Some years ago a friend told me that she made all the curtains in her home. I was so impressed. I thought I would never be able to do anything similar in a million years. But now I know I can!
If you have always wondered if you could make your own curtains, do not fear! You can definitely do it. If I can (for I am no seamstress), then you can, too.
For proof, check this out. This is my mom’s old sewing machine. I made my sunny chevron curtains on this bad boy.
If I can make curtains on this thing, then anything is possible. My mom bought it in the 1970s, and she bought it used.
Before I go on, let me just pan out so you can appreciate my mom’s great gallery wall, plus the quilt in process, and the guitar.
Back to the curtains. I made these as part of this office makeover that I did for a 5 x 10 foot section of my bedroom. I decided to make the curtains when I fell in love with this happy yellow chevron print fabric. But I had never made curtains before. So it was a little daunting, to say the least.
When I started, I was most afraid of the actual sewing part, since that was way outside my comfort zone. But now I realize the early decisions were harder than the sewing, ironically. You are trying to walk that zen (and very fine) line between being detailed enough in your prep and planning that you don’t botch the job, but not so perfectionistic that you never get off square one.
Looking back, there were A LOT of steps to making these curtains. None of them was impossible by any means, but at the beginning, when I was thinking about them all at once, the whole thing quickly got overwhelming. So today I’m tackling each step one at a time. It turns out I have quite a bit to say about this topic, so you might want to pour a cup of tea.
Choose the Fabric
Different types of fabrics give off a different type of energy, or feeling, or vibe in the room (couldn’t seem to think of a non-flaky-sounding word there, sorry). Cotton is more informal, everyday, accessible. Velvet is more sophisticated, but it’s also warm and cozy. Sheer fabrics are cooler and casual and carefree. Linens and other natural fabrics like burlap can have a nubby, earthy texture that adds another layer of depth to a room. Silk of course has a formal, dressy appearance.
Remember three things when choosing the type of fabric: 1) What type of fabric do you naturally gravitate towards? This is the most important question to ask. 2) Is your room particularly hot or cold? If so, take this into consideration. (My dining room is the coldest room in our house, so I chose velvet curtains for that room. If I had used a sheer fabric instead, those curtains would never give me the warm and fuzzy feeling my thick velvet curtains do.) 3) Remember that you can layer. So if your heart is set on sheers but your room is freezing, use them in conjunction with another fabric on top.
What color and pattern you choose will of course make a huge impact on the finished product. Darker colors will, at least to some extent, darken a room, particularly if you keep the curtains closed during the day and the fabric is opaque or the curtains are lined. Brighter colors and bold patterns will draw attention to the curtains, which you may or may not want.
If you decide you do want a pattern, the size of the pattern matters. A small pattern in a monochromatic color scheme can almost feel like a solid—the pattern adds a nice bit of texture and interest to your soothing curtains. But if the colors are very different (like black and white), then a small pattern can be very busy. A big pattern, on the other hand, commands that your eye pay attention to it. This may be just what your room needs, or it may be altogether too much, depending on what else is happening in your room.
In the case of my office, I thought the bold and bright yellow chevron pattern would look great, since I didn’t really have a lot of other big gestures happening in my little nook. Now, in my living room, if I can ever scrounge the dollars for those curtains, I will use a much more subdued fabric, like an oatmeal colored velvet or a nubby burlap, since that room has a big gallery wall and huge shelves and all sorts of colors and furniture.
Really it all comes down to personal preference. If you and your fellow housemates like it, that’s all that matters. If you are uncertain, try it out. I taped a small sample of my chevron fabric on the wall for a week or two and spent some time squinting at it each day, trying to picture what it would look like all big.
Also keep in mind that if light can filter through the curtains, the light will be affected by their color. (I am now painfully remembering the time I bought a red light fixture and was horrified that my room suddenly looked like Dante’s Inferno. If you buy unlined red curtains, you may get the same effect!)
I used upholstery fabric, which I would actually recommend because it’s wider than regular weight fabric, and it’s thicker, which is particularly helpful if, like me, you don’t plan on lining your curtains.
Determine the Size
First you must determine the length. I wanted my curtains to just graze the floor and stretch almost to the ceiling. Decide what you want, then do your best to measure how long your curtains need to be to make that happen. Remember that your curtains can’t actually go all the way to the ceiling; you have to leave a little room at the top for the curtain hardware. (I forgot this part!) The curtain hardware I used from IKEA required about a 3 inch gap between the ceiling and the top of my curtains.
In my case, we have 8 foot ceilings, so if I leave 3 inches of space at the top for my hardware, my finished curtains should be 93 inches long.
Now determine whether one width of fabric will be enough. If your curtains are never going to close, like mine, then you can go with one width of fabric for each panel.
If however you have a wide window like I do and you want to close your curtains sometimes, then you’ll need a double width of fabric for each panel. Technically I could close my curtains the way they are now, but if I did they would be stretched taut—no more gentle ruffling effect. And that would be sad.
For extra wide curtains, you can order extra wide fabric, or if you don’t find the color/pattern/fabric you want, you can sew two lengths of fabric together in the center to create the same effect. Yes, there will be a seam, but I bet no one will ever notice. Be aware though that if you pick a bold pattern you will need to make sure to line up your pattern when you make that seam, which is slightly more challenging (but still doable).
Buy the Fabric
Just go out and buy it already, right? Well, yes, but make sure you buy enough. The tutorial I used on Design*Sponge recommends buying an extra 18 inches of fabric. 18! And that is per panel. This is because you are going to wash and dry the fabric (assuming it’s washable) before you sew your curtains, and it might/will shrink, and because you are going to be sewing some wide hems at the top and bottom of your curtains.
Again, this extra 18 inches is per panel. So, if you’re making two panels, you need an extra 36 inches of fabric. If you are making extra wide curtains by sewing together two panels for each side, then you’ll need an extra 72 inches!
To use my case as an example, I was making two regular-width panels, 93 inches long each. So I did my math (93 + 18 + 93 + 18) and got my answer of 222 inches, which is (divide 222 by 36) a little more than 6 yards. Since I was upholstering a chair, too, I rounded up to 6.5 yards, thinking that would be plenty, since those people were nuts with their 18 extra inches recommendation. Well, guess what? I had JUST BARELY ENOUGH fabric when it was all said and done. The hair of my chinny, chin, chin, I’m not kidding. So, now I know, take those people and their 18 inches seriously.
Final note: If you order from fabric.com, search online for a coupon. I found one for free shipping.
Prep and Cut the Fabric
Wash and dry your fabric if the fabric is washable. My 100% cotton fabric said not to dry it, I suppose for fear of shrinkage, but I did anyway because 1) it’s cotton, and 2) why else had I ordered so much extra fabric? I also figured that by the time I get around to taking these curtains down and cleaning them (confession: I’ve never washed a curtain!), I will most certainly forget that I’m not supposed to dry them. And I’d rather have the fabric shrink now than have my curtains shrink later.
Washing 6.5 yards of fabric might be hard/impossible if you have a top loader, I don’t know. If so you’ll have to truck it to the laundromat or a neighbor’s house with a front loader. It was fine in my front loader, but it certainly was a whole lot of fabric.
Now you iron the fabric. It doesn’t have to be perfect; you just want it to lie flat when you’re sewing it.
And finally, you cut the fabric. Groan. This step won the award for most surprisingly stressful step of the whole process.
Here’s what you do: You start with the length you want your curtains to be, then you add 8 inches for the hems. (The tutorial says 8 inches. Why it’s not 9 is beyond me, since you fold over ½ inch + 5 inches for the bottom hem, plus ½ inch + 2 inches for the top hem. And every time I add these numbers up, I get 9. But whatever. It was around this point that I began to throw perfectionism out the window.) Anyway, take your curtain length plus the 8 (9) inches, and this is the length you’re going to cut for each panel.
Again, using my curtains as an example, I was trying to make two 93 inch panels, plus the 8 inches for the top and bottom hems, for a grand total of 101 inches per panel. I ended up reducing this to 100 because I was starting to worry about running out of fabric for my chair project.
Measuring 100 inches accurately is harder than it sounds! I finally gave in and put the whole thing on the floor (even though that was painful since I had just washed and ironed it). My mom helped me, too, by holding one end of the tape measure, which helped a lot. I would highly recommend enlisting the help of a partner for this step if you can.
Sew the Curtains
The tutorial I used was this one from Design*Sponge; it has step-by-step instructions and many great pictures. I recommend checking it out because it’s so detailed.
I was so intently focused on not screwing up the sewing that I completely forgot to take any photos except this one, of one of my side hems folded over, and then folded over again and pinned.
Note: This tutorial is for curtains suitable for hanging using a rod pocket or rings with clips. If you want to hang your curtains using rings and hooks, you will need a slightly different tutorial that tells you how to sew on the strip of header tape along the top of the curtain. This tutorial from SF Gate looks pretty helpful.
Here is the basic process to give you an overview:
1. Iron a ½ inch fold in the side of your fabric, then fold it under another ½–1 inch and iron that as well. Pin this hem.
2. Sew a seam, making sure to catch all three layers of fabric. I messed this up the first time. (I stuck that part of the curtain in the corner!)
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 on the opposite side of your fabric to make the other side seam.
4. Iron a ½ inch fold in the bottom of your fabric, then fold it under another 5 inches and iron that as well. Pin this hem.
5. Sew a seam.
6. Iron a ½ inch fold in the top of your fabric, then fold it under another 2 inches and iron that as well. Pin this hem.
7. Sew a seam. You are done! (Well, you’re done with your first panel, that is. Now you have to do the other one.)
I was most intimidated by this part going into the project, but I found it to be one of the easier steps! (Of course, that could have had to do with my expectations. Isn’t that funny how that works?)
I originally intended to include information about selecting curtain hardware and how to hang your curtains in this post, but it is already epically long, so I’ll have to save it for another day.
I hope I have convinced you that you can sew your own curtains, even if, like me, you’re a complete sewing novice. I am definitely planning on sewing more for my house. Making your own curtains allows you to use fabrics that you wouldn’t find at a big box store, while saving money at the same time (I spent $42.54 on my 6.5 yards of fabric).
I would love to hear how all your projects turn out!
© Amy Daniewicz