How To

My mother and sister came up and helped me make some drapes for my bedroom. Consequently, I’ve spent the past week or so thinking about the geometry of swags, that pit of cloth with drooping folds that conceals the hardware of the curtains. Since light keeps me awake, and my neighbors can see in my window, I wanted to put up fairly elaborate drapes for entirely practical reasons. The aesthetic side of me required that it all be topped off by a valence. When I get my stuff together I might put together a how-to for drapes, curtains and the valence, which was my own design.

For now, though, I’m going talk about making swags. (I know that I’m primarily a painter, but on several occasions clients have asked me to make draperies as well. Furthermore, I’ve made them for my mother and sister, so I have a moderate amount of experience making window treatments.)

Now, the shape of a swag is like that of a chain, wire or rope hung from two points. In other words, the curve of the draping of a swag is a catenary (or an approximation of one), which, in my opinion, is one of the world’s most beautiful shapes. So, the bottom line of a swag, when the cloth is unfolded and laid out, is the length of the catenary most closely resembling the desired swag. It it tempting to want to use math to figure out that length. Certainly this is doable, but to be honest, it is far easier to simply hang a tape measure or some rope and measure the length. If anyone has done this mathematically, I would love to hear about it.


Okay, so now we know that we need a piece of fabric whose bottom width is equal to the width measured by the rope.

There are two type of swags, open swags and closed swags. My main experience until now has been with closed swags. I plan on making some open swags in the near future and will report on how that goes. For now, I’m discussing closed swags.

So, the width of the swag is probably given by the width of the window and the depth is often chosen because it looks “right.” That gives us the silhouette of the swag. Next, you have to figure out how many pleats you want and the size of the “picture.” The picture is the moon-shaped part of the fabric in the center top part of the swag. If you’re using a print fabric, it is important to consider what part of the print will appear in this area.

swag showing picture

Once you determine the size and shape of the picture, you can use the tape measure technique to find the length of the curve created by this fold. This will be the width of the fabric at this point.

swag showing top fold

beginning to draw patternNow, you have two widths, the width of the fabric at the bottom and the width of the fabric along the top fold. (We still haven’t allowed for hems or overlaps, so don’t get too excited yet. We still have lots of figuring to do.

Now, let’s think about how the swag would look in cross-section.

swag cross section

From here, I confess that I just guesstimate and use a number between double and one and two-thirds times the depth of the swag. So, now we have:

swag pattern 1

swag showing measurements


For the next dimensions, if you’re working out a full-sized pattern on paper, you can literally just draw the necessary lines,

swag pattern 2

otherwise, the math is easy enough.

swag pattern 3

Half the difference of the length of the top fold and the bottom, that’s the length of segment DE.

Half the difference of the width of the picture and the length of the top fold is the length of segment HF.


So, now we have a parallelogram.

swag pattern 4

The next thing we need to take into account are the overlaps. Take the width of the swag and subtract the width of the picture. Divide by two to get the width of all the pleats. Divide by the number of pleats to get the width of one pleat. Divide the length between the line indicating the top fold and the bottom by the number of folds.

swag showing folds

Don’t forget to include an allowance for the hem.

swag pattern 5

And this is how I make a swag.

an empty apartment

Okay, here’s our second “Instagram Imitation” using Paint.NET. There are a few free and low-cost options out there for photo editing. As I’ve mentioned before, I installed Paint.NET on the tiny, little, not especially powerful and lacking disk space, super portable thing that I got so I could spend extended periods of time in Europe without feeling disconnected. I haven’t yet bought into the Apple echosphere,or whatever they call it, so I don’t have an iPhone. My phone does have a camera, but it’s not especially good. So these are plain old photographs, not phonegraphs (that word looks familiar), taken with a boring old dslr and processed on my old-fashioned laptop with a keyboard and everything.

Here is a photo I took because a German friend of mine told me that Germans don’t like draughts. (I don’t know if this is true, by the way.) As it happens, I was about to move into an apartment designed by a German architect and, after he said that, I realized that the windows don’t open very wide. So, before I moved my furniture in, I took some pictures. This one is entitled “German Ventilation.”
screen shot of select tool

Not having actually used Instagram, I didn’t know which filter to try to imitate. I’ve been referring to a guide on Mashable, “How to Choose the Best Instagram Filter…” According to that article, Hudson is the filter to use “when photographing architecture for a modern, sleek vibe.” The techniques used are described as “Dodged center, heightened shadows, cool tint.”

Just like in the first example, open the program, open the file, save with a new name, then copy the background to a new layer and uncheck the box next to the first background layer.

The next thing we’re going to do is crop the picture to make it square. Choose the rectangle select tool in the tool bar, or alternately type “s”. Click and drag over the area you want while holding the shift key. Holding the shift key will keep the box square. One little note of caution, if you drag past the edges of the image, you won’t get a square photo. After you’ve highlighted the area of the photo you want, you will see a box of translucent gray over the area surrounded by a dotted line. If you don’t like the way it looks, just shift, click and drag to choose again. Once you’ve highlighted the area that you want, go to the menu bar and choose “Image > Crop to Selection,” or type “cntrl+shift+X.”The first photo, cropped.

Okay, the next thing we’re going to tackle is the “cool tint.” That’s the overall bluish cast that pictures altered using the Hudson filter have.

Create a new, blank layer in the layer window; this is going to be our blue filter. Go back to the tool bar and choose the icon that looks like a little paint bucket (shortcut key F). If the color window is not open, open it by going to the main menu bar and choose “Window > Colors”, or type “F8.” Choose a blue color, a very bright blue. Make sure the new, blank layer is on top and highlighted, then click anywhere within the image. The entire image will be flooded with a bright blue.

Next, go to the Layer window and double click the blue layer that’s now active. A dialogue box will open entitled “Layer Properties.” There will be a drop down menu labeled “mode.” I chose “overlay” for this exercise. You might want to scroll down and get a feel for what the different modes do.

The Layer Properties dialogue box from Paint.NET.

Overlay still looks too blue, so the next thing I did was reduce the opacity. Mover the slider to the left. I set it at sixty-eight, so it clearly had a blue tinge, but didn’t look bizarre. I’ve included an image of how our progress looks so far.

The cropped photo with a blue tint.

Here is the cropped photo after the blue filter has been applied.

Next, create a new, blank layer. Go to the tool bar and choose the gradient tool (shortcut “g”). It the one that’s located in the second column and the fifth row in the image of the tool bar. It looks like a shiny rectangle. Chose white for the primary color and black for the secondary color. Place your cursor at the center of the picture, click and drag out to the edges. You should have a circle in the center fading out towards black along the edges. Double click on the layer in the Layer window to bring up the Layer Properties dialog.  This time I set the mode to Additive and the Opacity to eighty. You can set the opacity to whatever looks right to your eye.

The last part of the effect is heightened shadows. Go to “Adjustments > Brightness and Contrast.” Here, I set contrast to twenty. It looked a little dark to me, so I moved brightness to ten. Again, you can set it to whatever looks good to your eye.

Here’s the final result:

Same picture, altered.

When I first got a digital slr camera, my serious photographer friends warned me against “too much photoshop.” They heaped tons of derision on those who did that. Nowadays, the complaint is about Instagram filters. Any of these things can be used badly or used well.

I don’t use Instagram, but seeing people who have tweaked their photos using the filters made me want to see if I could imitate the instagram filters in a photo editing program.

For this how-to, I’ve decided to use Paint.NET because it is free and the fact that there are fewer options makes it easier and less intimidating to use than photoshop. Yet it is similar enough to most of the major photo editing programs that anything you learn can be transferred to most of the others. Paint.NET is for Windows only, I’m afraid.

First, install Paint.NET. It can be found here.

To start, we’re going to imitate the Instagram filter known as “Inkwell.” This is by far the easiest and this will give you a chance to get comfortable with the program.

Since the Inkwell filter simply turns any photo into black and white, the most important part here is your choice of photo. It’s a good idea to pick something were the impact of the picture isn’t based on the colors.

Here is a photo I took today.

A cat sleeping in the sun.

I thought it might work well in black and white because it’s mainly about light and shadows.

Open up the program. In the menu bar, go to File > Open. Navigate to the photo you want to turn to black and white and open it.

There should be a smaller window open in the program labeled “Layers.” If it’s not there, go to Window > Layer, or hit F7. That should bring up a box that looks like this:Screen shot of a window in a program labled "Layers."

On the bottom of the box there’s a little symbol showing two pieces of paper with a tool tip that says “duplicate layer.” Click that icon to duplicate the layer. We’re going to start each photo editing attempt this way. The advantage is that you still have your original underneath all the changes you make, so if you don’t like something it’s easy to start again. In fact, it’s a good practice to save the file under a different name at this point, something like “MamaBW.” Uncheck the original background image, which is located on the bottom.

Make sure the top image is highlighted. (In the image on the right, I’ve made a copy of the copy. You will only have two layers at this point.)

In the menu bar, go to Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. A box will open that has three sliders labeled “hue”, “saturation” and “lightness.” Take the saturation slider and move it all the way to the left. The number in the adjacent box on the right will read zero after you move it. Click “Done.”

Alternately, you could just click Adjustments > Black and White, but I wanted you to play with the sliders because we’ll be using them to do less simple things in the future.

Okay, you’re done. If you want to be able to save the layers, make sure you save it as a Paint.NET file if you want to save the layers, and as a jpeg if you want to be able to view it in another program, share it or post it on the web.Same photo of the cat.

Now, one of the reasons that I wanted to start with a black and white photo was, not only because it is the easiest, but because you can often get a better result than you can in instagram. As it happens, I was pretty happy with the result, but frequently, I’m not. First, make a copy of the black and white layer so that now you have three layers. Now go to Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. This will bring up a box with two sliders. You can move them back and forth and watch the image change. It’s rare that you will want to move it more than just a little bit in either direction. Since I thought lightening the photo might give it more the sense of being filled with sunlight. In the end, I wound up with brightness being equal to +45 and the contrast was set to -5.

Photo of cat.

If you want to play around a bit, you can go back to adjustments and try using either “Curves” or “Levels.”