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.

Stephanie @ Figments

This is exactly what I need! My mom refuses to find the time to teach me how to use my sewing machine and all I’ve been wanting to make are curtains and pillow covers. Keep it coming – I love it!

donna

I am so excited for this column! I bought a sewing machine on Craigslist last year but have yet to use it because I need lessons. Hopefully these will do the trick.

Sarah Sarniak

Those curtains are really cute. I like to make my own curtains too. Sometimes though I get bored of sewing a straight line all the time and with how much fabric costs I end up just buying them if it ends up being the same cost for something I like just as much. :)

Rebecca

I’m excited for this column, too! I just checked out your blog, and you have a new fan…I got butterflies just looking at your amazing jello mold. Do you think you could offer jello pointers at some point during the week, along with the sewing pointers? : )

Vanessa

As the daughter of a very talented sewer, I have always longed for the same skills my mom has so I could sew my OWN things instead of asking her for them. This is a really easy guide to make that a reality! Thanks!

bojana

this comes at a right time for me, too. i’m learning to sew, i’m doing a makeover of my living room and i have bought the fabric for the curtains. thank you!

three critters

I am so sorry to be so off topic but… if anyone has any info on where to find that impressively beautiful clock, it’d be great, thanks

sally

So happy to see this new column. I dusted off my sewing machine last month and have been practicing ever since.

Lauren C.

so excited to read this thoroughly when i get home from work tonight. it’s like you read my mind! i was at ikea this weekend thinking, man, i love that fabric, really wish i knew how to sew curtains… thank you!!

Tiffany

Thank you so much for this article. I am so excited about future projects. And thank you for being so descriptive – I need it!

Kirstin

So happy to see this! I’ve been wanting to sew curtains in my apartment for a while (have to cover up some ugly blinds) and this will be good motivation to finally do it.

Brett

Thanks all! I got the fabric at Purl Patchwork, but it’s not listed on their site. It’s a Japanese product: Naomi Ito for Nani Iro by Kokka. Here’s an Etsy shop that carries it in another colorway: http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=39842173

As for the clock, it’s a $10 cheapie from Urban Outfitters a couple of years ago!

And sure, I’d be happy to do a Jello post sometime too, if Grace is up for it! :) Jello rocks.

casey

Thank you, thank you for the step-by-step. This is the next best thing to having my mom by my side while I’m attempting to use her sewing machine!

Mikaela

Thanks for the fabulous tutorial! Question though – my old house doesn’t have double-glazed windows. Is there a way to make the curtains so that they’ll keep more heat in? Use a double layer of fabric??

Alina

These are great, simple instructions, and I can’t wait to read about the throw pillow next week. I received a sewing machine for Christmas that’s still in it’s box, maybe this seemingly-easy project (and pretty fabric) is the inspiration I was needing. Thanks!

Julie Hines

Hi Brett
Great post! I am glad to see you are still working on your blog. I recently made some curtains for my kitchen with fabric from the same designer.
Take Care. Julie

Justine

I wish I would’ve had this tutorial before I did the curtains in my living room! 10ft ceilings, what a mess!

Cara

I’m really excited!!!!! I’ve been waiting for something like this to enter my life. Only I don’t have a sewing machine less than 100 years old so never mind.

Sara

oh wow this is perfect as I am currently going to make some new curtains for my new room. I move this weekend and I need to make a whole bunch of things. Pillows as well

Jennifer

What a great idea for a new d*s column!

If anyone in LA is hunting for more hands-on sewing lessons, check out Miss Jenny Ryan at Silverlake’s Home Ec Shop:

http://www.homeecshop.com/

I haven’t taken lessons there ’cause I already know my way around a sewing machine, but I’ve heard really great things about it…

Brett

Mikaela: to keep the heat in, I’d use a heavy fabric with a lining (double layer). Velvet, velour, microsuede, brocade, or a heavy cotton would be good to check out. Just remember that anything with a lot of texture (like velvet) is trickier to sew, so if you’re a beginner, I’d suggest looking for something smooth but heavy. Good luck!

Heidi

Thanks for this awesome post. Sewing is a lost art amongst my generation! This makes it easy. Maybe I am reading this incorrectly, but at one point is says to measure 18″ in addition to the desired length and then it says 8′. Was this a typo or am I confused?

Christina

So happy to see this feature! Brett’s one of my faves and so is D*S!
I can’t wait for more sewing lessons.

jjany

great sewing read. i don’t sew at all but would love to try to make my own curtains. thanks for taking the fear out of it!!

Nica

fabulous post…just what i needed to get my sewing back on…thanks!

Jessica

I’ve been wanting to get into sewing but I don’t have a machine. Any recommendations on a solid, reasonably priced sewing machine? I don’t mind spending a bit of money, but I’d prefer not to break to bank! Thanks!!

Elaina

How timely. I just told my hubby last night that I couldnt find a curtain I really liked and wanted to try sewing my own!

Brett

Heidi: I can see how those numbers were a little confusing. You do need to cut your fabric 8″ longer than the final length of the curtain to allow for the top and bottom hems. I suggest buying an extra 18″ to allow for the fabric to shrink when you wash it… and to give you a little left over just in case. (Save that leftover bit so you can take it with you later to match other room elements when you’re out shopping!)

Jessica: I’m not really an expert on sewing machine models. I have a bottom-of-the-line Singer that cost less than $150 and it has served me faithfully for about 15 years. I’d suggest shopping around – but know that you really don’t need all the expensive bells and whistles for basic use – a basic model should be fine.

Kait

Hi Brett.
Thanks for the post.
Could you also post a photo of what you’ve used to hang you curtains? Its hard to see and that’s the part I’m clueless about. My apartments have always come with ugly horizontal blinds and I’d love to cover them up without removing them.
Kait

Suzanne F.

Thanks for this post ~ I still use my ancient Singer sewing machine that I got in the 6th grade! It works great for everything. This curtain project is a great way to get a room looking good for Spring! Thanks!

madln easley

I’m a curtain manufacturer and have been doing it for 30 years. Wow! how time flys! For a more custom look it would be b etter to do bottom hem first,then side hems-this will give you a clean look at side of panel which is most visible-then top of f with rod pocket. I think ou will be pleased with results.

Lindsay

This is a great tutorial – I recently purchased a sewing machine and I’m a few projects in. Curtains are definitely on deck. The one thing I really have trouble with is cutting in a straight line. By that I mean both measuring and cutting straight. I’ve scoured the internet for help but there is not a lot of direct help on this issue. Maybe for your upcoming blog you could address this? Measuring and cutting is definitely the hardest part of sewing for me!

lupe caicedo

Gracias por tan buena explicacion que es muy necesaria para nuestro hogar

Jodie

This is exactly what I need! My apartment is devoid of color and curtains can be the beginning of my home reinvention.

April

I love how non-intimidating these instructions are – and I have curtains for my new apartment on the brain, so this is super timely! My only problem is that I’m really attached to the idea of lace cafe curtains over the bottom half of my windows, with a larger full-length panel over to block the light when I need to – do you think curtains hung this way would look lumpy with half-curtains underneath?

Dee Dee

SO excited!!! These are exactly the curtains I envisioned for my baby’s room that we are starting to put together! I’m super excited about this column as well – I’m a novice, novice sewer and I need all the advice, help, tutorials I can get!

Brett

Kait: I hung this curtain with a tension rod, which stays in place inside the window frame without any screws or installation. If you don’t have this type of window frame, you may need to install (with screws) a curtain rod in the wall or trim at the top corners of the window. Ask at the hardware store – they’ll have everything you need and point you in the right direction.

April: It seems like it would be fine to hang a full curtain over a half curtain. I’d offset the two curtain rods, so that the front-most curtain would hang an inch or so in front of the half-curtain. (Does that make sense?) As long as there’s a little space/air in between them, I don’t think you’d get any lumpiness. good luck!

joanna

If the width of the panels is bigger than the width of the fabric and you have to sew two panels together, how do you sew then together so that you won’t see a line?

mary

the home fabrics place near my house wanted to charge me $150 for a simple window valence!!!!!!! i found their bolt ends sale, however, and got what i needed (plus a ton of other great fabric pieces!) for $15, and sewed it myself while watching tv in about 2 hours (including pinning, ironing, and lining the back with a simple sheer fabric). diy is the way to go!!

emma

I have that same clock, but keep the batteries out of it because the ticking drives me nuts!

Sarah

I’m a little late to the party but just wanted to say thanks for giving me the motivation to learn how to sew! I’ve had my machine for about 4 years and have just been too intimidated to use it. I got it out this weekend and practiced sewing this curtain on some scrap fabric–it was very easy! Thanks again.

Nouveau Stitch

The world of custom window treatments is a wonderful place! With some practice and lots of patience, it isn’t hard at all to advance to more complicated treats that really stylize your windows. So glad to see so many new sewists on board!

Ellen

Amanda

How do you get the side hems to be an even 1/2 inch all the way down while you’re ironing? Mine always seem to be off or waver larger then smaller as I’m working my way down. Is there a trick?

Jessica

thanks for the clear & easy to follow instructions! bought a machine to do hems for kids pants (much easier than by hand) but am dying to move onto home decor!
I agree with the other post…how can you cut the fabric straight? That would be another great tutorial!

Leila

I use waistband interfacing to get straight and even top and bottom hems on my DIY curtains. Works great!

Brandy

On a completely other topic…where oh where can I get myself one of those adorable PINK cuckoo clocks?!

Sarah-Rose

Thank you so much for such a great and straight-forward tutorial! I’ve been planning on making curtains for a while, but putting it off until I can get my hands on a better sewing machine (mines a 20 dollar joke from target I bought when i was 17). Do you have any tips on making a curtain for a bay window?

Also, I have the same pin cushion as you, it was my Aunt Freda’s who taught me how to sew!

jodie

i made 2 of these curtains this weekend. took me waaay longer than it should have but i’m very happy w/ the end results. thanks for the tute brett.

Molly

This is a great tutorial. I just finished sewing lined curtains for my living room, which adds a bit of difficulty.

Ann

Wow! I have been looking for a really simple way to make curtains and here it is. I have my fabric from IKEA and will be making curtains for my small downstairs bathroom. Just the ticket, many thanks

Kathryn

This is a great tutorial! I am so bad at reading directions that I sewed my second side seem backwards. Sigh….

Jennifer

Love the curtains, simple pattern, and easy to follow. I do have one question on the directions, did you add 18” or 8”?

Frankie

For bathroom windows I cut a shower curtain into the lengths needed; hemmed the edges all around to finish the two curtains. I then clipped the tops of each with rings,
placed on a tension rod & placed it into the inside top of the window……quick privacy
for my son’s small extra bath.

VidhyaMahi

It’s an easy guide for stitching simple and beautiful curtains being at home.

Thanks for sharing.

Trina

Thank you for this post. Although I don’t have a sewing machine I am trying this with stitch wizardy.

Linda

I plan to make curtains for my daughter’s room after we move, this will be perfect, I already have some fabric in mind just need to measure the new windows

Richelle

thank you soooo much! you are such a blessing! I can now start sewing. :-)

Kellye Osteen

Thank y0u! I am so trying to learn and your website has helped so much!

Lisa Fletcher

OMG!!! Thakn you!!! I did it, I did it I made my owm Curtains for my window kictchen, and they look Beautiful :) Thank you =) ..

Lisa,

Jane

I think it says 18″ to allow for shrinkage when pre-washing. (That seems like an awful lot of excess. I doubt it will shrink 10 inches.) It then appears, if you do the math, that when you cut the panel to begin sewing, that you should give yourself only 8″ of additional fabric. I read 2 half-inch turns before a 5-inch hem and a 2-inch curtain rod pocket. That makes 8″. Does anyone else have an opinion on the 18 vs 8 inches issue?

New 2 Sewing

Thanks for a great a tutorial. This is better than any Youtube video!

Michelle

I’m a little late in discovering this but i’m glad i did! This is my new project and it doesn’t feel as intimidating to the novice now that it’s so well explained. Thank you!

Find Curtains

Brilliant write-up . I cant remember seeing a curtain post that is so informative about making your own curtains. It turns a daunting task into a fairly easy to understand one. The pictures help a huge amount too. Anyone who is planning on making their own curtains needs to read this, it has inspired me to try making my own.

Thanks alot :).

Heidi

Thanks so much. Very easy to follow. Pictures help also! Finally, I can complete my daughter’s bedroom with some curtains!

AJ

Is it 8″ or 18″ of extra fabric? You wrote both numbers so I’m not sure which to follow… Thanks!

Jackie

Thank you so much for this tutorial! Have had it pinned for awhile and bathroom blind was in dire need of replacement Then ~ down right scary Now! But it is no more – pretty little curtain in it’s place. Thanks again! :)

AJ ~ if you are still needing an answer…I went with just the 8″ and that worked out well. :)

Joni

Great tutorial! I am a beginner and this was perfect for my new curtains! Do you have a tutorial on making panel curtains? With the center piece to make the curtain look like an hourglass? Thank you!!

Joanna

I’m just about to make some curtains for my kitchen and I came across this great tutorial! But my question is, why do you need so much extra fabric for the length? 18″ seems like a lot, even with shrinkage. Between the total top and bottom hems, I count only 8″…

Cindy Kemper

Where can I get the “impressionist” looking blue material? BEAUTIFUL!!!

Car

Thanks for this! Ques 1) if you are leaving the curtains hanging straight, how do you get the bottom to hang in folds instead of splaying out like a triangle? Ques 2) I made 2 panels and bought a shear to go between. When I tried to hem the shear, cheap/synthetic material, it all bunched in the sewing machine, and I’m now sewing it by hand, any recommendations what I’m doing wrong? Thx!

Shauna

I am going to hang my curtains outside the window frame for light blockage and air flow. I thought it might look nicer to have some gathered fabric above the rod pocket. Do you have a suggestion at how many inches this should be? I imagine I would be just making a longer hem with an extra row of stitching for the rod pocket? My windows are 22″w x 62″ high. I’m thinking of going with one panel as opposed to 2. Any opinions? Also is there a suggested height for a strip of fabric to pull the curtain open? ie. if tall curtains do you go 1/2 or 1/3 from the floor? Thanks

jane

Did you use a liner with these curtains? It sort of looks that way from the pictures. I want to make kitchen curtains and the window get loads of sun so perhaps have the panel lined would be goos.

Shirley Bliss

I made a dress from drapery material as I loved the print. I am planning to start selling dresses on ETSY and wonder what the best way is to press this dress so all the wrinkles are smooth.
Shirley

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