Sunday, October 2, 2016

How to repair Roman shades

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties we'd had repairing several things that had broken around our house. When our patio door broke, we had to get the glass professionally replaced, a job that ended up taking more than three weeks. Replacing our broken shower diverter knob was a job we were able to do ourselves, but it took us several trips to the home center and one unsuccessful purchase. And as for our tablet computer, it looks like we're going to have to replace the whole thing—or else decide to do without it.

More recently, however, we had a case that actually went the other way around: an item that we thought we'd have to replace turned out to be repairable. So I thought I'd share this story to show that sometimes a repair job does have a happy ending.

When we first moved into this house, over nine years ago now, we needed some window treatments for the kitchen. That room faces out onto the street, and we discovered that with the windows bare, passersby tended to glance in at us while we were eating, as if we were some sort of exhibit at the zoo. So we wanted something that would give us some privacy, but would still let in daylight even when closed, and could also be opened fully whenever we needed to open a window for ventilation. And, since it's a kitchen, it also had to be fairly simple and non-fussy. So we went to IKEA and picked up a basic pair of Roman shades in a lightweight fabric for just $8 each.

These served us well for several years, but after repeated use, the strings that rose and lowered the shades became weak and started to break. Brian kept tying knots in them to repair them, but eventually all those knots started to interfere with the operation of the shades. It was difficult to raise and lower them, and pretty much impossible to keep them level.

Now, normally, we'd just try to fix these by replacing the strings entirely. But Brian thought it might not be worth it in this case considering the condition of the shades. Over nine years of use, they'd developed a number of small rips and stains, and Brian thought it was only a matter of time before we'd have to replace them anyway. So he figured we might as well just shop for new shades now, rather than trying to repair something that was already on its last legs.

So we started searching for a new set of shades that would meet our needs. At first, we thought we could just get another set of Roman blinds, similar to what we have now. But when we checked out the selections during our recent trips to Home Depot and Lowe's, we realized you can't pick up something like this for eight bucks nowadays. Apparently at some point, someone decided that simple Roman shades like ours, with the strings exposed in the back, posed a strangulation hazard. So now there are two kinds of Roman shades: hidden-cord models, with the drawcord tucked between two layers of fabric, and cordless models, which have little magnets attached to the slats that are supposed to hold them up. The hidden-cord models, in addition to being pricey, are a lot more opaque than what we have now, so they'd make our kitchen a lot darker—and the cordless ones, as we discovered when we checked out a set at IKEA, don't always work very well. On the floor model, at least, the shade kept tumbling back down when we tried to hook it in place. And even if it had worked perfectly, the placement of the magnets would limit the use of the shade; it could only be raised or lowered to certain fixed positions determined by the placement of the slats. So there would be no way to adjust it to fit the height of our windows.

We considered other types of window treatments, but they all seemed to have serious drawbacks. Venetian blinds can be set to block the view or let in the light, but not to do both at once. Lightweight roller shades would work, but they're not very attractive. Honeycomb shades would be suitable, and they'd also help to insulate the windows, but we quickly realized our cats would shred them. Inexpensive matchstick blinds had the same problem. And sheer curtains might have worked, but they didn't seem very appropriate for a kitchen. I had the idea of trying to make curtains out of a loose-weave burlap, a rustic style I'd seen once on a decorating show, but Brian thought those would quickly turn into cat toys as well.

At this point, we started thinking that maybe it would be worth trying to repair the old shades after all. Sure, we'd still need to replace them eventually, but at least we wouldn't have to be in any hurry about it. With the old shades in working condition, we could take our time about searching for a replacement that could do exactly what we wanted at a reasonable price. We weren't sure whether restringing the shades would work, but we figured it was at least worth a try.

So we set out to try and find some suitable string for this job. The local drugstore and grocery store had some string for sale, but none that was thin enough to fit through the holes in the shade. The dollar store also had some that might have worked, but it looked rather flimsy and likely to break or fray. So we headed to the nearest Michael's, where we examined a wide variety of string selections in different materials, including cotton, nylon, and hemp. We eventually settled on an $8 ball of waxed cotton string, which looked narrow enough to fit through the holes and sturdy enough to hold up to the strain.

The most difficult part of the job, as it turned out, was getting this string off the ball. For some reason, it had been wrapped in such a way that neither end of the string was on the outside of the reel, and when we tugged on a loose bit, we just kept pulling out bigger and bigger loops of string that flung themselves out all across our kitchen. Eventually we managed to extract one loose end, and then we were able to get down to the actual job of restringing. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll let the pictures I took do most of the job of explaining how we did it:

First, we laid out the entire shade on the table. As you can see, the strings run up the back from bottom to top, running through the fabric at each seam.

Then we cut off the original strings. We just cut them loose at the bottom and then pulled them clean through. We also cut off the two knobs that went on the ends of the drawcords, saving them so we could reuse them with our new cords.

Next, I threaded my largest needle (I think my sewing kit said it was a "sack needle") with the new string and started running it up through the shade, from bottom to top, making use of the holes that were already there.

I ran it out through the metal loop at the top and across to the second loop closer to the edge, where the drawcord would come down. I pulled it all the way down to the second pleat in the shade, so we knew we'd have plenty of cord to work with even when the shade was fully lowered.

Once I had the string to the length I wanted, I ran it through the knob we'd saved...

...and tied a knot to hold the knob on. As soon as I was sure it was secure, I cut off the extra string dangling past the knob.

The whole time I'd been doing this, the string was still attached to the reel. But once it was fully strung, Brian cut it off at the bottom and knotted it around the slat at the bottom of the shade to hold it in place, cutting off the excess.

Then we simply repeated this entire process on the other side. The only difference was that when I got to the top, I had to run the cord all the way across and thread it through both metal loops. That way, pulling on the two cords together raises both sides of the shade by an equal distance.

And once we had the first shade finished, knobs and all, we hung it back up and repeated all these steps with the second shade. The whole process, start to finish, took us probably half an hour.

The repaired shades aren't as good as new, of course. They're still stained in places, and they still have one or two small tears that haven't been repaired yet. But at least they work now, and they should hold up just fine until we finally manage to find something else we like. On the other hand, in light of our success with the strings, maybe we should actually take a crack at mending the tears and getting those stains out, as well. If we can get them looking decent again, we'd much rather keep them than spend money on a replacement that probably won't fit our needs nearly as well.
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