What Do You Know About Black Drapes? Advice From A Pro
By Jan Blomme
It seems like something very basic, black drapes. They are always around us. From hiding ugly ballroom or exhibition centre walls to making dressing room partitions, creating wings or masking stage lighting and performers from their audience. But there’s a lot to know about functional black curtains and if you have the responsibility of sourcing and buying blacks for your theatre/event or production, you may want to consider the following factors.
Flame retardant fabric
Some event organizers around the world STILL do not consider flame retardant fabrics a priority. Sure, it’s often the venue that does not insist on documentation, the end user who is pushing down the price or maybe the local fire marshals do not check smaller scale one-off events in your location.
As an event professional, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of your guests. So, if you’re covering the walls in fabrics, please make sure they’re flame retardant with proper certification. In case something happens, which unfortunately still does far too often, at least the responsibilities are clear and nobody will be pointing in your direction for not having made the right decision.
Flat or pleated?
The advantage of using drapes in fullness (pleated) is that all imperfections are hidden. The pleats will hide any wrinkles, creases but also the seam lines of the fabric and the overlap.
Some people expect to have a perfectly flat wall when hanging drapes without pleats, but the reality is often very different.
It doesn’t matter how perfect the drape is made, if the fabric is just hanging off a bar or a truss it will never look like a perfectly tensioned wall.
Most likely you will be using rental drapes which will have some wrinkles and creases in them already, seam lines will be visible and most rental drapes are about 9m wide so you will have an overlap which will be visible when hanging drapes flat.
So, make sure when you specify flat drapes that you are aware of the look and feel this creates. If the drapes are backstage and functional it might not matter too much. Black drapes are also quite forgiving and if your audience is a few meters away it will not be that disturbing, but when choosing colours like red or white these imperfections will be very visible and the end user might notice them.
If you really would like to have a perfectly tensioned flat black wall have a look at special tension systems on the market like Studio Weights or AV DROP systems, made specifically to tension up black fabrics. The result will be perfect with no visible creases or wrinkles.
When you specify drapes hanging on a truss, please allow for the installation team to install them on ground level and hoist the truss into position after the drapes are tied. This saves a lot of time for your load in. When calculating your drape quantities please allow for 50cm overlap on each drape and 5-10% spare drapes. You never have enough black fabric on a big job.
The details and types of black cloth
There are a few characteristics a good quality black event drape needs to have. As mentioned above it needs to be Flame Retardant but it should also be opaque so it can mask stage lights and thus have limited transparency. When there are guests on both sides of the curtain they should not be able to see each other. This means the material needs some significant weight. 300 gram/sqm is considered the minimum for event drapes, some companies carry materials up to 560 gram/sqm. The fabric should be matt, not shiny.
Shiny material bounces off light and makes the drape more visible. This is not what we are looking for when we are trying to mask off areas.
The colour should be as close to true black as possible. As we want a neutral drape, the colour cannot be blue-ish because this could add distraction to the elements we want to focus on during the event.
In the UK, Hong Kong and some parts of Europe Wool Serge is considered as a good rental drape fabric. The advantage of Wool Serge is that it’s nice matt black. The material also has a certain weight to it so it hangs nice and flat. The downside of this material is that it’s quite fluffy and can spread small hair particles. It also picks up dirt quite easily.
The weight of the Wool Serge drape also becomes very considerable when having drapes taller than 6-meter-high, especially when installed in fullness. Wool Serge is about 150cm wide so there will be a certain amount of seams when using decent size drapes.
Most rental companies in Europe and Asia will offer rental drapes in black Molton. This is a cost-effective material with great characteristics. The curtains are relatively lightweight so it’s easier to install them, especially when drapes are very tall. Even though Molton is lightweight, the fabric is relatively opaque so it masks light very well. The material is 300cm wide so double as wide as Wool Serge which makes for less visible seams and saves confection costs. It’s very fast to make drapes from this material.
If you really are looking for a lush and rich feel you should consider velvet drapes. Both Wool Serge and Molton are natural materials but these days there are companies that offer cost-effective synthetic velvet in rental. Synthetic velvet is IFR (inherently flame retardant), it will stay FR even if the drape would become wet or after it’s cleaned. This means these drapes have an excellent durability and a much longer lifespan than Molton or Wool Serge drapes.
When using velvet, you give a beautiful rich and luxurious feel to your event. Because of the weight of the velvet, the drape will hang beautifully and the thickness of the material enhances the acoustic characteristics of the drape.
Fabric innovation has evolved rapidly in the last few years and there’s now even a 2-metre wide synthetic velvet on the market. This is the widest velour available today (most velvets are only 140cm wide) and this material was invented especially for rental curtains. The synthetic velvet is very crease resistant and even after multiple events, it will still look like it’s brand new.
Easy draping systems
Apart from the fabric tension systems we discussed earlier, there are also a variety of Easydrape systems on the market. These are flexible drape systems that allow event professionals to set up temporary fabric walls very fast up to 5-meter high.
The fabric can easily be attached to the horizontal drape support with hook and loop fastener for easy setup and dismantling. The height of the telescopic vertical supports can be adjusted to fit the venue exactly. The curtains can be installed single or double-sided. These drape systems are mainly designed for fabrics in fullness. Should you want to install flat fabric walls it’s better to look at the Studio Weights or AV DROP systems.
Installing black event drapes will also have an acoustic effect on the venue. The sound reverberation in the venue will improve significantly. This will make the venue more intimate and inviting for guests.
You can use black draping as room divider and reduce the sound transmission between the different parts of the venue. The result would be significantly better if using Wool Serge or velvet drapes in heavy pleating (up to 200%).
If even more acoustic insulation is required you could consider placing acoustic baffles in between your event drapes, this will significantly reduce the sound transmission and you could offer 2 different functions in 1 event space!
Choosing black event drapes will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of your event, compared with other types of decoration like woodwork or printing. If the drapes are rental curtains they have probably already served in previous events and will continue to live a long life even after your event is finished.
Wool Serge is fully recyclable, cradle-to-cradle so the material will not just go to waste. When manufacturing the material, the end of life of the fabric is already taken into consideration. More and more companies are now working on environmentally sustainable systems where drapes and used fabric are reused long after your event is finished. Old event drapes are shredded and their remains are used in fillings for acoustic products for instance. Ask your vendor for more information on their sustainable practices.
All of these factors should be kept in mind when hiring, buying or selecting black drapes. Good luck with your next gig!