Decorative Arts in the Girls’ Bedchamber of the Owens-Thomas & Slave Quarters
- Decorative Arts
- Arts in Savannah
By Nikki Greenwood, Savannah Window Fashions
When Cyndi Sommers, Telfair Museums’ assistant curator of decorative arts at the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters, approached Savannah Window Fashions about designing and fabricating custom period-appropriate window treatments and soft goods for the new girls’ bedchamber installation, we were thrilled to be considered for the project.
Our first planning meeting took place onsite at the museum, during which we reviewed Cyndi’s project research, including illustrations of bedding and window treatment styles popular in wealthy households during the 1830s and details regarding the furniture pieces that would be used in the exhibit.
I enjoyed collaborating with Cyndi as we talked through fabric choices and design elements, with special attention paid to fabrication techniques that took into consideration the unique demands of working with antique furniture from the museum’s collection as well as the plaster walls in the girl’s bed chamber, which were currently undergoing restoration.
Based upon input from museum staff, it was decided that all window treatments would be mounted inside the window casings, versus on the walls themselves, to avoid any damage to the plaster. This presented the opportunity for us to get very creative with our fabrication plans. Our end design entails mounting both valances and drapery on boards that can be attached to the interior window casing, eliminating mounted hardware of any sort.
When it came to sourcing fabric, things got really interesting. Cyndi’s research indicated that cotton dimity would be the most appropriate choice for the window treatments and upper and lower bed valances (known today as canopy and bed skirt), with the introduction of a period-appropriate toile for the coverlets and upholstered pieces.
True cotton dimity, it turns out, is difficult to source. An exhaustive search of our many suppliers led only to fabrics blended with man-made fibers, and modern patterns that would not have been in use in the 1800s. I expanded my search to mills that could re-create historic fabrics, which led me to Thistle Hill Weavers in upstate New York.
Owned and operated by Rabbit Goody, an internationally known textile historian and researcher, Thistle Hill produces historically accurate textiles, including dimity patterns re-created from period weavers’ draft books and surviving document examples, using antique wooden looms. Upon receiving a packet of cotton dimity samples, Cyndi and I agreed on a lovely diamond pattern, perfect for a young girl’s room. In addition to our cotton dimity, Thistle Hill is creating a blue cotton trim and flat weave carpet for this project that will be perfectly color-matched and historically appropriate.
In addition to our woven goods, Rabbit provided a wealth of information on historic fabrication techniques, such as trim placement, seam allowances and lining considerations, all of which differ from modern practices. This means that not only will the finished dimity pieces be constructed of period-appropriate materials, they will be fabricated as such as well.
As one might expect, custom projects of this nature present challenges that require ongoing collaboration and the expertise of all involved. While we have run into unexpected delays on our cotton dimity fabric and trim, due in part to labor shortages, supply-chain interruptions and high demand across the interior design and custom home goods industry, we have made steady progress by focusing on the items for which materials are available.
The bed coverlets, pillows and upholstery, which use a beautiful toile featuring pomegranates, are all completed and awaiting installation. We are excited to start fabrication of the queen bed hangings, upper and lower valances, and window treatments once the cotton dimity and tape trim is in hand. We received an update from Thistle Hill Weavers that the cotton yarn has been bleached and wrapped and is awaiting its turn on the loom this week to begin the process of warping, weaving, trimming, and cutting.