the truth is, these techniques can be learned and utilized in any theatre or auditorium environment – including schools such as Ringgold High School. It just takes a little study, practice, and the right lights.
And what a great thing to teach stagecraft students! I remember way back when in my own high school theatre days. While my focus was on acting rather than on stage crew, I know that I would have loved to have learned about how scrims work. As it is, I spent the next 25 years or so marvelling at the magic on stage until I started working at Sew What? and learned the secret behind the magic.
Just got a fun Google alert…the word “scrim” was used in the LA Times Crossword Puzzle on December 7th, and information on it was posted on the blog “L.A. Crossword Confidential.” A number of people left comments asking what scrim is, and one blogger, JOHNSNEVERHOME, gave a brief explanation and then posted a link to “Description of Stage Curtains” page of the Sew What? Inc. website.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this unexpected reference to us. If you’d like to check it out, go here and scroll down through the comments a bit.
You may not realize it, but if you have gone to the theatre, you have probably experienced the magic of sharkstooth scrim (the material used to make scrims). A scrim is a commonly used piece of stage curtain magic. Due to the scrim fabric’s unique capabilities, when lit correctly from the front, a scrim appears opaque. When the front light is turned off, however, and objects behind the scrim are lit, the fabric appears transparent. So, from the audience’s perspective, it appears as if the stage is completely empty and then suddenly, like magic, the scene behind the scrim gradually appears into view.
In addition, sharkstooth scrim fabric, with its rectangular weave, is dense enough to provide a dye-painting surface and still become transparent when back-lit, therefore making it an extremely versatile piece of stage scenery.
My concern is, how long will sharkstooth scrim remain available? Scrims are typically sewn as seamless, so that there are no seams in the fabric to interfere with the “trick of the light.” The most common way to utilize sharkstooth scrim is to sew it “railroaded,” meaning that the width of the fabric becomes the height of the finished scrim (allowing for top and bottom finishes). As a result, in order to make a scrim that is, for example, 30′ high by 50′ wide, you would use about 17 yards of 31′ wide Sharkstooth Scrim.
The problem is, very specialized wide looms are required to weave Sharkstooth Scrim, especially the wider widths such as 31′ and 35′. Most of the looms are in Europe and are 100 or more years old. From what I understand, these looms aren’t being made any more, and the mills can’t even buy parts. I have heard of mills buying old (sometimes broken) looms just to cannibalize them for parts for the looms they already have.
I worry – what happens when all of the looms stop working and there are no more broken looms from which to get parts? Will there come a point in which we have to say goodbye to the magic of scrim because the fabric just can’t be made anymore?
I have heard of new producers of sharkstooth scrim, in Asia. Perhaps they are making new looms? I would love to find out if this is true, because it really saddens me to think that we might one day lose this terrific fabric.
Because the terms “backdrop,” “cyc” and “scrim” are often used interchangeably, it can get confusing to understand what each term really refers to in the theatre. Even I still get confused occasionally and have to stop and think for a minute (it’s been a long time since my days as a high school theatre nerd) - and so I thought there are probably a lot of folks out there who would like a quick rundown on the differences between these pieces.
A Cyclorama (or “cyc”) refers to a white or natural seamless flat muslin panel. It is always the piece that is hung furthest upstage (aka at the very back of the stage) and is usually used for sky effects (often through frontlit projection).
A Scrim is made from a very specific type of netting called Sharkstooth Scrim. Depending on lighting techniques used, its appearance varies from opaque to translucent. It is nearly always seamless and can be hung in various locations on stage.
A Painter’s Backdrop is a white or natural flat muslin panel (seamed or seamless) that is used in various locations onstage to help create the scene. Often the scene is painted on (hence the name) – either by the stage crew or by a professional scenic painter. Other times, the scene is projected onto the painter’s backdrop. Alternatively, to create a similar effect, a digitally printed backdrop can be used rather than a painter’s backdrop.
And ”backdrop”? Well, it is just a generic term for something (usually a drape of some sort) that is behind something else – such as behind the orchestra at the Philharmonic or behind the President during a press conference. It could be muslin, it could be velour, it could be another material. It could be flat, it could be pleated. Pretty much, the sky’s the limit.
Hope this helps. And keep in mind, if you aren’t sure of what to call something – not to worry. You can always call us and describe what you need – we can help you out.