sewing 101: curtains


[today i’m thrilled to welcome brett bara of manhattan craft room to d*s with a special guest column. you’ve been asking for more sewing how-tos, so brett will be joining us for a sewing 101 primer, covering all the basics for getting started with home sewing. welcome, brett!]

Hello there! I’m very happy to be here at design*sponge to spread a little sewing love. I hear a lot these days from folks who want to learn to sew, but don’t know where to start. I’m here to tell you how EASY sewing can be—especially home décor sewing. There’s so much you can sew for your home that requires only the most basic sewing skills, from curtains and duvets to pillows and slip covers—so that’s what we’re going to explore in this column.

I thought the perfect place to start would be with the one home accent that is by far the easiest to sew and the most impactful on a room: curtains!

If you love textiles and want to incorporate a little DIY action into your life, there’s no better place to begin. Curtains can instantly give a room a facelift, and you can sew your own in a mere afternoon, with literally the most basic stitching skills.

CLICK HERE for the full curtain how-to (and Brett’s tips on sewing machines and how to choose a fabric) after the jump!

First, a word on sewing machines

Right about now is when many people start freaking out about their sewing machine. They have one, but it’s been collecting dust for years…. Or they have one, but they’re not sure how to thread it… Or they want to buy one, but they don’t know what type to get. Or they don’t want to buy one at all, but they’d still love to make stuff out of fabric.

Please: don’t be afraid! Sewing machines are very simple at their core, and once you understand the fundamentals, you’ll wonder what you were ever worried about.
If you are unfamiliar with using a sewing machine, the best way to learn is to have someone show you. Reach out to crafty friends and family; I bet you can easily find someone who’d be willing to spend an afternoon initiating you into the ranks of the stitchies. Another way to learn is to check out your local fabric store, where classes are most certainly offered. I promise you that you can master sewing machine basics in just a couple of hours—go for it!

And if you don’t have a sewing machine, you can absolutely make this project with a good old fashioned needle and thread. Hand-sewing can be wonderfully meditative and it’s a great activity for unwinding while you watch TV at the end of the day, so give it a try!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get started!

What You’ll Need

Fabric (determine what kind and how much by reading below)

Sewing thread to match your fabric

Sharp scissors

Measuring tape

Straight pins

Sewing machine or sewing needle

Iron and ironing board

Choosing a Fabric

If you’re new to sewing, I recommend starting with a basic medium-weight fabric such as cotton or a cotton-linen blend. Its straightforward texture makes it easy to work with.

Of course, there’s a world of amazing fabric out there for you to try, and once you are comfortable with sewing, you can apply this same basic curtain recipe to almost any type of fabric your windows desire. When choosing a fabric, consider the necessary function of your curtains: do you need them to protect your privacy or block light? Do they need to be machine-washable (a good idea for kitchens or windows that are frequently open, especially in cities where lots of dirt comes in through windows)? Do you want them to help keep out cold drafts, or do you merely desire a hazy sheer? All of these functions can be accomplished simply by choosing different types of fabric.

Measuring Your Window/Determining How Much Fabric You Need

Determine the length you want your curtains to be by measuring from the curtain rod to the spot where you’d like the bottom of the curtain to fall. Add 18” to this number; this is the length of fabric you need for each curtain panel. (The extra 18” will give you enough fabric to hem each panel, plus allow for fabric shrinking during pre-washing.)

Now, determine the width you need. Most fabric is sold in widths of 43” or 60”. If you don’t need a particularly full or gathered curtain, you may decide that one width of fabric is enough for your panel. If you prefer a more gathered look, you’ll want the fabric to be anywhere from 1.5-3 times wider than the actual window width.

Preparing Your Fabric

If your fabric is machine washable, you should wash and dry it to pre-shrink it before sewing. This is an important step; if you don’t pre-shrink before sewing, the seams may pucker unattractively the first time you wash your curtains.
Of course, if your fabric is not machine-washable, you should skip this step.

Finally, before you start cutting or sewing, iron your fabric thoroughly. You’ll need to remove all wrinkles and creases in order to measure and sew accurately.

Cutting the Fabric

My dad the carpenter always says measure twice, cut once. I prefer to measure four times, triple-check my math, measure once more just in case—then I cut!
With that said, for each curtain panel, cut a length of fabric that is the distance from your curtain rod to the desired bottom of the curtains, plus 8”.

If you are making a panel that’s wider than the width of your fabric, cut two lengths as described above and sew them together length-wise to make one wide piece of fabric.

Hemming the Sides


Take a look at the finished edge that runs along both sides of your fabric; this is called the selvedge edge. On some fabrics, the selvedge is different in color than the rest of the fabric (often it’s white); sometimes the selvedge is also a little different in texture. It’s generally a good practice to trim off the selvedge edge before sewing, as is can sometimes pucker in a seam.

Next, turn the fabric under 1/2” to the wrong side (back) of the fabric. Iron this as you go.


Then, turn the fabric under another ½-1” and iron this as well. (I chose a narrow ½” hem because I didn’t want my print pattern to be chopped off by the hem, but a 1” side hem is more standard. Your choice!)


Pin this double-folded edge in place, inserting one pin every 4-6”. Always insert the pins perpendicular to the seam you will be sewing, with the heads to the right of the seam. This allows you to remove them easily with your right hand as you sew the seam.

Sewing the First Seam

Time to sew! Stitch a simple straight seam down the side, placing the stitch line about 1/8” from the interior folded edge of the hem.

Hemming the opposite side edge

Simply repeat the above process on the other side of the curtain panel.

Sewing the Bottom Hem

Turn under ½” of the bottom edge to wrong side and press.

Turn under 5” more and press; pin in place as described for side hem.

Stitch the hem, approximately 1/8” from interior folded edge. When sewing this seam, make it extra secure by back-stitching at the beginning and end of the seam. To do this, sew the first 2-3 stitches of the seam, stop the sewing machine, press the Reverse Stitch button on your machine and sew 2-3 stitches in reverse, the proceed to sew the rest of the seam. Repeat at the end of the seam. This process ensures that the seam won’t unravel. (Why didn’t we do this on the side hems? Because those seams were going to be finished inside the top and bottom hems, so it wasn’t a concern that they’d unravel.)

Sewing the Curtain Rod Pocket

All that’s left to do to finish the curtain is to make the pocket for the curtain rod. This is done almost exactly like the bottom hem.

At the top edge of the curtain, turn under ½” to wrong side and press. Turn under another 2” and press again; pin in place as described earlier. Stitch seam approximately 1/8” from interior folded edge, back-stitching at beginning and end of seam to secure.


And you’re done sewing! All that’s left to do is hang your curtains and enjoy your crafty flair.

Check back next Wednesday, when I’ll be sharing instructions for making a zippered throw pillow cover.

  1. This is a great idea. I will practice doing it right now. Thank you for sharing useful information.

  2. Gemma McLuckie says:

    Sewing more than one panel is a little more tricky because of the horizontal and vertical matches for printed material. You might want to add a paragraph about those.

  3. Emily Jean says:

    Thank you for this simple, lovely tutorial! I used it for my kitchen curtains and recommended it to a friend as well. :)

  4. Gina says:

    Thank you for sharing this great post! I want to try it for my daughters curtains. What fabric do you recommend to keep a draft out for a curtain that is somewhat easy to work with? Thanks for your help.

  5. Thanks for share. I like tutorials this way your sewing curtains. I live in Vietnam and I’m building a website guide sewing curtains. Glad that I found all share your experience. Thanks you

  6. Aliza says:

    why did you do a 5″ hem at the bottom vs a smaller hem?

    1. Linda Hatfield Carney says:

      You can always line your curtains for cold air protection.helps the curtain to hang better by having this extra weight at the bottom.

  7. Crystal says:

    Thanks for the article. We just installed some new windows and I’m looking for ideas for window treatments. These curtains would look great.

  8. Marie says:

    Just made these for my bedroom! Such a great idea, thanks for sharing :)

    1. Arlene Hild says:

      Why do your instructions state to add 18 inches to the length of your material? Shouldn’t it be 8 inches?

      1. Jamie says:

        I’m wondering the same thing, Arlene. Hopefully it’s just a typo. I will have to think this through a few more times before I cut my fabric. Aside from the discrepancy in the numbers, it seems pretty straight forward. Thanks for helping us beginners out. :)

        1. Rachel says:

          Part of the extra is to account for shrinkage when the fabric is washed and dried. Better to have too much than too little! ;)

  9. Amanda says:

    I tried to click the link for more information, right after the 3rd paragraph, it just lead right back to this page.

    Otherwise, this is the best tutorial I’ve read on curtains! Thank you! I’m getting ready to remodel my living room and will be attempting to make my own curtains.

  10. Carol says:

    On sewing drapes is it important to sew up the bottom or down from the top

  11. very good ,thank you pots

  12. K says:

    Worked Great, especially for a rookie sewer like myself. Easy to follow directions!

  13. Alisha says:

    Great piece …Can you give any advice on hand-sewing?? What type of stitch should be used for the main seems and then for the “backstitch”?

    I also have very few windows… as little as one or none in a room… any advice on the curtain length to increase the impact in the room?

    Thanks

  14. Alannah says:

    So I just discovered your site and I am in love! I grew up sewing in 4-H but my machine has been packed and moved so many times since then I almost forgot I had it. Super excited to get back into this awesome hobby! Thanks for posting!

  15. Ramb says:

    Cool drapes presented here. Looking for few such ones

  16. Beckys6boys says:

    Thank you SO much for your step by step instructions! I am a self-taught sewer & look to others (online) for help, & your curtain tutorial was BY FAR the best I read! You will be Pinnned & FaceBooked & everything else! Thanks again!

  17. Cathy says:

    Thank you, you explain this so clearly! Its been a long time for me to make kitchen curtains. Or to sew period !. Iam happy i found you site. Cathy

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