Planning Your Curtains
Before you rush to the fabric store to buy your fabric, you need to make a few decisions. Will the room benefit from having the curtains extend beyond the window, or should the outside edge of the woodwork be visible around the curtain? Do you want the curtains to hover just above the sill, hang to the bottom of the lower edge of the woodwork or apron, or hang clear to the floor? Perhaps they belong somewhere in between.
Do you want sheer curtains to diffuse the light, or heavier ones to block it? Or are you more interested in a window treatment for its decorative value? Should they be a solid color to bring out a color in the room or a print to tie several colors or neutral tones together? Your answers to these questions will help you determine the type and location of your hardware and the type of fabric and style of curtain you choose.
Begin with the simple shirred curtains. Shirred curtains are the most basic type of curtains. The top of the curtain is hemmed with a casing through which the curtain rod is inserted, gathering the curtain along its length. Shirred curtains will not slide open and closed easily though they are often tied at the sides, framing the window with a graceful draped effect. They are also not appropriate for very heavy fabrics because of the difficulty of gathering them on a rod. Most other curtains use some of the same construction techniques as the shirred.
Your first consideration is the weight of the fabric. The more sheer the fabric, the fuller the curtains should be. Usually the width of the curtain or curtain pair is twice the width of the curtain rod. Heavier curtains might only be 1½ times the width, and sheer curtains can be three times as wide.
Decide whether you want one straight curtain that hangs over the window at all times or is pulled to one side for an asymmetrical look, or if you want two panels that meet in the center and are tied back or dropped into place as desired. Curtains on doors or casement windows are often shirred at the bottom as well as the top. Determine the placement of the lower rod and use it when figuring your measurements.
Next, decide on the length of the curtains. To this length, add 4” for a top hem and casing, or 7” if you want a 1 1/2” heading. A heading is a small ridge of ruffled curtain above the casing. Add more if you have a wide, flat curtain rod. Also add 6” for a bottom hem. You could make narrower hems, but the extra fabric inches add crispness to the top and weight to the bottom. If you are using a bottom rod, add the length for its casing instead of the lower hem.
If piecing is necessary, the seams should be on the vertical to hide among the folds. The width of your curtains in relation to the width of your fabric will tell you how many of the figured lengths of fabric you will need. Since selvages sometimes shrink, you will be trimming them away reducing the fabric’s width by at least 1/2”. Another 2” of width will be lost if you are piecing two; 1” will be lost from the width of a middle length if you are piecing three. There will be 2” used on each side of each curtain for hems, further reducing the width of your fabric lengths.
If you need just under 1 1/2 times the width of the fabric to make each of two curtains, you will need three times the total length of your finished curtains, plus 10” for the hems. In other words, plan to use a length for each curtain and a third length to split between the two. Add 1” or so per yard for possible shrinkage, and you have an approximation of the yardage you’ll need
If you choose a fabric with a print that will need to be matched, take the distance from one repeat of the pattern to the next. Multiply that measure by the number of lengths of fabric, and add that to the total yardage.
Choosing Curtain Fabrics
You’ll have a wide variety of fabrics to choose from. However, besides the
fabrics that are too heavy to shirr, there are a few things to avoid.
Pure cotton fabrics are sensitive to the sun and fade rather quickly If your curtains will catch any direct sunlight, cotton polyester blends will last longer. They have a crisper look as well. If you like the rustic look of cotton, choose linen or undyed muslin.
Also avoid prints that have any kind of noticeable horizontal design unless it is woven in. If a printed design is off grain, it will make your entire window treatment look crooked. And if you try to cut your curtain with the print rather than the grain, your curtains will never hang in straight folds.
If your curtain fabric is washable, preshrink it. A great many yards of fabric will be difficult to straighten all at once, so pull threads to cut your fabric into lengths and straighten them individually If you have a pattern to match, simply start each length at exactly the same place in the pattern, cut it to the correct length (the finished curtain plus your hem and heading allowances), then cut away the fabric to the next pattern repeat.
With the lengths cut out and straightened, cut away all selvage edges. Split any lengths that are wider than necessary. You can usually pull lengthwise threads to make a straight cut.
Sewing Your Curtains
If your fabric is the right width for your curtains, you are ready to hem them. If not, begin by piecing the lengths together.
The best way to seam your lengths together is with a French seam. Begin by deciding where these seams should be. Typically the narrower length should be toward the outside of the window to be less noticeable. Take care to keep all printed designs, naps, and one-way shines in the right direction.
To make a French seam, pin your two lengths of fabric together with the wrong sides together. Sew a narrow 1/4” seam along the edge. Press the seam open, then turn the fabric right sides together and press the seam again. If the fabric wants to slide, pin the seam. Sew a second seam ~/8” from the first seam to hide the raw edge within the seam. Press the seam flat against the curtain.
Hemming the Sides
Press the sides of each panel under 2”. A sewing gauge is very helpful here. Fold the raw edge under to the fold line. If you are after a country or rustic look, you can straight-stitch the side hems close to the fold. For a more formal curtain, either use the hemstitch on your machine or do the hems by hand.
Making the Casings and Headings
If you didn’t include extra fabric for a heading, press the top of the curtain panels under 4”, and then press the raw edge under in line with the crease. Pin the hem carefully so the corners of the top casing’s hem don’t extend beyond the side hems. Hemstitch with your machine or by hand.
If you added extra fabric for a heading, press the raw edge under 5’/2”. Then press the raw edge under 2”. Sew close to the hem edge with a straight or hemstitch. Sew another row of stitches 1½” from the top edge. This will define the heading, and the casing for the rod will be below it. Either set up a temporary guide on your machine for sewing 1½” from the edge, or mark the stitching line with pins or chalk.
Hemming the Bottom
Before you hem the bottom of your curtains, compare the panels. Put them wrong sides together to compare the center and outside lengths. Trim one if necessary. Compare again after the hem is pressed under and before you stitch it. If you are anchoring your curtain with a rod on the bottom, make the bottom casing the same way you did the top.
If you allowed 6” for the bottom hem, press the raw edge under that amount then press the raw edge to the fold line. This hem can be stitched the same way the upper casing was. Or, to be sure the hem allowance doesn’t stick out beyond the sides, you can fold the corners under. To do this, fold only as far as the side hemstitching. Be sure the lower corner is still sharp. Blind-stitch along the diagonal crease to keep it from coming out.