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My journey to find "the best" winter curtains  RSS feed

 
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Of course, the title is a bit of a joke since there is no "best" in permaculture. But, having many large beautiful windows in a cold climate has me on a journey. To find what works best for me here, and maybe you'll benefit too.

First, not all windows are the same. Windows facing no view or bad views or where no one goes during daylight hours, and to the poles really don't need to be there all the time. I don't think I'd give them up for a wall, but, a high quality moving blanket or other thick quilt might just do the trick.

Then there's those windows with the potential to allow solar heat in. That is, if it's sunny. We are rarely. Still, we need light to see and grow plants, so if I could have the best of all worlds it would. Be get something insulating yet clear. No, bubble wrap doesn't really work well enough because it is either in contact, which allows radiant heat transfer or it is not in contact but allows air flow. Not to mention, they still ruin your view. That's my opinion.

So, I got this idea from a shower window post to use shower curtains. The experiment is still beginning, but my concerns are being ameliarated by the so far success, and I thought I'd share.

Design: one curtain is used on equator facing windows and two on East or west facing windows that sun or view is desired.

Concerns:
1. Moisture: upon initially putting them up, condensation appeared. Within 24 hours this disappeared. They are not attached around the window, so air still moves, but currently this is not an issue.

2. Solar heat loss. We get about 1/2 day of sun per week this time of year. However, I can still grow plants and feel the sun's heat against the wall when it does appear. No significant difference was felt between the curtained and uncurtained areas. The windows are also very clear. It simply looks a little more dreary than usual, but part of that is white dust I could wipe away if I weren't posting about it.

Insulation capacity. Because they are not tightened to the window, cold air drops out the bottom of the curtain, as with any curtain not tightened to the window. Still, when getting an energy audit recently I found a significant difference in temp between where there was curtain and where no curtain exists, especially in the single panes with a storm window. The black and white image below is actually a heat image where darker means more heat loss. The colored images are the curtains with views. You can see a half-complete upgrade on one if you look close. I will be trying to seal them with felt.

Insulating is a balance between breathability/moisture and insulation. Thought I'd share this little journey.

Obviously, during summer these will get rolled up so they don't get sun destroyed and foliage or regular white-backed curtains take the place in order to keep the temp mild inside. So, I have very little fear of them being destroyed by the sun in just a few years.

I still can't give an r value or anything significant yet because I'm still working on perfecting them, but if you know more, feel free to post.
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Single curtain
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Double curtain
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Heat image. One window curtain pulled back, adjacent window double curtained.
 
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We built these for all the windows in our old Victorian house:

Interior Storm Windows

Easy to make, cheap (About $10-15 a window), and they add 2 layers of "glazing" and most importantly, close up drafty leaks. Then we close our regular curtains (which range from gauze to heavy velvet) at night.

Of all the weatherization stuff we did on our house, these gave us the most comfort. And you can see right through them like a normal window. We store them away in the summer and put them back on when it starts getting chilly in the fall. We've been using the ones we made for about 6 years now. The film is very thin, so it's easy to get a hole if you bump it into something sharp when moving it, but you can easily mend it with clear packing tape.

Here are pictures of one standing alone and another of a window with one in it.
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pollinator
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I am happy to give my opinions on this subject - I've been sewing my own curtains for 30 years!

First - yes curtains can help insulate a window, but there is a tendency to get condensation problems which can drip down where you don't want it, so at least consider the option of outside, insulated covers when opening and closing them isn't a problem. I have a sister with a commercial (ie big bucks) sliding covers which are operated from inside. Real shutters which actually can be closed and latched could be home-made. I have a vague recollection that one of the underground house gurus had Styrofoam panels cut to fit certain windows which he just positioned when needed.

Second - don't be afraid to think outside the box. One day when I was shopping I spotted some fleece fabric which was printed to represent trees with branches and leaves. It's now hanging in the kitchen covering double sliding doors that face north. The kitchen is *much* warmer! Fleece may not be a typical drapery fabric, but it is nicely insulating and *very* washable.

Third - consider insulated "Roman shades". These are easy to sew panels that use a string system to pull them up to the top of windows when you want sun. I attach a simple wood 2x2 bar above the window and make my shades slightly wider than the window unlike what most pictures will show. I buy thick insulating blankets to act as the liner and fabric I like to be the side you see from inside the room. Unfortunately I have no easy way to show pictures, but if you pm me an email address, I can send you some (which you'd be welcome to post if that's in your skill set!) Also, I attach the drapes to the board with velcro, with the fluff side on the drape, so taking them down to wash is easy to do. Likewise, they require a bar at the bottom for rigidity and weight, and I make a button hole for this to slide into the casing, so it can be slid out for laundering.

Forth - I find that most commercial drapes are either very expensive or too cheap to last. Similarly, buying fabric by the yard can easily get expensive. I have bought quality flat cotton sheets to cut and hem as curtains, and there is usually many colours to choose from. (yeah I'm Canadian - colour is spelt with a "u", eh?) You can buy a smaller quantity of a matching printed fabric to make a decorative stripe or use as appliques if you want to get fancy.


These are just my quick thoughts - hope they help.
 
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First I don't get what roman shades are
Wooden shutters is really the way to go! Condensation wrecks the windows which can be expensive.
If you can scrape the money together get double glazing in most European countries it's mandatory - for a reason.
I sew lined curtains (three thick layers) I hate sewing!!!
I just think how about crochet?? I could do this at the market!
 
Jay Angler
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Roman Shades - 

I didn't watch the whole video, but the opening view shows one being closed.
 
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Here's a couple of variations on Roman shades folks might find useful.

Top down/bottom up shades:



No sew shades:
 
master steward
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Speaking of roman shades, my mom made some amazing ones when I was little. They had a magnetic strip running down each side (sewn inside the curtain. It probably wasn't a continous magnetic strip, but a ) that then stuck to the side of the window. It made a great seal. I'm also pretty sure she made them with quilt batting inside, too. It's been years since she took them down, but I can ask.

Below is a really bad illustration of the curtain. I got a new computer and haven't gotten around to installing Photoshop. Not that my Photoshop skills are good, but they're better than my Microsoft Paint skills!
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Amit Enventres
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So double pane are great, but they have an r value of like 3, where as a normal insulated wall is like 15, and a northern insulated wall for zero energy is like 30-45. See the issue?

Now quilts and shutters are great, as long as you don't want to see out or benefit from passive solar. If you do want that, then you have to find a clear solution.

I worry about moisture with adding in water proof Windows too... But I think that's less likely if the window to the outside is well sealed. I haven't sealed in my plastic curtains, but have no moisture issue and I have heard others with the same results.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:I am happy to give my opinions on this subject - I've been sewing my own curtains for 30 years! ...consider insulated "Roman shades"... Also, I attach the drapes to the board with velcro, with the fluff side on the drape, so taking them down to wash is easy to do. Likewise, they require a bar at the bottom for rigidity and weight, and I make a button hole for this to slide into the casing, so it can be slid out for laundering.



Jay, I'd love to see how you do your washable roman blinds. What is the maximum span you can do with your technique?

My issue is somewhat different.  The house I live in has an ill sited patio room addition with a large (w 2430 mm x h 965 mm) open pass-through to the kitchen. Because this south east (southern hemisphere) addition is all windows and flat roof, it is like having a large opening into a tent. Winter is cold, but summer is brutal.

I wanted to use a panel glide curtain track with the sort of clear pvc strips found on coldroom strip doors, but the manufacturers I've contacted tell me their hardware isn't up to the weight of pvc.

While losing the only 'window' in the kitchen isn't great, it's an internal room and I usually have to use lights to supplement the skylight.
 
Jay Angler
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Hi Polly,

The widest Roman shade I've made was for a different house 20 years ago. I'd be guessing it was 1.5 meters wide and it worked well. The limiting factor is finding the single solid thin bar for the bottom weight/attachment point for the strings. I have used the H-channel that is sold for hanging drapes as that bottom bar and that should be available as wide as you want.

Thyri's diagram just shows ropes on the outer edges of a relatively narrow curtain. I use multiple rows of the white rings and they lead to slightly opened eye hooks attached to the bottom of the 2x2 fastened above the window. I open the eye hooks just wide enough that the thin line (shown in red in Thyri's post but normally white and available at fabric shops specifically for this purpose) can be slipped out when it's time to launder. Some instructions show using the rings as the string attachment to the drape, but I had children using mine and after too many bottom white rings broke, I started making small button holes for the string to be tied through. The other rings are strictly guides and the commercial ones are the best option I've seen, as you don't want a lot of friction particularly on a wide panel such as you're considering.

A Roman shade would certainly help keep the kitchen warmer in the winter, but it sounds like you really need some shade cloth or a deciduous tree/vine to cover the addition during the summer. A Roman shade at the kitchen opening would be a cheap quick fix, but have you explored the cost of a double glazed window for at least part of the opening?

As I said in my post, if you want pictures you'll have to PM me with your email as I've got no way to post pictures into threads. You are welcome to post the pictures I send, if you have the ability to do so.
 
Polly Oz
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Sounds doable. I've sewn curtains before, but not this wide. I can repost photos and will message you.

I know this is a bandaid solution, but as I don't own the house I can't make structural changes, even if I could afford them. I'm upstairs in a two story house on a narrow residential block, so not possible to plant trees that would help. If it was my place I'd remove the addition; as well as negatively impacting the climate in the rest of the house, it is seldom useable for the same reason, an all around bad choice made by the owners.
 
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Hmmm, I wonder...

If I weave the cloth for the roman shades, I could weave the sticks right into the cloth as a design feature.  This might be fun to try. 
 
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Jay, Nicole: cozy shades, popular 15-20 yrs ago. You could buy the quilted insulating fabric at JoAnne's. I don't know if that's still true, but the Roman shade with insulation seems best to me. and weaving in sticks?  tremendous idea, but how would you weave it tight enough to insulate?  Maybe make those for the beach house.
 
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Amit Enventres wrote:
I worry about moisture with adding in water proof Windows too... But I think that's less likely if the window to the outside is well sealed. I haven't sealed in my plastic curtains, but have no moisture issue and I have heard others with the same results.



Amit, it seems like maybe you are confused about where moisture problems come from in these situations. The condensation on a window comes from warm indoor air hitting a cold object which cools the air so it can no longer hold all its own moisture, so moisture condenses on the cold object. The more indoor air circulates past the cold object, and the colder the object, the more condensation. So if the airtight layer is on the interior side of the room and prevents room air from circulating next to the colder layer or glass, then you wont get much condensation, only the condensation from the initial amount of air in the airspace, and then no more.
 
Amit Enventres
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Rebecca, your thought was my original thought, but then I did research and found that's not what the research says and indeed, that's not my experience either. Maybe it's because the warmed house air is dry or the temperature of the glass tends to lean towards warmer rather than colder (yes, I know they feel cold). Still, if it was the more air circulation than the more moisture than non-curtained windows would be wetter than curtained ones. I know when I cook a boiling pot of water, we get moisture, but that happens even in spring or fall. And the window I can expect some vapor on is an old single-pane.
 
Thyri Gullinvargr
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Anna Demb wrote:We built these for all the windows in our old Victorian house:

Interior Storm Windows

Easy to make, cheap (About $10-15 a window), and they add 2 layers of "glazing" and most importantly, close up drafty leaks. Then we close our regular curtains (which range from gauze to heavy velvet) at night.

Of all the weatherization stuff we did on our house, these gave us the most comfort. And you can see right through them like a normal window. We store them away in the summer and put them back on when it starts getting chilly in the fall. We've been using the ones we made for about 6 years now. The film is very thin, so it's easy to get a hole if you bump it into something sharp when moving it, but you can easily mend it with clear packing tape.



Another idea if you're willing to flip them back and forth is that you can tape the edges of rigid foam board cut to size, put the foam tape on the edges like regular interior storms and swap these in and the clear ones out at night. If you want, you could "pretty them up" by attaching contact paper or some such. People sometimes put these in wood frames like the clear ones to protect the edges. In a way you're creating friction fit shutters.

These are my favorite links for friction fit interior storm windows:
These are written instructions: http://www.arttec.net/Thermal-Windows/

This is a whole video series on making them:
 
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All good ideas so far. We use solid 5/8" panels of styrofoam board that has reflective aluminum skin on both sides. I taped edges to reduce damage & wear. Thes have been in use 8 winters & still fine. Since main heat in the room is woodstove there is a lot of radiant heat which the aluminum skin bounces back into room. We also hang a decorative light wool blanket over the foam to add some thermal insulation. Panels are moved to empty-ish room in daytime.
I've been noticing a clear rigid foam packing material (looks/feels like course neoprene) that looks interesting as it would be thicker than what we are using but would let light in so could possible be left in place day & night.

On new builds, exterior foam-insulated shutters that can be closed from the inside as well as outside, would be nice.
 
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A GREAT BOOK, with photos, illustrations and written instructions!

for Interior and Exterior insulating

MOVABLE INSULATION by William k. Langdon printed in 1980

i got a copy on amazon.com

https://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&field-keywords=%20book%20movable%20insulation&index=blended&link_code=qs&sourceid=Mozilla-search&tag=mozilla-20

LOTS OF PHOTOS. He traveled around visiting fokls who had done these projects.



 
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I noticed that you have a lot of plants on your window sill.  My suggestion was going to be an inside window box for growing plants, with a space of an inch or so between it and the window where the roman blind can fit down behind it.  You can use the window box for growing things, and at night, shut the blind against the glass, keeping the moisture of the window box off of the glass. If the window box was quite deep on the side inside the room, it would act as a cold well, not letting the cold air fall from the window into the room at night, and releasing the sun's heat that it soaked up during the day.  With your deep window, you could box it in and have plants back there.  The window behind the door that wouldn't work at all though.  Here's a mock-up to give the idea, it could be a lot deeper, with a shorter back on the box for more sun onto the plants.
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Inside window box day
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Inside window box night
 
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Any winter curtains will work a lot better with pellets fitting,
They are a small box like structure that prevents air movement around the top of the curtain system.
Absolutly essential for energy saving.
They can be decorated, left plain and are not hard to set up.
They work by breaking the syphon effect of warm air rising and drawing the heat from the room out through the colder window glass.
 
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I love quilting and since we have far more doors and windows than beds here in our Alaskan hideaway, I decided to apply my love of quilting to my equal love of being warm. 

These "Draftbuster" quilts are lined with a quilt batting that incorporates a layer of aluminum foil to reflect heat back into the room.  The window quilts are held to the frame with velcro and during the day, we peel them loose at the top and sides.  They hang down below the window out of the way. 

The door quilts hang from a curtain rod mounted on a gate hinge so they swing back against the wall when we want to use the door.  The bottom is weighted with a roll of "sock stuffing" that keeps them firmly against the bottom of the door.  I made the mistake of lining one of the quilts with an old army blanket.  The weight is not the best trade-off for any possible extra warmth.  I also didn't "quilt" any of these to avoid poking holes through the foil layer. 

After four Alaskan winters, I wouldn't trade my "Draftbuster" quilts for anything.  You can feel the difference dramatically.  In the summer, they also help darken the room during our long, bright summer days for sleeping. 

I've loaded some pictures below (hopefully).  Enjoy!
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Draftbuster door quilts
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Draftbuster back door and window quilt
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Draftbuster quilt covering in the bedroom
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Draftbuster window quilt in the office
 
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Amit Enventres wrote:Rebecca, your thought was my original thought, but then I did research and found that's not what the research says and indeed, that's not my experience either. Maybe it's because the warmed house air is dry or the temperature of the glass tends to lean towards warmer rather than colder (yes, I know they feel cold). Still, if it was the more air circulation than the more moisture than non-curtained windows would be wetter than curtained ones. I know when I cook a boiling pot of water, we get moisture, but that happens even in spring or fall. And the window I can expect some vapor on is an old single-pane.



Condensation problems can occur in either situation.
Lots of air movement = ventilation, which can evaporate condensation away if the air is dry enough. 
Poor air circulation allows condensation to promote mold and mildew growth.

However, the air also carries moisture.  One builder from Vermont reported that a 16 square inch air leak (a 4" by 4" or 10cm by 10 cm hole, or a 1/8" crack in the drywall that is about 10 feet long, like along a ceiling joint) will deposit something like 32 liters of moisture into the wall during the course of a winter, whereas routine vapor movement through a well-sealed wall such as drywall or natural plaster would deposit maybe 1/3 of a liter.  That's a lot of water to dry out; it sucks heat away from the problem areas when it evaporates, or causes worse problems if it is trapped and not allowed to dry out.  Windows, doors, window trim/frames, electrical outlets, and other wall penetrations (like recessed lighting, plumbing, etc) are notorious places to look for accidental air leaks into/through the wall.  And as pointed out above, the window itself is effectively an intentional break in the wall, with greatly reduced insulation value in most cases. 

Warm indoor air may be relatively "drier" than outdoor air, but it still carries added moisture from our breathing, cooking, showers, etc.  If it hits a cold-enough surface, it will condense, and deposit that moisture on its way out.  This causes problems especially when walls and windows are detailed carelessly, and the most vapor-proof layer is on the cold side of the wall.  For cold climates, the most vapor-proof layer should be on the interior, to stop air leaks that can carry moisture further into the wall.  If the wall gets wrapped in an exterior, vapor-proof membrane that gets really cold, any moisture migrating through the wall /curtain systems will tend to condense as it hits this colder membrane, and can drip down and cause major problems inside the wall or behind the drapes.

The critical temperature for condensation is the "dew point." The outdoor air's dew point is available in local weather forecasts and reports; wunderground.com or NOAA forecast sites have this complete info.
If any part of the wall is below the dew point, including the window glass, that's a likely point for condensation to occur, and keep occurring. 
Because warm air holds more moisture than colder air, we feel that winter air indoors is very dry.  But that warmer indoor air can be picking up a little more moisture, and may have a slightly warmer dew point as it hits the glass or insulation wrap than outdoor air.  Breathing in and out tends to release lungfulls of air that are nearly saturated with moisture, at body temperature, which can dehydrate a person and hydrate the indoor air pretty dramatically in a tightly-built house.  Just like a carful of teenagers, fogging up the windows on a cold night. 

Vapor barrier on the inside, breathable insulation on the outside, is one approach to avoid condensation in winter.  (In hot, humid summer climates, you may have the reverse problem in summer however.)

Using 'breathable' materials throughout, and allowing sufficient ventilation behind drapes to evaporate condensation away is another approach.  This can work well in moderate climates - say, where outdoor temperatures are more likely to stay above or near freezing, not tens of degrees below. 
In colder climates, if you are trying to dry your windows by air movement, you will definitely notice the "drafts" of cold air scooting out from under the curtains, chilled by the work of evaporating the moisture as well as by the cold glass.  And in very cold climates, you may be unable to avoid condensation or even ice/frost on windows that are at outdoor temperatures while exposed to warmer, moist indoor air.

If you do have multiple vapor-proof layers, like double paned glass or plastic wraps, one common method is to carefully seal the whole thing against air leaks, except for a tiny weep hole at the very bottom.  That allows initial condensation to drain out, while not encouraging a lot of new moist air to circulate in and cause problems.

I liked this article on insulation and buildings called "001:The Perfect Wall" that lays out the optimal layering for cold climate homes and buildings.  https://buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-001-the-perfect-wall


Unfortunately, most of us don't live in homes with perfect walls, and the options for insulating outside of windows, yet allowing light in throughout the day, are limited.  Insulating shutters are the solution that is most likely to help with condensation concerns in theory, but also may be least convenient in practice. 
Exterior storm windows are also pretty effective if done well.  The effort is changing them out twice a year, instead of daily opening and shutting of shutters.  I've lived in homes where "storm windows" were left up through the summer and year round for some years; it didn't seem to hurt anything, although it's good to be able to take them down when they need a wash, or if you want to swap them for screens and open windows for a cross-breeze in summer.

One of our neighbors has made insulating "window covers" using panels of foam, pretty fabric, and a smaller section of clear vinyl.  In summer they have big picture windows on all sides of their cabin.
In winter, the windows appear as panels of cozy nature prints with round "portholes." They seal down the edges with gaffers' tape to prevent air leaks to/from the cold outer windows.


Another bonus science fact: It's not just the R-value of materials, but the value of trapped air between layers, that makes window treatments effective.  Each surface layer (fabric or plastic or glass) traps a layer of "entrained air" on both sides, so even for a thin cotton sheet or piece of cheap glass you can be looking at R2 or better per layer.  A doubled sheet or tablecloth - two layers of thin cotton, or even lace - can give you better performance than a single layer of thicker fabric.  And thinner fabrics are usually easier to wash and handle, at least compared with the really heavy upholstery and velvety type fabrics.

One of my favorite old window systems is lace curtains near the glass, with heavy drapes available for night time. 
I imagine one of the best-functioning classic window treatments is that style with a box or swag over the top (think Southern mansions and the White House).  Allow enough extra fabric to let the drapes contact the walls along both sides, weight the bottom but leave a very small gap by the floor.  This would stop most of the air movement at night when the windows are coldest, while still making it easy to air things out during the day.  I don't live in a house this fancy, but it seems like one of those lovely things that is probably almost as functional as it is beautiful.
White lace or liners reflect a bit of radiant heat in summer, provide privacy, and (if you use the right materials) can be easy to wash or bleach if needed to remove stains or flyspecks.  (Bleaching need not involve chlorine, you can use sun-drying after a good wash, or an oxygen-type bleaches like peroxide if you really need it after a mildew incident.)

To go to the other extreme, oiled paper or parchment used to be used in rural cabins/homes where glass was too expensive or delicate to ship.  I've seen some modern artwork making translucent membranes from fungi, starch or rice paper, or other forms of dried goo that could easily make really beautiful, translucent window treatments if you want a compostable option for an all-natural built art project. 
(I would be careful of the fungi-based materials if your climate is prone to condensation problems however.) 

-Erica
 
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These are the photos From Jay Angler.
Personally I have found them really helpful especially the hook and loop tape on the sides . I still have one question and that is why is there no pelmet above the Roman Blind and I love the sides on the drapes. I am assuming the sides are held in place  by hook and loop tape also.

Cheers
Susan
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