Of the 50,000 fabrics on the market today, each one may react differently when hung at a window—a fact noted with unruffled professionalism by Gretchen Everett, the Washington area’s couturier of draperies and shades and a go-to source for the region’s top designers. She and two associates recently lifted the curtain at Everett’s offices and workroom in Silver Spring, Maryland, for a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to create impeccable window treatments.
Everett singled out a fabric they had just handled. It combined a very loose weave between two panels of linen. “It is a gorgeous fabric,” she began. “But when you hold it up, the center part will be longer; it will drag on the ground while the other parts will be an inch off. That may be fine, but everyone needs to realize it.” To eliminate any guesswork, a sample was prepared to show how the finished drapery would look.
Designers rely on Everett for that level of expertise and care. “When there’s a unique situation and I’m wondering, ‘How do you do that?’, Gretchen is up to the challenge,” says veteran interior designer Kelley Proxmire.
Everett and her team have confronted many challenges during 18 years in business. They have fashioned draperies that hang as straight as plumb lines from three-story heights. They have angled curtains with soundproof linings to follow the slope of a basement ceiling, wrapping the space in silence for an at-home podcaster. Working with interior designer Jodi Macklin to revive historic Evermay in Georgetown, they fabricated all the window treatments, upholstery and bedding for the 12-bedroom mansion. “Every drapery, every duvet cover—anything that went through that workroom was perfection,” Macklin says about Everett’s team effort, finished in seven months.
A visit to the light-filled back workroom reveals a calm, clean and orderly atmosphere; sewing machines are not, as expected, up front. Instead, four seamstresses stand at padded worktables, hand-sewing or carefully stapling fabric to a wood board that will hold a window shade. They each learned their craft in different countries—Cambodia, Ukraine, Honduras and South Korea. A fifth from El Salvador works part-time, hand-stitching pillows in custom sizes and fabrics. Off-site in Gaithersburg, an upholstery studio completes the company’s collaborative services.
The skilled seamstresses hand-stitch pleats and side and bottom hems on all curtains and draperies. Everett compares this refined detailing to “the hand-sewn tailoring of a fine men’s suit.” One recent project took that impeccable styling further: In several rooms of a home, white-linen Roman shades and draperies were hand-stitched in contrasting gray thread, then finished with embroidered crosshatching at the corners. “It came out so beautifully,” beams interior designer Erica Burns, recalling the results.
Everett’s team also eases the process by ordering custom hardware from different sources to fit existing windows and styles. Five years ago, she introduced her own distinctive line of hardware in chunky acrylic from Argentina and in English brass that’s polished or plated in nickel, rose-gold copper or custom finishes. “I like pure, clean designs with some heft,” she explains, then slips together a curved bracket and weighty rod strung with elongated rings. “It’s like a piece of jewelry.” The streamlined designs are scaled up to create coffee tables made of clear acrylic slabs often cantilevered over a brass base. “Fabricating the parts from scratch makes it easy to adjust the size to fit specific jobs,” Everett adds.
Every part of her hardware and furniture is produced and finished to exacting standards in small American shops. This quality control was tested when the British design firm David Collins asked Everett to adapt her acrylic rod design in a striped pattern, alternating clear and black sections. She sent the first effort back to the local fabricator when glue marred its perfect connections. After the glue was dyed black to blend in, the elegant final product appeared in the London designer’s room at the 2016 Kips Bay Decorator Show House in New York City. Tiffany & Co. also tapped Everett to make a curtain rod for its Prague shop, which, she says with a chuckle, “brings home the fact that it looks like jewelry.”
Sharla Keslar, vice president of the hardware line, leads the way to the back of the workroom to show how it all comes together. Keslar’s detailed preliminary drawings indicate the placement of double sets of rods and ring drops, so that “the drapery panels and sheers will hang at exactly the same height and the bottoms of the panels will line up,” she points out. Keeping jobs on track, senior project manager Tara Lowe takes measurements on site and double-checks dimensions of finished draperies and other details documented extensively in project notebooks.
Before any fabric is cut, each bolt is carefully inspected on a special light-box machine in the workroom. “Twice in the last two weeks, 80 yards of fabric for a huge living room were found to be full of flaws,” Everett notes. The job was stopped and the client picked another fabric.
Everett hails from a family of sewing experts in New Orleans. “Both my great-grandmothers had sewing shops during the Depression,” she relates. Her mother sewed the clothes for her five daughters, who all became excellent amateur seamstresses. All, that is, except Everett, who followed a different muse. Graduating from college with an international relations degree, she worked first in the fashion industry. Then she transitioned to a furniture company before apprenticing for two years with a drapery designer in Georgetown and starting out on her own.
“I knew from day one that I didn’t want a commercial assembly line,” she says. “I had worked in high-end clothing and approached it the same way, with attention to details. That kind of care comes from hand-sewing, as in couture.” It’s also necessary, she says, when working on hand-printed and hand-blocked cottons and linens that can exceed $150 a yard.
She emphasizes the importance of trained artisans to maintain that level of quality. “The way they treat and handle fabric is a very Old World skill set. It’s a dying art. We have to value that; we have to value our craftsmen,” Everett asserts.
Reflecting on her years of top-tier production, she adds, “There’s not a day I walk through the door that I don’t think about how I love making something beautiful. It is cool to see what we are doing come to fruition.”