Making woven wood-and-yarn Roman shades — a labor-intensive process

giant weaving loom

One of the giant weaving loom used to weave Beauti-Vue’s retro woven woods collection.

As our miniseries about Beauti-Vue yarny woven Roman shades [and more] continues, we want to underscore just how special these shades are — not only are they 1960s- and 1970s-tacular as design objects, but they were made in the USA in a process that involved craftsmanship unlikely to be replicated here any time soon.

During Kate’s recent visit to Beauti-Vue — which still has 50-year-old New Old Stock retro woven material available to be made into custom Roman shades — owner Stormy Grumbeck explained the process the company used to weave the 12′ rolls of material back in the day.

The weaving process

Making them was a very labor intensive process:

  • Each loom produced 12′-wide rolls of woven material.
  • To start, Beauti-Vue would hand-finish the wooden slats in their factory, then cut them to size.
  • The decorative yarns then were cut to length, spaced out and wound onto giant feeder spools before being fed through the loom. Also by hand.
  • For each row that was woven, the loom would pull apart the yarns …  then a 24′ long  — yes, 24-foot-long — shuttle would pull a wood slat through all the yarns at once … then the machine would bring the yarns back together again.
  • [That is: The loom was threaded with the yarns… then, the wood was inserted piece after piece after piece …. between the yarn pattern, which bobbed up and down along the way according to the design plan.] Goodness. We wish we had a video!
  • All the tensions of the yarns had to be just right to make a nice even weave. The lengths of the yarns also had to be carefully measured to avoid making costly mistakes: If one of the many yarns was not cut long enough to complete an entire weaving, it would not show up in the final completed pattern of the woven wood. When this happened, a worker would have to hand thread the missing yarn all the way through – under and over – all of the slats in the roll where it was missing — which took forever!
retro woven wood blinds

Jacquard weave “Poplar” woven wood blind

Most of Beauti-Vue’s woven wood blinds were made using a simple over/under weave, but they do have a few styles — such as their Jacquard weave blinds — that were much more involved because it was not just a simple over-under type weave. These more complicated weaving styles used four or five different shuttles to complete a woven design instead of just one shuttle for their more simple styles.

Beauti-Vue no longer has any of these massive weaving looms. They tried to sell the looms a few years ago and thought they had found a buyer in China and also Vietnam, but because of strict import rules imposed on textile manufacturing machinery, they were ultimately unable to sell the looms. They ended up taking them to the scrap yard.

At its peak: 24 looms operating 24 hours a day

At the peak of woven wood blinds’ popularity in the mid 1960s and early 1970s, Beauti-Vue’s Wilkes-Barre plant had 24 looms that took up 38,000 square feet of floor space in a three-story building.

These looms would weave wooden blinds 24 hours a day, but still couldn’t produce enough woven woods to meet the demand – these were VERY popular! The Beauti-Vue plant in Wisconsin (where Beauti-Vue continues in operation today) only had a few of these looms. They used them for testing weaving patterns and to make special-order products.

One such special product was weaving a shade so that the yarns spelled out “McDonald’s” for the popular fast food restaurant chain. In fact, company owner Stormy Grumbeck says that they did a lot of business selling woven wood shades and valances to fast food restaurants during the late 1960s and early 1970s – the gaudier the color combinations, the better. Stormy also recalls making custom-design yarny woven wood shades for motor home companies that wanted their own specific color palettes.

Stormy says that interest in the woven wood blinds started to fade in the late 1970s. Beauti-Vue continued production in Wilkes-Barre plant up until the early 1980s and in Wisconsin through the mid- to late-1980s.  According to Stormy, from the late 1960s to the early 1990s there were only three or four major weavers in the United States – including Beauti-Vue. Domestic weaving was phased out in the early 1990s, when pre-woven, cheaper products from China and Taiwan started being imported and became widely available.

Woven wood decorative yarns

To produce Beauti-Vue’s line of colorful woven wood blinds, the company used yarn, chenille yarns and even carpet yarns in the weaving process.

retro woven wood blinds

Yes: This is carpet yarn, purchased from the same manufacturers making this color of shag (or whatever) that year! Woven into “Marengo” wooden blind.

Stormy says when they were figuring out what designs and color combinations to use in their new collections, they would call up carpet companies and ask them what color carpet yarns would be used to create their new carpet styles in the coming year.

retro woven wood blinds

Woven wood “Taurus” with carpet yarns.

Then, Beauti-Vue would buy spools of carpet yarns directly from the carpet company, so they could weave the same yarns into their woven wood blinds for that season and exactly match all of the new carpet styles. Can you just imagine having a room with these yarns in both your carpet and your blinds! Amazing!

retro woven wood blinds

Woven wood blind “Sage” using chenille and standard yarns.

Stormy remembered that for a few years harvest gold, avocado green and burnt orange were wildly popular …

beauty-view-daffodil

Beauti-Vue’s “Daffodil” vintage blind and shade material

… and then interest in those colors waned and colors like Daffodil became all the rage. Tee hee. Good times.

Read all of our stories about Beauti-Vue — including how to buy Roman shades made with their New Old Stock yarny woven woods — by clicking here

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Comments

  1. Janet in ME says

    Kate and Pam, this series has been just wonderful! And yes, burnt orange, avocado, harvest gold and brown were my color scheme when I got married in 1972, along with dark pine furnishings! I wish I had a place for the lamps or the blinds but they do not work in my house. And I just adore the bead curtains! When I saw the looms were scrapped, I could have cried. It is just so sad that this type of thing happens all the time now. We had a soda pop company in our hometown in CT whose bottling machine was a huge two room operation with a giant stainless tank and a long “runway” the bottles bopped down. People were never returning the bottles which had become collectible, and the machine wasn’t capping them tightly any more, so they decided to call it quits. They could not sell it so they scrapped it and I cried when I heard this. So much of what we grew up with is disappearing. I really appreciate this past week of featuring Beauti-Vue.

  2. Robin, NV says

    The pizza place in Oakridge, Oregon has rather striking Roman blinds in their windows – dark wood with brick red yarn. They’re falling to pieces. I feel like cluing them in to Beauti-Vue so they can replace them.

    • Cynthia says

      Robin NV, if that pizza place is still there, you should clue them in and maybe they will order new blinds! If they pass up the opportunity, at least you have done your best to help them reinvigorate a style of restaurant décor that they have kept all these years.

  3. Cynthia says

    I think these super high-quality, creative and colorful blinds were and are terrific – and the loss of the wonderful machines is a cultural and industrial tragedy. Whenever something USA made is replaced by a cheaper knockoff, the US worker, our economy and the US consumer are hurt. Let’s also remember that US industrial and manufacturing jobs benefitted all US workers, including those who immigrated here to become part of the US workforce and culture, and eventual citizens. Union and non-union jobs were and are lost when manufacturing moved out of the US. The jobs didn’t even move to our neighboring nations to the south, which would have benefitted those economies and the workers there. This comment is not meant to be political, but to simply say I wish US workers and workers in our closest neighbor nations, could still be working in large numbers at well-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs and supporting their families.

    • Linda says

      I agree – all those manufacturing jobs provided a decent living for most families without having to earn a college degree. There used to be two large plants in my town that employed most of the men in my neighborhood when I was a child in the 60’s and 70’s. Those plants are long gone, along with myriad small mom and pop businesses. It made me cringe as well when I read that the old looms had to be scrapped. Time marches on, I suppose.

      • Mary Elizabeth says

        Linda and Cynthia, I agree. Much of the lifestyle in the postwar baby boom years–the era we love to preserve in our homes– was predicated on the existence of skilled U. S. manufacturing jobs that allowed working class people to enter the middle class economically. For example, factory workers earned enough that they could put aside something every payday and save for a house, a car, a washing machine, etc. The more people could buy home goods, such as appliances, carpet and draperies, the more varied and interesting those goods became.

        And no, I don’t think we are making a political statement here so much as making an historical observation–that the midcentury attention to style was related to the kind of economy and national philosophy of work and economic growth that we had then.

  4. ineffablespace says

    My bedroom blinds were similar to Marengo. I remember when the salesman came to the house and we finalized the colors for my room an the basement, (which I sent you pictures of).

    My sisters’ rooms got shutters with a cathedral arch top and shirred fabric. (Another thing that’s not easy to find).

    The house got a major redecoration in the latter part of the 1980s and the color palette shifted enough that the blinds no longer worked in my room, which was at the top of the stairs and visible, so it made sense to tie it in with the living areas of the house.

    Like I commented in an earlier story, I wish someone would still make something as textural as this. I don’t necessarily need vintage colors, but there is nothing so texturally interesting as these. The modern counterparts are pretty “flat”, and bland in color, or brown, essentially.

    • Carolyn says

      Since this series began, I couldn’t figure out why I was drawn to this stuff but you’ve hit the nail on the head. Part of me was sorta “meh” but there was “just something” – it’s the abundance of textures. When you get beyond the colors (sorry, gold shag carpet was in danged near every apartment we rented!), it’s the cool things they did with woods and yarns that grips me and makes me come back for the next installment.

      • pam kueber says

        Yes. This is all why we featured them. I have literally been looking for these for years. There is nothing wrong with 1970s design — when it’s great 1970s design. These are fantastic.

  5. tammyCA says

    Felt a sad pang reading about the looms getting scraped. The green Taurus carpet yarns & the chenille are very cool (I am a big chenille fan & cherish my vintage stash). Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen these blinds in person..or I just wasn’t paying attention way back then. Yes, the texture thing is what is missing in today’s decor along with quality..everything now is so flat, generic & the color of the streets we drive on.

  6. says

    Yes, the colors! We didn’t have these blinds where I grew up, but I have always gravitated to 50s and 60s colors.

    We just bought a 1949 hunter green house (tar shingles). My best friend asked me why not paint it taupe… I just about had a fit!

  7. says

    When I was little in the late 70s we had a plastic knockoff of these in orange and brown. The plastic decomposed after a few years in the sun and looked nasty. Those Taurus green ones with real wood are kinda cool, though, almost like having natural mossy wood growing in your window. Very sad indeed to hear those looms couldn’t be preserved even as a museum piece.

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