Setting the stage (valance fabric)

Valence-BlackTest-Train photo Valence-05_zps23764078.jpg

Valence-Black Test photo Valence-03_zps261b05d5.jpg

There’s a good reason theatre stages and museum displays are typically draped with black cloth. It focuses the eye of the audience on the intended subject. In the theatre, that would be the actors and the setting. In a museum display, it’s the artifacts and antiquities.

On a model railway, it’s been said, our scenery and structures are the setting while our trains take on the role of actors. To tell the story effectively – to focus a visitor or an operator on the play, as it were – it’s important to make the distractions disappear.

As I’ve written in a previous post, my friend Pierre Oliver visited this week and we installed the supports needed to hang a fabric valance. I discussed colour choices with Pierre and he suggested that the valance be a solid, dark colour – and I should paint the layout fascia to match. The result will direct all attention to the layout itself. (I certainly wasn’t intending to use a bright checked pattern, despite taping a tea towel to the valance supports to gauge the effect as shown below.)
Valence: Tea Towel Test photo Valence-02_zpsb404586a.jpg

While installing the valance support I ran out of Velco. So yesterday, while running errands, I picked up more from Designer Fabric Outlet. While there, I also grabbed several yards of a black poly-cotton blend fabric. This came in 110″ width and I’ll be able to get all my valance needs out of my purchase. Today I cut a strip off the end of the roll and pinned it in place over St. Williams to see how it looks. As the photos at the top of this post show, it’s quite effective. (I think it’ll be even better once it’s hemmed to smooth out the jagged bottom edge. I’ll also extend the valance above the sector plate to reduce glare from the window in the distance.)

I had many positive comments about the fabric valance idea. One thing I did want to mention about it is that care must be exercised to mount the fabric so that it won’t come into contact with any lighting. I don’t know if there’s much risk of setting the valance on fire – but why take that risk?

In the photo below, I’ve added a yellow line to show the distance between valance and light fixture. In addition, there’s a wooden support for the lighting system between the valance and the light itself, so there’s no way the fabric can touch the fixture or bulb.

Valence-Lighting relationship photo Valence-04_zpsfdc8bbfe.jpg

As I mount the valance, I will determine whether further measures are needed – such as adding a shield. This can be as simple as screwing a square of masonite to the lighting support so that fabric can’t fold around it and get tangled in a light.

Safety must come first – always!

6 thoughts on “Setting the stage (valance fabric)

    • Hi Bruce:

      I like the halogen system I have so the short answer is no.

      The longer answer is, this system was suggested by a professional lighting designer and since I love the light it produces – and have already purchased the system – I see no reason to consider other options. (I wrote more about this system here.)

      Sometimes, I toy with the idea of adding blue LED rope lights to create a nighttime effect. But since the trains would never run at night, it’s not a priority.


  1. Trevor,

    As always very nice work. I am intrigued as to why you are using fabric instead of say a more solid substance like wood or particle board as your valance material. Is this part of a larger construction choice or more of an artistic consideration? I am sure fabric works well I just have rarely if ever seen it used.


    • Hi Gerald:
      Good question – thanks for asking.
      My friend Pierre Oliver suggested it and I thought it a great idea.
      Valences are great things but they tend to get in the way anytime one leans into the layout – either for construction, maintenance or operation. It’s pretty easy to bash one’s head on a valence – sometimes leaning in but more often when backing out of the layout.
      The fabric valence does everything a hard valence would – but doesn’t hurt if you hit it. It’s like hitting your head on a telltale – not a tunnel.

  2. I like your theme,and scale.would like to know where l could find black fabric aswell and about the Velcro and how you attached it to both cloth and board?

    • Hi Chuck:
      Thanks for the kind words.
      I picked up my fabric and Velcro from Designer Fabric Outlet. Any well-stocked fabric/sewing store will have it.
      The Velcro has a peel and stick backing. I used this to attach it to the valence supports – and hold it in place long enough to drive short screws (#4 x 0.5″ work well) through the Velco and into the supports. I put one about every two feet and there’s no drilling necessary.
      To attach the Velcro to the fabric, I will recruit my wife and her skills with a sewing machine – as I did for the fabric backdrop. The fabric needs to be hemmed after being cut to size anyway, so that threads won’t pull, and sewing the Velcro in place can be done as part of that process.
      The peel and stick is fine for positioning things, but I would not rely on it to hold up over time.
      (My apologies – I thought I’d mentioned it in the post, but I forgot. I have updated the entry with the information.)

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