Drapery Tutorial Follow-Up: Your Questions Answered

Well, I still don’t have my second drapery panel finished.  Yesterday I hit a wall, figuratively speaking.  I ended up taking a four-hour nap, and then I felt so groggy the rest of the day, so I got nothing done.  (Yep, you read that right…four hours!  See?  I do sleep!) :-D

So since I don’t have my finished draperies to show you today (hopefully tomorrow!), I thought I’d take today to answer all of your questions that you had about the drapery tutorial.  And if you have more questions, just leave them in the comments below, and I’ll add them as well.

I’ll start with what I think is the most important:

1.  What kind of fabric should I use for draperies?

If you’re experienced at sewing, you can use just about any lightweight or medium weight fabric for draperies — anything from a medium weight cotton to a light dupioni silk or silk-like polyester and so much more.

However, if you are inexperienced and just now dipping your toe into the sewing waters, my suggestion would be to select a medium weight drapery fabric.  In my opinion, the ideal fabric for a beginner would be a 100% cotton decorator fabric.  A close runner up would be a linen blend like I used on my draperies for my living room.  Both of these fabrics are lightweight enough for beautiful draperies, and yet have enough body to them that they fold and iron very easily, they hold a crease perfectly, and they’re not so lightweight that they “crawl” and shift as you sew them.

As far as the width, drapery fabrics are 54 to 60 inches wide.  At stores like JoAnn Fabrics, you’ll also find 45-inch cotton decorator fabrics.  I wouldn’t suggest using these unless you have a tiny window.  Leave those narrow decorator fabrics for pillows and such.

If you’re shopping online for fabric, you’ll almost always find that the fabrics are labeled as to their purpose.  You’ll see things like “ideal for drapery and lightweight upholstery” or “ideal for heavy duty upholstery” or other similar descriptions.  Here’s the fabric I used for my draperies from onlinefabricstore.net.

selecting fabric

If you’re shopping in a brick and mortar store, don’t hesitate to ask an employee for help in selecting your fabric.  In my experience, if you find an older woman who works in the store, she can generally give you the most helpful advice.  The older women who work in fabric stores are generally fountains of knowledge when it comes to sewing.  (Yes, that’s a generalization, but again, it’s from my own experience, and especially after working at JoAnn Fabrics for two years when I lived in Oregon.)  The younger ones in my experience are generally just there because it’s a part time job, but they don’t necessarily have any interest or experience in sewing.

Fabrics to avoid if you’re a beginner:

  • Apparel fabric — Decorator fabric and apparel fabric are two completely different things.  When looking for drapery fabric, just avoid the apparel fabric aisles completely.
  • Quilting fabric — Again, quilting fabric is different from decorator fabric.  It’s generally 45 inches wide, and a much thinner cotton than decorator fabric.
  • Lightweight fabric — Decorator fabrics like dupioni silk or silk-like polyester make absolutely gorgeous draperies, but they can also cause quite a bit of frustration for someone who is inexperienced.  Heck, they can cause frustration for an experienced person as well!  They’re just a challenge to work with, so avoid using those if you’re just learning.
  • Bulk fabric items like canvas drop cloths — I know it’s tempting.  You’re walking through Home Depot and you see a massive 12′ x 9′ canvas drop cloth for $9.99.  It’s a lot of fabric for a small price!  But just don’t do it.  For one, those canvas drop cloths are often pieced together, so quite often you’re not really getting one full piece of fabric.  But most importantly, those things are so cheap because they’re woven so quickly in huge mass quantities.  In other words, the quality suffers.  The fabric isn’t square, it doesn’t lie flat, and that means that your final product will have pulled seams, twisted side hems, etc.  It’s a huge frustration to work with if you’re inexperienced.
  • Heavy weight cotton and upholstery fabric — These would be things like outdoor canvas and duck cloth, or anything heavier and thicker than that.  Cotton is wonderful to work with, but anything thicker than a medium weight decorator cotton will be too thick, and won’t hang properly.

2.   What kind of lining do you use for drapes?

My go-to lining for draperies is RocLon Budget Blackout lining, which I buy from JoAnn Fabrics.  It costs somewhere around $7/yard, and I always wait until I either have a coupon or until it’s on sale for 50% off.  That sale price is about the same as my wholesale price through my trade accounts (which I no longer use).

It comes in two or three different colors (white/white, or ivory/ecru, and maybe others), and I almost always use the white/white.  That means that it’s white on front and white on back.  I try to make all of my window treatments consistent so that one color is visible through all of the windows from the outside of my house.  And white just looks brighter and cleaner to me.  And since it’s blackout lining and doesn’t allow any light through, I don’t find that the different colors make any difference at all with the actual look of the fabric from the front.

Anyway, the reason that I use blackout almost exclusively is because I HATE when light streams through fabric and distorts the color.  I’ve told y’all about this before, but my first curtains that I made for our first house after we got married was a pretty red plaid fabric.  I made my curtains (I had no idea what I was doing back then), and hung them, and my heart sank.  When the light streamed through the fabric, my pretty red plaid curtains turned orange.

In the years since, I’ve tried various other lining, like the light or medium weight cotton lining, but I find that I’m never satisfied if any light at all shines through my fabric.  So I always went back to the blackout lining.  These days, I just don’t bother with trying anything else.

I even use blackout lining when using lightweight fabrics like dupioni silk or silk-like polyester.  However, with those fabrics, I also use interlining, which gives the finished draperies a much softer hand while also giving it beautiful weight and bulk (for lack of a better word).  But the lesson on interlining will have to wait.  :)

Note:  When purchasing blackout lining at a place like JoAnn Fabrics, do not let them fold the lining and put it in a bag!!  Instead, have them roll the lining on an empty cardboard tube.  If your blackout lining gets folded, and then sits in a bag folded for a few days before you get around to your project, you will never, ever, ever get those wrinkles and creases out.

3.  How do you square the fabric?

The easiest way I’ve found to square the fabric is to fold the fabric in half lengthwise, match the two selvages so that they’re perfectly lined up and the fabric lies flat with no wrinkles, and then use a “T” square or framing square.  Line up one side of the framing square with the sides (selvages) and then use the long side to draw a straight line across.  Of course, I’m supposed to tell you to use tailor’s chalk or a disappearing ink fabric pen, because that’s the right way to do it.  I won’t discuss the fact that I use a ballpoint pen or a Sharpie marker, because that’s all wrong.  :)

Do not ever tear the fabric!!  First, the chances of a fabric being woven so that the threads are perfectly square is pretty slim.  I’d say it’s about 0%.  But also, when you tear fabric, you stretch it.  Making draperies is a pain in the rear when you’re starting off with fabric that doesn’t lie flat.

Edit:  Since squaring the fabric is such an important step, I decided to add some pictures for more detail.

First, note that on some fabrics that have a printed pattern, the manufacturer will place symbols along the selvage to indicate where the repeat in the pattern starts.  For example, the P. Kaufmann fabric that I used had this symbol to indicate a repeat in the pattern…

How to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - symbol on selvage of fabric indicates repeat in pattern

This fabric had this symbol on both sides (both selvages).  That made squaring this fabric a breeze!  I simply make sure that my fabric was lying perfectly flat, and then I used a long straight edge (e.g., a piece of 1″ x 4″ lumber) and lined it up with the symbols on both sides, drew a line across, and cut on the line.

Unfortunately, not every manufacturer makes it this easy.  So for those that aren’t marked, this is how I do it.

First, I measure out the length that I need and make a small cut on the edge.  (I’m demonstrating this on blackout lining in the pictures below.)

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 2

And then I either tear the fabric (which is what I do with blackout lining) or I do a “rough cut” all the way across (which is what I do with most other fabric).

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 3

Next, I fold the fabric over lengthwise so that the two selvages are lined up and the folded edge lies perfectly flat and straight.  (This picture should make it clear why you never, ever want to sew with a torn fabric edge.  See how uneven it is?)

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 4

Obviously if the selvages are perfectly lined up, but the folded edge has wrinkles and pulls in it and won’t lie flat, then something is askew…

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 5

But once the selvages are lined up and the folded edge is lying flat and has no wrinkles or pulls, I use my framing square and line up the short edge along the edge of the selvages, and then use a ballpoint pen (or, I mean, tailor’s chalk or a disappearing ink fabric pen, of course!) and mark the line.

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 6

Then I place about three pins in the selvages so that they won’t shift, and cut along the line I just marked.

how to square fabric when sewing drapery panels - 7

This is the absolute best way I’ve found to give me a great start on draperies with a perfectly square edge.

Of course, you only need to do this along the bottom edge where the bottom hem of the draperies will go.  There’s no need to waste time squaring up the top edge of the fabric since you’ll end up cutting that off anyway before you put the header in the draperies.

Also, when you’re doing your rough cut and then following up with the framing square for the square cut, always be mindful of your fabric repeats!!!  If you’re cutting more than one length of fabric (which of course, is the likely scenario), be very sure that you’re squaring off the bottom edge in the exact same spot on the pattern on each length of fabric.

4.  How do you decide on thread type and color?

For sewing most home decorating items (draperies, pillows, bedding, etc.), I just use a general purpose thread, and I match the color as closely as possible to the main color in my fabric.

Some professional drapery workrooms will actually use clear nylon thread.  That way they don’t have to have a hundred colors of thread on hand to match the thread to the specific project.  Instead, they can just use one thread for everything they sew.  The problem with nylon thread is that it can be kind of finicky to work with, and some household sewing machines don’t like it at all.  My last sewing machine hated nylon thread.  I could sew a few inches, and then it would get badly tangled.  I’d re-thread the machine, start again, and the same thing would happen.  It obviously wasn’t worth the headache for me.

The only time I ever use anything other than “general purpose” thread is when I’m sewing upholstery, in which case I’ll use upholstery thread.  But that’s if I’m sewing sofa or chair cushions, or sewing something that will be used for upholstery, like the fabric that goes around the “wings” on wingback chairs.  But for regular non-upholstered items like drapery and throw pillows, general purpose thread is fine.

5.  Do you recommend using drapery weights?

I probably should, but I can tell you that I never use drapery weights.  The only time that I might consider it is if I’m using a very light weight fabric like dupioni silk, but honestly, I even skip them on the lightweight fabrics.  I just find that they’re not really needed.

6.  Does the back side (the rubbery side) of the blackout lining go towards the window, or towards the inside of the drapery panel so that it’s not seen?

On finished draperies, you should only see the “right” side of your fabric from the front, and the “right” side of your lining from the back.  The back sides of your lining and fabrics should be against each other, “enclosed” in the finished drapery panel, so that they’re not seen.

7.  What do you mean that you put the pin behind the eye (on the return side of the drapery panel) rather than through the eye?

I meant that I attach the drapery pin to the screw part that’s just right behind the eye.  Doing it that way just helps to hold the return a little closer to the wall than if you hook the pin through the eye.

drapery hook

8.  Have you found any benefit to hanging your fabric before construction to allow it to relax?

I don’t hang the fabric before construction, but I do always iron the fabric before construction.  Getting rid of all of the wrinkles is imperative to getting it to lie flat, which will give me a much nicer finished product.

9.  Do curtains need to match from the dining room to the kitchen?

No.  You can use different (but coordinating) fabrics for different rooms, even if one room is visible from the other.

 10.  Where do you get your drapery hardware?

I buy all of my drapery hardware at either Bed, Bath & Beyond, or at Lowe’s.  And I use wood poles, brackets, and rings almost exclusively.  That’s just a personal preference, but I think that the wood (which is available in several different stain colors) looks nicer than metal.

I used to buy everything exclusively at Bed, Bath & Beyond, just because I could save up a stack of coupons and use one on each item.  I still love that savings, but I’ve found that I like the selection at Lowe’s (their Allen + Roth line) much better, and sometimes having a wider variety and nicer finials is worth the extra money to me.

The wood poles come in two different lengths — 6 feet and 8 feet.  You can use a miter saw to cut them down to the length you need, or you can join poles together using a rod connector (looks like a screw on both ends).  When connecting rods with a rod connector, always be sure that the joint is being supported by a drapery rod bracket.

So that’s all that I use.  Even when I worked with clients, and had trade accounts to all different drapery supply places that had all kinds of amazing drapery poles, brackets, finials, and more, I would still just buy them at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Lowe’s.  The prices are great (especially compared to that high-end stuff), and they look just as beautiful once your draperies are made and hung.

 

I think those are all of the questions I got, but if I missed one, or you’ve thought of something else, please don’t hesitate to ask!  :)

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Comments

  1. Jean says

    I’m not even planning to make draperies, because all my windows already have them, but I read every word of this post as though I were about to spread that fabric and start cutting. :-) Great detailed instructions! I can see how it would be very helpful for someone who has never made draperies before.

  2. Faye B. says

    Love the draperies. Jus wandering where you got the pole, finials, and rings? Were you able to find the size and color you needed or did you paint/stain unfinished wood?

    • says

      Hi Faye! Good to “see” you! :)

      I got your email that you’re back. Will you be doing draperies and other window treatments again? I’ll email you.

      Oh, and I added your question to the post above.

  3. Qusie says

    Thanks for answering all of these questions, including mine. I’m getting ready to do this for my open-concept kitchen/nook/family room, including french doors. Even though I used to sew a lot, it’s been so many years that I’m feeling really nervous about it. These last few posts were VERY helpful and, more importantly, reassuring. Thanks again!

  4. Connie says

    I’ve been following your posts now for a few months and love how you are teaching as you go through this process. I have been very slowly remodeling and decorating my house over the past decade in the same way. You will probably be done with yours before I’m done with mine! Great tutorial on the drapes. I have two comments–the first is to reiterate your warning of “Don’t tear the fabric to straighten your edges!” Everytime I have done this for the sake of speed I have regretted it! The other is, I have always been told and have followed the rule to remove the selvedged edges from fabric as the tightly woven selvedge will prevent any seams that are sewn with it from relaxing whereas the rest of the width of fabric will relax and your drapes will eventually look wonky especially with a loosely woven fabric. Keep up the good work!

  5. Peggy R says

    Hi Kristi: I make drapes for a living and would like to say you did a great job explaining the process. I would like to add one other thing, i hope you don’t mind. I am not sure whether i read it or not. If so sorry. When measuring the length of your drapes, if you are using a rod with wooden rings you will want to measure from the eyelet on the wooden rings to the floor to get your length, not the top of the rod. This might help some people or if you measured to long, and you have the space you could hang your rod a little higher. Love your blog and all your great projects.

  6. Jaybird says

    You had me at #9!! When you enter our home, the den, LR, DR and kitchen are all visible from the door. I have given myself mental hernias trying to make all of my curtains “match”. Thank you…..now I can have them coordinating, but they don’t have to match!!!!
    You are GREAT!!!!
    Thanks and blessings,
    J

  7. Bonnie says

    loved it! I don’t really understand the eye-hook part of the post; however, I’m sure if I re-read the previous post it will become clearer.

  8. Iren says

    Thanks for all your answers. So helpful. You’re unbelievable with the talent you have. Love reading your blog.

  9. Winnie says

    I notice you don’t mention laundering (or dry cleaning) your fabric first. I was reading another blog on sewing drapes and that person mentioned she did NOT launder first and when she finally did her drapes shrunk a huge amount.

  10. Ann Rourke says

    Thanks for the wonderful instructions…I guess I am a hook and eye screwball because I still can’t wrap my head around how the drape hook stays SECURED behind the eye? I completely understand that it needs to not go through the eye to get it close to the wall. I’ve looked at the picture a couple of times and….yep, still nothing.
    Sorry for what may seem so obvious….

    • Ann says

      From your latest post I was determined to figure out the eye hook thing. I looked at another post you had on drape hanging and I figure out that the weight of the fabric pulls just enough in the opposite direction that the drapery hook will not slip off from behind the eye hook. Yea to me!

  11. V says

    I hope it’s not too late to ask a question. :)

    I prefer drapes that you can pull open/close from the side using a pulley-like device, rather than the “free hanging” drapes that you have to pull open and close by hand, as I’m always terrified that I’m going to pull the curtains off the wall (it’s happened … apparently I have the strength of a gorilla, or more accurately, I can never seem to drill into a stud). What is that pulley-like thing called, and how do you install it? I really like how, when using it, drapes open up symmetrically from the center.

  12. Deborah Miller says

    Hi Kristi! I’m fairly new to home fashion sewing so I’ve been looking at different blogs and websites for information on reupholstering. Your tutorials are the most clear and straightforward! You also focus on things that I just happen to have questions about. Uncanny! Like having a decorator in your back pocket. Love it! Thanks,

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