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ShadesShades are not just the simple white vinyl rollers you may have seen hanging in your grandmother’s home. Shades are also available in wood, fabric and synthetic materials. And, like curtains and draperies, they can be very tailored – or lush and soft. When categorizing shades, you need to look at them as being available in both “hard” and “soft” materials.

Let’s first look at roller shades, the type of “hard” shade most people are familiar with. Roller shades operate on a spring clutch mechanism, which controls the vertical positioning of the product. Roller shades can be had in an almost endless variety of fabrics, from sheer to opaque, polyester to a vinyl/fiberglass blend. Neat and flat, roller shades can be dressed up at the bottom hem with fringe, beads and other passementerie, or left plain.

Roman shades, a very traditional cord-operated shade with overlapping horizontal folds, can be constructed not only from fabric, but also a multitude of natural materials such as bamboo, various reeds and grasses. Note that a natural product such as woven wood will require more stacking space in the headrail area than a thinner fabric would.

There are a variety of Roman shade styles from flat fold to waterfall to hobbled, but the concept is the same on all: a series of rings are stitched in multiple vertical columns to the back of the shade and are used to guide lift cords.

In a classic flat fold Roman shade, for example, the lift cord is tied to the bottom ring in each column and then threaded up through the rest of the rings and into a pulley mounted directly above the column. All of the cords are then threaded vertically along the back of the headrail or mounting board and then unite into one pull cord, which runs down the right or left side of the treatment, depending upon customer specification. Yes, this may sound complicated, but in actuality, it’s quite simple.

When the pull cord is operated, the folds pull together in a vertical fashion, collapsing neatly into each other. Roman shades can be either “soft” or “hard” depending upon the material selected.

Pleated shades are crafted from crisp but soft synthetic fabric, and from the side look similar to a zig-zag pattern. The pleats look like horizontal creases when in the down position, which is part of the charm of the product. When pulled up into the headrail, a pleated shade will compact into a neat stack and disappear.

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An extensive selection of colors, styles and patterns are available from multiple window covering manufacturers. A “pinched” construction means the shade should not lose its pleated quality. Despite the soft nature of this product, it is considered “hard.”

Cousin to the pleated shade is the cellular shade, a series of honeycomb shapes that can be specified in single, double or triple cells for a variety of insulation choices. They can be specified in sheer, semi-sheer or opaque fabric to offer choices in light control. Look for a pleated tab on the back of each cell, which helps provide shape retention. Different cell shapes are also available, as well as cell sizes.

For both pleated and cellular shades, most quality fabrics used are 100% point bond polyester and have been treated with some kind of stain control, such as Scotchguard. You might also find a softer (but very heavy duty) spunlace polyester material to allow filtered light to enter the room during the day. Cheaper shades will feel thin, stiff and paper-like to the touch.

Blackout linings, such as Mylar, are also an option. One particularly nice feature for both of these products is that they can be cut to fit just about any usually shaped window. Two more shades, created from fabric, are balloon and Austrian shades. Both shades are similar to Roman shades in that they have a pull-cord mechanism for raising and lowering the fabric; the difference is that the shades have soft “billows” of fabric versus the flatter folds of a Roman shade – and Austrian shades go even one step further than balloon shades in that they also offer vertical shirring at each fold for an even blousier effect. These are, quite obviously, “soft” shades.

Solar shades are a unique product, designed to allow continued viewing of the out of doors, all while blocking over 90% of the sun’s heat. Woven wood shade materials are uniquely textured: comprised of reed, bamboo and various harder grasses, then woven into beautiful multi-colored patterns as well as more sedate single color weaves.

Due to the intricate and careful design of the materials, the shade material can flex and fold just like any other material, though, as mentioned earlier, it does require more “space at the top” in side the headrail.

Launched in the early-1990s, the Silhouette suspends traditional fabric vanes (most often seen in blinds) between two sheer fabric facings, to create a “shade” effect. The suspended vanes tilt in the same way as a blind: they can be all the way open, all the way shut or somewhere in between, but the fabric in between the vanes acts as a light filter and diffuser.

You can pull the Silhouette up into the headrail for full and unobstructed viewing, just as you could any shade or blind. Note that this product is also available as a vertical treatment, offering the look of fine draperies, but with the room darkening capabilities of the built-in vanes.

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