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. 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!


  2. Amanda says:

    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?

    1. Debra Jo says:

      Amanda, when I did not have a hem foot that can do this for me, I always used a hand-held hem gauge. Place the little slide arrow to 1/2 inch and then as I pressed, I would continue to measure with the hem guide. I love being detailed. You could also use a long quilting ruler and a water soluble marker and place a line at 1/2 inch. Then press on the line.

      I realize this post is about 5 years old, but if someone (like me) finds this years later maybe my comment can help them. =D I’m sure by now Amanda has figured out her problem.

      1. Maryann says:

        Thanks for the tip about keeping the hems straight. I am just in the process of looking for a sewing machine so I can make my own curtains.
        I don’t know how to sew yet, but I am determined to learn.

        Kind regards

        1. Jen says:

          Helped ME out! Thanks for the tip! ~j

  3. Jessica says:

    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!

  4. Leila says:

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

  5. Brandy says:

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

  6. Sarah-Rose says:

    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!

  7. Mrs Guzman says:

    Thank you so much for this pattern and step by step with pictures I really enjoyed this..Thank you!!!!

  8. jodie says:

    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.

  9. Molly says:

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

  10. Ann says:

    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

  11. Kathryn says:

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

  12. Thank you so much for this pattern and step by step with pictures I really enjoyed this..Thank you!!!

  13. Jennifer says:

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

    1. Trish says:

      I think the 18″ was a mistype. I use about 8″.

  14. neyvis says:

    excelente explicacion…saludos

  15. Frankie says:

    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.

  16. VidhyaMahi says:

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

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Trina says:

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

  18. Linda says:

    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

  19. Yvette says:

    OMG, I posted a cuckoo clock makeover on my blog awhile back and the end result was almost exactly like that one! I had no idea that Urban Outfitters sold any. Oh well, I enjoyed doing mine anyway.

  20. Richelle says:

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

  21. carlene says:

    Please someone clarify 18″ extra or 8″.

    1. LT says:

      It is 8. Add 5 for the bottom, 2 for the top, and 1/2 each on bottom and top. That’s 8.

  22. Kellye Osteen says:

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

  23. Thank you for the great pictures and explanations! I am getting started on my own curtains now!

  24. Lori says:

    If you want to add a black out backing how would you do this?

  25. Lisa Fletcher says:

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


  26. Curtains can instantly give a room a facelift. You have shared awesome DIY tutorial for sewing curtain in no time for your room. Thanks..

  27. Jane says:

    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?

  28. New 2 Sewing says:

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

  29. Michelle says:

    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!

  30. 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 :).

  31. Heidi says:

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

  32. AJ says:

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

  33. Jackie says:

    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. :)

  34. Joni says:

    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!!

  35. Mindy says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this tutorial!

  36. Joanna says:

    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″…

  37. Cindy Kemper says:

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

  38. Car says:

    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!

  39. Kelly says:

    Perfect instructions. You made my day..!

  40. Shauna says:

    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

  41. vinnette says:

    thanks a million for my beginners course ,

  42. jane says:

    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.

  43. Thanks for sharing the DIY curtain services. I have gained much of knowledge.

  44. Brianna says:

    For those new to DIY, cotton and linen are the perfect fit for these curtains, found in the links!

  45. Shirley Bliss says:

    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.

  46. I have been intriqued with the Annie Sloan chaulk paint, and have bee thinking about
    changing the color of one I did in the 80’s… with antique over it, see it’s truly
    retro…but so am I.

  47. Thanks for the clear and genuine advise, I will start on my curtains and I feel it will work. I like all the tips from the professionals, kind of you to share.

  48. Rebecca Gottfried says:

    I just finished making 2 curtains by your instructions. I hung them with a looped hook to pull them back. They look great! Thanks for the instructions.

  49. Mary Thacker says:

    I am trying to make curtains with my sons room. I am using 2 different materials. 1 design at the top and bottom and a different in the middle. I measured 44 by 44 that is from the rod to 2 inches on the outside of each window and 2 inches from the top and bottom. I was going to make the top part for the pockets to hang the rod on and the bottom to have about 6 inches of the other material. I am trying to figure out how to cut the material. can you help?

  50. Anne says:

    This is a super tutorial! And lovely fabric- thanks!


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