Net curtains are an imperfect solution to the real problem of negotiating privacy and light in houses whose interiors can be seen quite easily by passers-by. Terraced houses come in many different forms but the smallest of them have no front garden or wall to separate the front window from the pavement. It is not that the pavements of Britain and elsewhere are thick with dedicated nosey-parkers and irrepressible sticky beaks, it is just that it is almost impossible not to be drawn into taking a quick peak into someone’s front room when you are so close and it is un-netted.
Yet while something like a net curtain must surely be essential for these cottage-style terraces (the ones down the road from my house were built for railway workers) the net curtain of popular culture is often associated with more substantial properties, in areas of suburban splendour. Here the net curtain isn’t so much a protection from the nosey but an aid to nosiness. Here the net curtain is forever ‘twitching’ (usually from a first floor bedroom window) as moral arbiters look on and record the goings-on of wannabe libertines or fun seeking youngsters. This net curtain doesn't hide private joys and pleasure but the polar opposite – frustrations, bitterness and repressions.
Net curtains seem to belong to a Victorian age, and usually their patterns, when they aren't simply plain, seems to follow the patterning of other Victorian era textile items like antimacassars. I was interested that Terence Conran in his early years as a designer, a decade before he started Habitat, designed net curtains. The net curtains he designed are from 1953 and are interestingly asymmetrical and favour spiky, irregular patterns that evoke the harsher aspects of the natural world – icicles, flint shards and so on. Whatever else you could say about his net curtain it would be hard to imagine them being constantly twitched by disapproving, pleasure-fearing neighbours.