Happy Birthday to Us (Part 1)

On the 17th of January 1997 I gave up my career in the fashion industry with a vague idea of making soft furnishings for people who wanted something better than was then available in the high street or from the average home based seamstress. I had no idea that fourteen years later Denton Drapes would grow into a thriving business with nine part time staff in our own office and workrooms, making beautiful soft furnishings for everyone from interior designers to corporate boardrooms.

Thinking about how I got from there to here has brought back some memories that I thought I would share with you all in the hope of inspiring others who are just starting out. This 1st entry records how my curtain making journey began.

An early sample

I had been sewing since I was a small child; it always seemed to come naturally to me. When I left school I trained as a fashion designer and worked in the industry for thirteen years learning production techniques using industrial processes and pattern grading and cutting. When I decided to start working for myself from home, soft furnishings seemed a good area to try. I knew nothing about the technical construction of curtains but my training and instincts helped me to understand how they went together.

Our daughters nursery window

I knew I needed some training so thanks to a loan from my friendly bank manager I enrolled at the National Design Academy and did their Diploma in Professional Curtain Making over two weeks at Nottingham. The lessons on curtain making were fun but the most useful part of the course for me was the information provided on the running of a soft furnishing business. Things like opening a trade account, terms and conditions and preparing quotations were all new to me.

One of my first customer projects

Armed with my new knowledge and the confidence the course had given me, I set about establishing my business. We were living in a road called Denton Drive so I decided on Denton Drapes as a catchy name. I practiced my curtain making skills on every window in our house and made sample after sample. I checked out the local competition by posing as a potential customer and  I opened my first trade account with Jones & Co who were really helpful, providing me with a full sample pack and my first books of fabrics.

Getting to grips with window dressing

I put together a leaflet to distribute around the village and soon had a number of orders from local customers for things I had never made before. Experimentation was the order of the day as I made mock-ups of each item to make sure they would work. Scarfed drapery, Italian stringing, an arched window: each brought fresh challenges to the working week. Falling pregnant during the first year was a bit of a surprise but at least it meant I could experiment with nursery designs.

A childs room

We were living in quite a small house at the time and the only place I could work was our dining room. I bought a plastic patio table and raised the height with bricks under the legs. An 8’ by 4’ board went on top covered in an old blanket and I could only get around three sides as the room wasn’t much bigger. Everything had to be cleared away every evening and brought out again the following day.

A child's bed

The business grew slowly over the next few years as having a small child meant I could only work part time. My experience and knowledge grew as I picked up tricks of the trade sometimes learning a lot from my own mistakes. When we got the opportunity to move house I was determined that our new home would have one room that I could devote to the business with a proper curtain table, my industrial machine and plenty of storage space.  In the next entry I will tell you what happened next.



Penny

10 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Us (Part 1)

  1. Love what you have done!.. I’ve been doing window treatments for 7 years now out of my home and on my own. I do love to see what i can create and seeing the finished product!..

    Happy Birthday and Congrats!!!

    • Hello Jan
      Thank you for you birhday wishes
      Italian stringing is a series of rings that are hand sewn to the back of the curtain and cord that lift the leading edge up to create a draped effect and keep the curtains open. The curtains are usualy joined together at the centre.
      You will find a better explaination in the Encyclopea of Curtains by Merrick and Day.

  2. Happy Birthday and congratulations. I just love reading your blogs! I started making curtains about 10 years ago for family and friends, i decided to set up a company in March last year through the ecouragement of my friends and i just love it. The satisfaction I get from hanging a beautifully made pair is curtains is just amazing. I’m still very new to the business side of things and yet have no accounts or sample books so any advise would be greatly received. I’m completely self tought, which I did using the books from Merrick & Day. I hope one day to have an operation similar to yours and I congratulate you on your success.

    Yours Stuart

    Stuartofwarwick.co.uk

    • Dear Stuart
      thank you so much for your lovely comments.
      It is so good to hear from other professionals that share my passion for fabrics, softfurnishings and being creative.
      Good luck with your business please feel free to contact me if I can be of any help.

      Best wishes

      Penny

  3. Hi Penny
    I have read all your blogs and I congratulate you on your success, you are an inspiration. I have been making curtains and soft furnishing for family and friends for 11 years now. I work from home in the same way you started, on my dining room table, like you, I needed more space, so I converted the loft into a workroom. I enjoy making curtains and like you, what I make is very pleasing to the eye. Keep up the good work

    Maureen

  4. Happy Birthday and congratulations on your well deserved success,your comments ring so true to many people including myself as to how so many of us started out in the soft furnishing industry.
    I love all your comments and photos and I’m sure they have been a great inspiration to many people.I hope your business goes from strength to strength which I’m sure it will.

    Eleanor x

  5. Congratulations on 15 years in business! I am now in my 22nd year of making window treatments from my home. I did have a shop for a while, but found it much easier to work at home since I also had small children, and I had a room to devote to the business.
    I enjoy seeing the pictures of your work in progress as well as the finished products. You do beautiful work!

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