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Basic Curtains

Sewing a basic unlined curtain is pretty simple, but there’s a surprising amount of things to consider.  I often spend a few days visualizing my curtains – how they’ll look, of course and what purpose they’ll serve.  Even the simplest of curtains can have a huge impact, so it’s helpful to stew on it for a day or two.

Start here:

1.  Inside or outside the window frame?

2.  Floor to ceiling?  Cafe?  What’s the visual goal?

3.  How much fullness?

4.  What kind of hardware?  Rings?  Clips?  Rod pocket?

5.  What’s the purpose?  Block light?  Sound?  Just be pretty?

Step 1:

Measure the space you want to cover.  Ignore the actual window and just visualize the space that the curtain will cover.

Tip: If there is only a small amount of space above a window, consider hanging your hardware closer to the ceiling – it will add visual height.

To the height measurement add at least 10″ for hems, more if you’re making a rod pocket.  For the width, the standard is double the space you are covering.  This is totally up to you though.  If you want a flatter panel to see more of the fabric pattern, or you want a lot of depth to catch sound or just aesthetically, it’s your call.

**I will discuss how to match fabric panels to make a wider curtain in another post.

Step 2:

Purchase fabric and launder the way you will when the project is complete.  Personally, I don’t really wash curtains, but just toss them in the dryer with a tennis ball to remove dust and rejuvenate.

Clip and rip fabric to measurements.

Tip: It’s VERY important that your curtain be cut with the grain of the fabric and the selvedge goes in the up/down direction.  Always make a clip, then rip fabric to correct dimensions, so threads of fabric are hanging exactly straight.  Otherwise, you can end up with curtains that lean.

Step 3:

Always sew the side hems first.  For an unlined curtain, fold in 1″ on each side and press a crease.  Open fold and roll edge of fabric to crease and fold back.  We call this the “burrito”, since you end up with a fold inside a fold.

When your hem is this narrow you shouldn’t need a ton of pins, just one at the top.  Always start on the end that leaves the bulk of your fabric to the left of your machine.  You don’t want to be shoving this much fabric through the inner part of the machine.

Edgestitch near the left edge of your hem.  Some folks like to move their needle position to the left, but either way try to focus on something still for consistency.  Watching the needle is going to get eye crossing!  Backstitch at beginning and end.

Step 4:

Now for the header (top of the curtain).  Fold down 1/2″ and press a crease.  From there, how much you fold down is dependent on what kind of hardware you are using.  If you want the top of your curtain to actually go around the curtain rod, measure with a soft measuring tape around the actual rod such that there is plenty of room for sliding – don’t make it too tight if you plan to open and close them regularly!  If you’re using rings or clips or adding grommets for a shower curtain, 1.5″ is a good amount.  I did 2.5″ on this one to go around a small spring rod.

Use a hem gauge to measure as you go and this time you’ll want to pin perpendicular to the line you’ll be stitching.  The points of your pins should fall just short of where the sew line will be and pin 2-4″ apart, depending on how wiggly your fabric is.

Tip: When sewing into several layers I like to start sewing about 1/4″ down from the top edge, then backstitch to the edge, instead of trying to run up onto a lump of fabric.

Again, edgestitch near inner edge.  Do not remove pins!  You’ll just be sliding right by the tips, so it’s not dangerous and it will hold everything in place so much better – I promise.

Sew a 2nd parallel line to the first by putting the left edge of your presser foot against the first line as you sew.  They’ll be about 1/4″ apart.  This is for strength, since this is the side of the curtain that will endure the most stress.

Step 5:

Now the bottom hem.  Personally, I like to hang my curtains at this point and check for level.  Ceilings, window panes and floors are often not exactly straight, so you can pin your bottom hem accordingly.

The size of your bottom hem is up to you, but typically you want it larger than your top hem.  It will be thicker and heavier to give some weight to the curtain hang.

An easy choice might be a 3″ hem, in which case you would need 6″ more than the final length of the curtain.  If you have excess you need to measure and cut now.

Fold up 6″ and press a crease.  Like the side hems, open the fold and lay the raw edge along the crease and fold again – burrito style.  Again, pin this one well and edgestitch.  You can sew closed the sides of the bottom hem as well, if you like.

Hanging the curtain:

As mentioned earlier there are several options for the style of curtain header.  Just keep in mind that rings, clips or grommets should be about 6-8″ apart.  Further will result in big droops between rings – which you might like, but be aware.


Comment from tsanko
Time October 18, 2010 at 9:12 am

Wonderful ..thanks a lot for posting a good informitive blog

Comment from Tamera
Time November 4, 2010 at 9:58 am

This is so very helpful! I’m making curtains for my kitchen and needed a few pointers. Thanks!

Comment from Janet
Time March 25, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Thank you! Getting back in to sewing after many years absence. I figured curtains are easy and simple – this made it much more so!

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