Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tobacco Cloth Curtains and Other Developments

Some primitive-style window coverings I had ordered arrived this morning at the house. These consisted of several tobacco cloth tie-up panels, and a pair of double-draw festoons. I purchased them from Farmhouse Primitives, and was very pleased with their customer care ethic, as they made an extra effort to ship them to me as quickly as possible. Since these coverings are only made on-demand, the orders naturally take a little extra time to fulfill.

The use of tobacco cloth as a window covering is something that has long intrigued me. Being a descendant of Georgia turpentiners and tobacco planters, I harbor something of a misplaced romanticism for the nicotiana tabacum, despite the long history of evils associated with its cultivation and use -- slavery and cancer, of course, topping that list.


Newly arrived tobacco cloth tie-ups adorning two front windows of the hall chamber. This room is currently empty due to my removing wall board and inspecting this section of the house frame.

Furthermore, my house had once been part of a large colonial plantation whose main product was tobacco. In the later half of the seventeenth century, tobacco was the big craze consuming Europe, beginning with the Portuguese, then the French, and finally the English. Many planters in the American colonies profited handsomely from growing tobacco and exporting it back to England. This was not only the case in the southern colonies, but here in New England, as well.

In fact, nearby Hartford, Connecticut, to this very day, has a reputation for being the shade tobacco capital of the world. As you're driving into Hartford on I-91, you'll see shade tobacco farms with large coverings of tobacco cloth stretched over the crops to protect them from sunlight. This had traditionally been the main use for tobacco cloth, although it was also used extensively for packing tobacco for shipment. It's various domestic uses in earlier times -- as a cheese cloth, for brewing tea, as window treatments, etc. -- are also well known. It's conceivable that centuries ago, tobacco cloth might have been used in the Hawkins House for these same purposes. Hence, it can be put to good use as a period artifact in my home.


Another view of the new tie-ups in the front windows. As the windows are somewhat small, the tie-ups look a bit large, but c'est la vie. I generally prefer coverings that hang close to the floor, anyway, and according to the weaver's instructions, they'll shrink a bit when washed in cold water.

Anyway, after unpacking my new window coverings, I wanted to try them out immediately. I am still not totally sure where they will ultimately go, but the hall is a definite possibility. The parlor is another. Since I was working upstairs anyway, I decided to place them in the hall windows. Some of you may recall a post from last winter, where I found that heavier linen drawback festoons -- by the same textile manufacturer as the tobacco cloth coverings, by the way -- made a good winter time covering for these windows, as they provided a decent block between the cold column of air hovering about the windows and the rest of the warm air circulating through the room.

However, as nice as the heavier linen festoons are, they simply carry too much material and some how just don't seem to fit the house well in the summer months. It looks like these tobacco tie-ups, on the other hand, are a perfect substitute: They are light and airy, and still have a primitive style to them that suits the house quite well. So I am definitely going to be utilizing these tie-ups and similar lighter coverings in the warmer months.


The third tie-up on the larger 12/8 window on the end wall of the room. Unfortunately, there was a lot of sun light coming in, so the photo is a little washed out.

I also ordered a pair of left- and right-sided double-draw festoons, which are heavier than the tobacco cloth, but still a bit thinner than the heavy single-draw linen festoons. According to Farmhouse Primitives, these coverings are based on an early 1800s design. I liked these very much as well. They are probably going to end up in the dining room, where I am currently considering introducing a lot of red fabrics (runners, table squares, etc.), anyway.


One the double-draw festoons in the same window. Again, the large quantity of sunlight unfortunately backlights the festoon and reveals its draw-pull mechanism. But the downstairs windows are darker, so these should work just fine downstairs.

On another note, you may have noticed that these are some of the first interior photos of the house showing exposed timbers in one of the main rooms. The reason why is because I have finally initiated a systematic, detailed inspection of the entire house frame, something I had planned to do for a long time, but given the effort involved, had habitually postponed.

However, my recent discovery of termite damage in one of the front posts motivated me to re-prioritize and begin this lengthy inspection and assessment now, rather than putting it off any further. I anticipate this process lasting throughout the fall and well into the winter months, but it will also provide a lot of good fodder for further blogging. So expect many more postings on this topic as this effort builds momentum!


Wherever I am, my tools are never far away. Here, I was using the level essentially as a large straight-edge with an attached protractor to measure how close my posts are to being plumb. The interior post in the background leans a whopping 5 degrees toward the south end of the house, while the partition wall itself leans several degrees in the other direction (need I be concerned...???)

7 comments:

beth♥ said...

Thank God we have you to obsess over window dressings! *wink* Someone has to do so and it most definitely will not be me. =) They look good though and the historical relevancy is lovely.

Cassie said...

Wow Cuz, haven't been here in a while and looks like you are really going to town on your renovation. The info on the tobacco cloth was interesting...for some reason the fact that tobacco was grown in New England passed me by while studying in school! It's way more interesting having you tell it anyway.;<) I'm with you on the curtains. I have Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer window coverings in mind too! I do have to figure out some lighter weight curtains for the bay window in Summer still.

Right now we have some guys from Misty Mountain putting in a wall and shelves in our mudroom. Will be soooo happy to have some more storage space, for as you know storage is usually limited in a log cabin. Pat goes back to Phx on Sunday so he's rushing about trying to get some of his "honeydos" done. (He is totally spoiling the dogs by playing ball with them several times a day.) Sorry this is so long. It's been a while since we chatted!! love cousin, Cassie

Coralie Cederna Johnson said...

Really enjoyed reading this most interesting post about tobacco cloth and the new curtains. Especially like the double festoons. And, of course, I had to go and check out Farmhouse Primitives...thanks for that link! Some of their products, particularly the samplers which are quite amazing, look more the real thing than reproductions.

lachatnoir said...

Great photos - its looking wonderful over there in Connecticut :O)

John Poole said...

Beth - I know, it's a dirty job, but it's my destiny, luv! Thanks for the comment.

Cassie - The fact that you have independently come up with a winter window covering / summer window covering ethic is further evidence that you and I are actually related!

Coralie - Thanks for the good words. And glad that the Farm House Prims link was useful to you. Yes, they have some pretty good stuff!

Tanya - Thanks, my friend! Hope some day you're able to pay us a visit..would love to give you a tour of Connecticut!

Shelley said...

Those tobacco cloth window coverings are great! Looks wonderful in your home!

John Poole said...

Thanks, Shelley! :-)