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Lampshade Style Guide - Loose Cover Lampshades

Following the trend for whimsical, country cottage interior design, the loose lampshade cover has made a comeback in the last couple of years. Originally created for its functionality in busy working homes, the loose covered shade has become a way to effortlessly bring delicate patterns and prints into your home, with a side order of fabric embellishments! We explore the creative options the loose shade offers, the sizes and shapes of shade that work best with this style and a dash of shady inspiration from our makers.

Basic history

During the 1940's, the loose lampshade cover was introduced and used in the harder working rooms of the house such as the kitchen, gaining its nickname 'the kitchen shade’. Mostly removable, loose covers could be washed and were usually made of cotton or linen, rather than the more sumptuous fabrics used for more permanent shades, decorating the more formal rooms of the house.

Style Description

Initially, the loose lampshade cover would have been quite plain and functional and the loose covers were made to fit over an existing hard shade, which can be easily created by using one of our Lampshade Making Kits or Standard Lampshade Making PVC. Alternatively using a lightweight gauze around your frame allows the light to shine through easily.

Over time more decorative finishes have crept in, such as the box pleats, shirring, gathering and fuller and more layered styles. Elevating the style further, fabrics such as organza, voile and silk were used to create unique and eye-catching translucent covers.

The basic shape can easily be embellished with ruffles, frills, ribbons, and bias binding, which were particularly popular in the '80s and ’90s and they can even be made, to be reversible and to make a loose lampshade cover you'll need some basic sewing skills and a sewing machine.

Advantages and uses

Offering a softer silhouette than a hard shade, a loose cover can be made from a relatively small amount of fabric or even a mix of fabrics, and it's suited to a smaller lampshade, such as a Candle Clip or a small Empire Lampshade Making Kit.

As mentioned above, a huge advantage is that a loose cover can be washed gently by hand, depending on the fabric used and also easily removed for dusting.

Perfect for a quick upcycle, loose covered lampshades can also be designed for a lampshade or frame that might be past its best and needs a new lease of life. Joanne Hepinstall, in her book Sewing Lampshades, shows how you can make a simple reversible loose cover for a cottage loaf frame, similar in principle to @lythamlampshades's revamped project below. We also like Joanna's tie-top scalloped loose slipcover, for use on an empire shade, which would work for a new or old lampshade.

What you’ll need to make a loose cover lampshade

There are two options to make the lampshade, which the loose cover sits over. Using a Candle Clip or 25cm Empire Lampshade Making Kit with a light-coloured or neutral fabric, such as our white, off white or cream Chic Lampshade Making fabric makes the perfect base or a French Drum frame fitted with a neutral outer cover, will use more traditional skills but have the same effect. Take a look at our Soft Shade Making Series for step by step tutorial on how to do this.

As a guide, the cover needs to be 8 cm longer than the height of the shade and Heather Luke in her book The Complete Lampshade Kit says this about the length of the fabric:

Gathered fabric shades can be full as you wish, but allow at least 1 ¼ times the base circumference. Three times will give a very full cover and this should fit neatly over the shade beneath and the bottom hem should hang between two and 6 cm below the shade, depending on its size.

If you are using a heavier fabric, Heather gives this advice;

Keep the fullness to a maximum of one and half times the base circumference for these heavier fabrics.

Resources for making a loose cover lampshade

If you’d like to know more about making and mastering a variety of loose covers for lampshades we’d recommend the following books:

The last two are now out of print but are both available at most online second-hand book retailers. We like the Box Pleated Conical Shade featured in the latter, which has detailed illustrated step-by-step instructions and a stunning end result.

Design and Make, Heather Luke’s online store, also handily sells three loose cover patterns ranging from the Marty: Slip-Over Lampshade, which can be entirely handsewn and is achievable for any level of sewer, the Mae – Slip Cover Lampshade, which includes embellishments made from scrap fabrics and finally the Mio: Lampshade Slip-cover that has bound top and bottom edges and is completely reversible. If you prefer not to work out the measurements, and skip straight to the making stage these patterns could be just what you need!


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