How to Specify a Stage Curtain to Obtain a Cost Estimate (Part 1)
Updated: Mar 10
Fabric, Dimensions and Fullness
You don't have to know every detail of your Stage Curtain to get a reliable budget estimate. Part 1 of this series of articles, on specifying curtains for an estimate, covers the most important factors that affect the cost of the Main Stage Curtain: Fabric, Dimensions and Fullness.
Stage Curtains break down into several categories. Main Curtain, Main Valance, Legs, Borders, Tabs, Blackout Drops, Mid-stage Travelers, rear Travelers, Scrims, and Cycloramas.
The curtains on a stage play many roles, mostly to create illusions. Cycloramas bounce light and projections. Scrims bounce light, create depth and then become "invisible" to allow the upstage scene to "bleed through" for the audience (see our blog article on Scrim). Legs, Borders, Tabs, Blackout Drops, Mid and Rear Travelers are called the Masking. Their role is to block and absorb light and disappear.
The Main Curtain, sometimes called the Grand Drape, is intended to create an impression, not an illusion. First impressions are important, and when an audience enters the theatre all eyes go to the Main Curtain.
Choosing the Fabric
Main Curtains are usually made of heavyweight Velour, a pile fabric which creates a plush rich look when lit. For many years the standard stage curtains have been Cotton Velour. If the budget will allow, it's best to use25 oz Memorable or 25 oz Majestic. The Memorable has a deeper pile; the Majestic has a shorter but denser pile. 21 oz velour could be used for the main curtain, but the savings are not substantial enough to warrant diminishing the look and durability of this star of the stage curtain show. Savings can be made elsewhere in the specification as we'll see when we look at the trade-offs involved with lined vs. unlined, fullness, and masking fabric choices.
The most popular colors are deep reds, plums, wines, through purples and dark blues. Wine is the single most popular color. Light colors are not advisable for permanent curtains because of the expense and difficulty of cleaning, as well as the lighting challenges they present for incoming productions.
In the past decade, the quality of synthetic velour has steadily improved, making it a reasonable and sometimes preferable choice for a Main Curtain. Some synthetic velour is more expensive than natural velour. So why use a synthetic? The synthetics are IFR (Inherently Flame Retardant) or DFR (Durably Flame Retardant), meaning that that they are permanently flame retardant. Cotton velour must be tested for Flame Retardancy every five years or so and could possibly require re-treatment. The cottons are treated with a FR compound that is water soluble. If the cotton curtains get wet or are subject to fluctuations in humidity and condensation, the compounds could come out of solution causing discoloration. Usually when a cotton velour curtain gets wet it cannot be salvaged.
Among the premium synthetic velours, it’s best to use 27 oz Charisma or 26 oz Prestige fabrics if the budget will allow. Charisma is matte while Prestige has a shiny look. 20 oz Crescent or 13 oz Apollo are also matte and would provide some savings. A popular choice for elementary, middle and high schools is IFR 22 oz Encore. Encore is a knitted, brushed suede that is highly durable and ideal for high humidity environments and multi-use "cafetoriums ".
Main Curtain Lining
To line or not to line? Linings serve two major functions: to block light bleed from upstage when the face fabric is not opaque and to protect the back of the curtain from damage. It’s always best to line the Main Curtain for protection but when budgets are tight, some of the heavier fabrics can live without it.
Cotton Velour Lining Guide
25 oz Memorable -- lining preferred
25 oz Majestic -- lining preferred
21 oz Marvel -- lining required
21 oz Virtue -- lining required
Synthetic Velour Lining Guide
27 oz Charisma -- lining preferred
26 oz Prestige -- lining required
20 oz Crescent -- lining required
13 oz Apollo -- lining required
22 oz Encore -- lining preferred
Dimension and Fullness in the Main Traveler Curtain
In general, the larger the curtain dimensions, the greater the cost of the curtain. However, how you specify the "fullness" of a curtain can also significantly change the amount of fabric that’s needed. Fullness is the extra fabric used to create the folds in a curtain. In the theatrical field, we speak of fullness as the added percentage of width pleated into the curtain. A flat curtain is 0% fullness. 50% fullness is half again as much added. For example a 30’ wide curtain with 50% fullness, would start out at 45’ wide and be pleated into the finished width. When specifying fullness, always refer to the finished width of the curtain. How much fabric needs to be added will be understood from the fullness percentage. (See our animated demonstration of fullness.)
The optimal fullness for a Main Curtain is 100% (2x the width pleated in), 75% will work, and 50% is adequate if that’s all that the budget will allow. A flat Main Curtain is not recommended.
The next article in this series will cover specifications for the top, bottom and side finishes of a curtain. If you’d like additional information about stage curtains, fabrics and more please go toRose Brand Custom Stage Curtains & Drapery.
For a quote on a custom stage curtain or any other custom sewing order, please see our online quote request application, or you may email us at email@example.com, or call us at 800-223-1624.