A storm comes up, temperatures fell, air pressure changed, I felt hang-over the whole morning and from the mirror something swollen stared at me. Great to have something to close the holes in the walls. Chances are that, when you look around in the room you are in, some fabric hangs in front of said holes – curtains !
They are part of what is in German called Fensterverkleidung, door and window coating. Looking at the history of this interesting element of  interior design one can see that the main elements are already known in the 17th century : The two piece curtain (“zweiflügeliger Vorhang”), die Aufziehgardine (pull-up curtains or “hissgardinen”), the rouleaux. And of course there are different kinds and sorts of Fensterläden, blinds or shutters, which may be fixed on the outside of the house or inside the room, closing the whole of the opening or just a part ; they may swing from side to side (“Klappläden”) or be drawn up. The innovative æra of textile window coating is the seventeenth century, all the forms that were later used or dismissed, following the whims of goddess Vogue, were developed in this age.
Gardinen or curtains (Ger., Eng.) had a use value first, later became elements for interior design. They are seemingly related to the older Bettvorhang.
To get one thing out of the way : There never has been a tax on curtains, a Gardinensteuer. This is always cited as reason that in The Netherlands fewer curtains were in front of citizens’ windows. The reason may be that in earlier times few people had clear window panes, but pretty small and dim ones, so that not too much light came in anyway and there was no reason to shut out curious peeps from the outside. Simply because the interior lightning also was pretty dim, bright burning wax candles were expensive, most people had only tallow candles. All speculation about a special Calvinistic mindset or mentality etc. is simply speculation. What really existed was a tax on windows.
I read somewhere that one of the earliest depiction of a two piece curtain can be found on a picture by Wolfgang HEIMBACH (Ger., Eng.) from 1653, but I could not find it. In the last third of the 17th century the role of curtains changed from being just something to keep out peeps and sunlight to an element of interior design. Notably the materials changed to Taft / tafetta, Damast / damask and silk.
Of course all this is first located in noble interiors. Through the 18th and 19th century curtains became part of bourgeois living ambiente and even rural living rooms.
Since the 1680s, starting from France of course, the pull-up curtains (Aufziehgardine, hissgardinen in Swedish) started to conquer living rooms – they survived on the stage, when the curtain goes up. The king himself, Louis XIV., gave advice how these things should be fixed – he should know, carpenter that he was. Today they are known as Wolkenstores or Raffrollos (images), their high times were the 18th century.
The rouleau (“der Rollo”), is a curtain rolled on a wooden rod, fixed on the inside of the window, a sun protection. KRÜNITZ (Ger., Eng.) in his Encyclopädie, calls it “Rollstäbe mit gemeiniglich bemahltem Papier, Leinwand oder seidenem Zeug” (“wooden staffs usually with painted paper, canvas or silk”). The rouleau can be found in 18th century inventories, since the 19th century it shows up in simpler environments on the countryside.
In FONTANEs (Ger., Eng.) novel Effi Briest (ebook, listen to it) we can read for noble Berlin :
Von Juni an schläft dann alles ein, und die heruntergelassenen Rouleaus verkünden einem schon auf hundert Schritt ‘Alles ausgeflogen’; ob wahr oder nicht, macht keinen Unterschied …”
“Everything turns quiet from June onwards, and the lowered Rouleaus tell one from a hundred steps’ distance ‘All absent’ ; true or not makes no difference …”
Another form is the Scheibengardine, the half- or café-curtain, first examples can be found on 17th century paintings. Their main use is visual cover. Besides these forms of curtains from the late 18th century onwards large Draperien, draperies, are develop, not only through the Empire, but they can be found in Biedermeyer-interiors too.
At least mentioned should be the colouring of glass, mostly with chalk – this is known for Sweden in the mid of the 19th century ; even in the middle of the 20th this could be found in remote rural areas of Germany ; also putting cut-outs, Scherenschnitte or silhouettes, into the windows was a praxis – but there are basically no sources for these habits.
Here is an example of a colourful, light-weight, printed Gardine, circa 25 years old, as it was used in a child’s room :


Simple green curtains as used in a child's room, originally two panels of fabric, sewn together
Simple green curtains as used in a child’s room, originally two panels of fabric, sewn together


Sun makes fabric tired, mürbe, fragile, so a strong grip can break it :


An incautious grasp ...
An incautious grasp …


10 thoughts on “Curtains

  1. Thank you for your in depth explanation, Mr Mags. I think we can now draw a voile over the whole affair, although maybe you have skimmed over the topic of pelmets (shaped or otherwise) and there was little reference to pleats, AND what about swags and tails???? I like a good tale.
    But, on the whole, I am satisfied with your explanation of curtains. Perhaps next week we can work together on the pouffe?

  2. Ah yes, Gardinen ..
    Gute Gardinen were very important ..
    Wouldn’t you know, that I have German cousins who have had a successful Gardinengeschäft for decades…
    Gardinen H……n, GmbH it’s called.

  3. Yes I missed on Schabraken, also called Querbehang or Quergardine, sorry. Bundfalten (Plissee), Guirlanden und Zipfel – except the Plissee (shouldn’t be there some accent ?) I guess all this falls under “Posamente” ? Next week we’ll work on the Puff, dear Scarlet, its ages since I saw one.

  4. Is that your finger polking through the curtain. I actually feel the pain. I have one of my mother’s old curtains from the 60s. It has a rip in it because it has become fragile.

  5. The master’s left index finger. Yes, I think it’s the sun that weakens the fabric. Sunlight can work wonders, really. But it is dangerous to a lot of things (paper, canvas, textile, plastics), I think only glass is really unimpressed by sun light.

  6. I remember that my mother had white structured curtains – Übergardine und Stores. It was necessary to wash it twice a year because of the smoke. I still remember the smell of the freshly washed stuff, still a bit – not wet, feucht – when it was hanged again. Can’t remember that the curtains were ever shut. She preferred wilde Muster, mostly colourful plant-like forms on a brown ground. I had some red ones in my room as a child, I closed them at night because a street lamp was close. Today I close the Gardine because the early light would wake me up.

  7. Excellent window covering coverage! I like your colorful curtains.

    No curtains at my place. Instead, metal mini blinds on the windows and metal vertical blinds for the sliding glass balcony door. In the hot months, all kept closed during the day to keep out the heat. Otherwise, all kept tipped open.

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