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The Beauty of Traditional Tailored Lampshades

December 1, 2023

If you have ever fallen in love with a fabric design but wondered how to incorporate this into your interiors, fabric lampshades can be the perfect option. Smaller items such as cushions and lampshades can make a huge impact yet in a minimal way, with plenty of colour and scale of both size and pattern.

A Brief Lampshade History

The history of lighting offers a fascinating insight into the modern use of fabric lampshades. Initially, for many years, we used candles and oil lamps for lighting at night, as an essential way of having light after the sun had set. In the early nineteenth century, gas lighting was introduced, which produced a very bright white light, much too bright for the human eye, so lampshades became a necessary element. A glass shade was the most popular but over time, silk lampshades slowly became fashionable.

With the development of incandescent filament electric light bulbs in the 1870’s, with no flame, risk of intoxication or fire, lampshades became ornate in the years to come. The age of the Victorian lampshade meant lampshades became incredibly ornate and flamboyant, made with fabric, lace, frills and flounces.

Bespoke Traditionally Hand Made Lampshades

Lampshades are the perfect cosy lighting choice for autumn and winter interiors, when we close the doors, pull the curtains, light the fire and settle down with a mug of coffee and a good book. They not only add colour but texture and layers to a living room.

Even five years ago, traditional lampshades were not as popular as they are today. I have seen a huge resurgence of lampshades as a focus in the home, and the days of using small prints have long gone, with a call for much larger bold prints and a move to very traditional lampshade shapes and sizes. Traditional lampshade making took a back-seat for over a decade, indeed it was almost frowned upon and definitely not asked for very often, and many lampshade frame manufacturers stopped producing the frames in the UK since the late 1990’s, as they could not compete with the cheap overseas imported frames. Despite the recent resurgence, there are still only a small handful of manufacturers of frames in the UK.

Kate Forman Red Roses Bowed Drum Tailored Lampshade
Cabbages Roses Paris Rose Charcoal Traditional Bowed Drum Lampshade

The ‘firm’ style of lampshade, used in mainly drum shapes or empire shapes, is constructed using an adhesive backing. This style has been popular for many years, as it is inexpensive and easy to make, with no sewing skills required at all. Their popularity has grown so much that the market is flooded with makers offering this style of lampshade. But thankfully now, traditional lampshade styles are making a small comeback and the range of lampshade frame styles and sizes is ever increasing.

When it comes to making traditional bespoke hand sewn lampshades, I still use the old methods of hand-stitching, despite the sore fingers and hours of stitching! I am not a fan of the modern double sided sticky tape, which is so often used now on traditional tailored lampshade making, in place of hand stitching and binding tape. As with this type of adhesive, it simply dries over time, and the lampshade starts to fall apart. And being a traditional maker, I always use a natural cotton, fine silk or very fine linen for the lining (no stretchy polyester linings here either!), as it will not distract from the main outer fabric, is perfect for longevity and means both the lining and outer fabric are made using natural fibres.  

There are many frame styles on offer for traditional lampshades: tailored, swathed, gathered or pleated lampshades. Each style adds their own unique ambience to the finished effect, alongside the shape of the frame and the style of lamp base. There is an increase in the popularity of ornate Victorian style lampshades too, large decorative fabrics with oversize fringing, but remember that this style should suit the room where it is used, otherwise they can look very flamboyant, oversized and out of place. For me, as with all of my designs, understated and elegant styles will always take centre stage and remain timeless.

I am always exploring the creative possibilities that making bespoke lampshade offers. Any creative journey should always find the perfect combination of fabric, shape and style. The journey starts with the frame and the fabric, and exploring different pleating patterns or gathering techniques will often guide the finished style, as will the frame shape and size. My favourite fabric will always be linen, as I can create a good tension when I am making the outer cover, and it is possible to use without cutting the pattern on the bias, which is always needed with form woven cottons. The final design possibilities will always be the trimming, whether a simple braid, or fabric bias binding, or ornate tassel trimming, and should be considered at the beginning of the process.

Lampshade Recovering Service

I am often asked to recover an old lampshade frame too. In most cases, the fabric has become torn and frayed, as it has had decades of use, but the lamp has been in the family for many years and is part of their history  The most important factor is that the frame is sturdy and in a good condition, so recovering is a perfect solution. I have to say though, that wonky frames are also fine to recover, in fact they add to the history of the lamp. As long as the frame is strong, a few quirky dents are fine and can often be hidden!

Bespoke Traditional Lampshades Service

Having taught traditional lampshade making skills for over ten years, I now focus solely on offering a made to order lampshade service for my clients. Every one of my lampshades is unique, handstitched and bespoke, and frames can be made to order. A recent project resulted in a bespoke lampshade frame, constructed with a US ‘harp and finial’ fitting, which is a popular fitting in the US but rarely found here in the UK. The result was a stunning gathered lampshade, using one of Kate Forman’s lightweight linens and a Liberty Tana Lawn cotton lining. Hours of work, and very sore fingers and I was so delighted to receive a hand written thank you card from my client, who was absolutely thrilled with the finished lampshade.

So, if you are ever considering a bespoke lampshade, please have a look at my bespoke accessories page for details or browse through the fabric designers I work with for fabric inspiration. You can also contact me by email at [email protected]

I would love to hear from you.