During the Victorian era lighting was primarily from gas. But with Edison’s improved design
of the incandescent light bulb in 1879, electric lighting began
replacing gas lighting in Victorian homes. This change became the
catalyst for a variety of lamp shades made to shield the glaring
Daffodil shade with fan pleats and
Elegant shades graced table and floor
lamps as well as crystal chandeliers imported from Europe. And the
electric light bulb enabled fine work to be sewn at night usually
under a parlor bridge lamp. Today the tradition of hand-sewn lamp
shades continues and here are tips and sewing techniques from the
When buying or recovering a lamp
shade today, keep the design of the lamp base in mind.
Curved shades compliment curved lamps and angular shades
normally work best with angular lamps. Shade frames are
available for lamp bases with harps, bridge lamps, floor
lamps with glass bowls, chandeliers, headboards,
night-lights and more.
Shade frames can usually be recovered or new ones purchased.
An antique frame is stripped, covered with rust-retardant
and recovered. Over the years, a large variety of styles
were designed. Interesting, all the frames have names. Since
flowers played such an important role in the Victorian
decorating scheme, many have names such as Tulip and
The frame is then wrapped with
cotton twill tape to enable the maker to sew the fabric onto
the metal. Wrapping with the correct tension is an art that
either results in a quality product or a shoddy piece.
The intricate patterns made by
the joining of the metal wires create small “windows”. Each
window (panel) is lined with satin, silk or other beautiful
fabrics. While quality domestic fabrics are often used
today, many individuals choose imported fabrics similar to
those in fine Victorian homes.
One of the most popular special
effects is the “rosette”. Here again the flower theme is
repeated with sewing techniques that result in rose-like
puffs. Usually they are combined with pleating or shirring
that finishes the look. Another method is “fan pleating” – a
pattern that is reminiscent of the fans used by Victorian
ladies to cool themselves. Lace or burn-out velvet are often
sewn on adjoining panels.
The shade is finished with
braid, lace, ribbon and specialty trims. The finishing trim
is applied either by sewing or with hi-tech bonding agents
(not hot glue). Fabulous hand-dyed fringe or sparkling beads
and matching tassels for pull chains complete the finishing
A quality hand-sewn lamp shade given the
proper care will last for many years.