Going the Extra 90 Yards: The Measure of a Historically Replicated Curtain

by Noël Grabow, Collections Assistant
May 30, 2023

Top photo: Replica drape (left) and historic drape (right) in Acorn Hall’s front parlor.

As stewards of one of the most remarkable well-preserved historic houses in NJ, MCHS must routinely consider how to ensure the longevity of irreplaceable features that make Acorn Hall so unique. From carpets to cornices, wallpaper, and furniture, much of the Hall’s original mid-19th century décor still graces its interiors. The front parlor in particular remains largely unchanged since 1860, right down to the draperies. Understandably, however, after centuries of use, sunlight, and gravity, the drapes are now showing their age. The decision was made to retire them from service, and to retain the harmony of the room, I created modern replicas on my vintage 1940s Singer 201-2 machine, they were painstakingly matched in color, trim, and construction.

Many fabrics of various textures were considered before the center left was selected.

Following examination of swatch after swatch against the parlor drapes, a lush, sage-green velvet was selected as the closest match to the wool jacquard chosen by the Cranes. A serendipitously similar gold and brown Greek key ribbon was found for the trim, proving the Cranes’ taste to be as timeless as they intended. Heavyweight unbleached muslin lining now stands in for the unbleached glazed cotton of the Cranes’ drapes.

However, before making even the first stitch on the new drapes, the historic ones were minutely studied. Fine examination revealed some surprising variations in each set’s construction that are nearly invisible. It was discovered that some panels are strategically pieced together, some on the front, some on the back. Each panel is also a slightly different dimension. The overall desired effect is preserved, however, as the most visible and impactful elements, such as the ribbon the precise placement of the decorative trim within a half inch of the edge.

My Singer with a modern walking foot was essential to the precise trim placement on the 114” length as well as achieving neatly mitered corners. Each line of trim, and all seams were pinned, hand basted (yes 90+ yards of hand basting), then machine sewn for the maximum accuracy and uniformity in construction. At the top edge, modern drapery hook tape was used for greatest durability, which was also hand-sewn in place for a nearly-invisible finish. Despite all this effort, it’s my hope visitors never notice the difference, but that it does ensure these new drapes also last 160+ years!