Happy Birthday to Us (Part 2)

In part one of this memoir I started my curtain making life, set up my business and threw myself into learning the craft. My obsession with soft furnishings and my collections of books, samples, materials and equipment soon filled our small space. 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. Our new house in Cranfield was quickly named Denton House and Denton Drapes moved in.

In the Denton House Workroom 2001

 The second bedroom was annexed and by removing the built-in wardrobes and adding extra lighting and lots of shelves a usable workroom was created.  The benefit of having that dedicated space was remarkable. My working day was much more efficient with everything to hand all the time. I was able to put in more hours and to handle much bigger jobs. I put up a pole which meant I could hang and dress curtains properly before they went out and I was able to invest in more tools and equipment now that I had somewhere to keep them. The shelves began to groan under the weight of all the curtain books I began to acquire.

My first commercial swags and tails

Continuous learning is an important part of my work philosophy and I read everything I can on the subject. I have also made sure to attend at least one trade show and one training course every year learning how to make things like headboards, lamp shades, advanced swags and tails, and loose covers. Maureen Whitemore of Whitemore & Thwaytes was particularly inspirational, providing much needed and generous advice as well as expert training and I am truly grateful for her help.

Striped Roman Blind

Through Maureen I discovered the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers (AMUSF) and applied for membership. The AMUSF is the Trade Association for professional soft furnishers in the UK and has a rigorous entry policy. Every member that displays their logo has earned the right to do so.  It is not a badge that can be bought. The work of members is checked periodically and their suitability for membership scrutinized.

Single Swag & Tails

My scrutineer turned out to be Bert Chapman MBE who is one of the elder statesmen of the soft furnishing industry. His company Albert E Chapman holds the royal warrant and their work is on view in Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court. But there he was in our back bedroom complimenting me on my work and giving me generous advice and support which he has repeated many times since.

Italian Strung Curtains

People I met through these activities became an important factor in my working day. Maureen is an inspirational mentor and other leading curtain makers like Bert and Rebecca Day of Merrick and Day have always been supportive. I also made great friends with many of the people I met on training courses, particularly the lovely Barbara Gillespie from Edinburgh, and in those days before Facebook and Forums we were always on the phone, asking technical questions, sharing ideas and providing mutual support. 

Prince Andrew admires my work

I started to pick up extra work as an outworker for other curtain makers and business came in from all directions including my own mini royal commission. A local sign maker was providing a plaque for an old people’s home that was to be opened by Prince Andrew and I was asked to make the reveal curtain. Another enquiry led to me providing the curtains for a whole house being built by a former Formula 1 driver, the biggest job in my first ten years. By now Denton Drapes had spread far beyond the back bedroom and had slowly taken over most of the house. It was time for another move.

Mt first whole house project

To be continued…

11 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to Us (Part 2)

  1. Your blog is an inspiration!! We have been in business for nearly 2 years now and like you, named our business after our road!!
    We are now trying to advertise and build the business so keep writing as it is great to hear how you all start out.
    Many Thanks

  2. So fun reading your history, and love your pic of Andrew admiring the reveal curtains! Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. It sounds as though you are on an exciting roller coaster ride Penny and loving it. A life I would truly love myself. Carn’t wait for the next installment. Very inspirational!!!

  4. Wow!
    I never thought that I would get such a lovely response from everyone… Thank you!
    I am so lucky to be doing a job I love that is also my hobby and passion.
    I am looking forward very much to next 14 years!

    • Hi Helen
      I do remember that curtain and it wasn’t that bad just a little time consuming. Did you ever manage to get a photo of it?
      thank you for your lovely owrds.

  5. Your work is amazing and as a newcomer, I can hardly wait to see what you’ve written. I love the striped blind especially the fact that the navy tabs were on the white stripe – really eyecatching. So simple and so effective.

  6. Your blog is fab! Such a motivator for someone who has started night school in the soft furnishing world – very inspiring! I hope one day that I can be as succesful as you! Well done!

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