sewing 101: how to make a shower curtain


My bathroom is quite old and somewhat grungy, so until I can afford better real estate, I thought a loud and colorful curtain would help draw the eye away from some of my bathroom’s less savory qualities… and thus, this patchwork shower curtain was born. It’s bright and fun, and it allowed me to use up several leftover fabrics in my collection rather than investing in new materials. If you prefer a simpler shower curtain made out of just one fabric, I’ll give instructions for that too. Let’s get started! –Brett Bara

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

What You’ll Need

for a patchwork curtain: 1-2 yards each of approximately 7 different fabrics

for a solid curtain: 5 yards fabric

thread to match

sharp scissors

cutting mat, rotary cutter and straight edge (optional)

straight pins

tape measure

seam ripper

iron

sewing machine

Planning Your Fabrics

If you decide to go the patchwork route, the first task is to assemble a group of fabrics that work well together and are pleasing to your eye. I know lots of people find it tricky to pull off the mismatched look successfully — myself included! — but here’s my method.

I start with one main fabric/color, which for me was the blue floral. Next choose something opposite that on the color wheel (the yellow birds and orange print). Then throw in something a little random, (the green floral). Finally, add some coordinating solids to avoid pattern overkill. It usually takes me a good amount of shuffling, rearranging, and contemplating — and I try to leave my selection and walk away from it for a little while, then come back to see if it looks right to a fresh eye.

(Don’t forget to wash, dry and iron your fabrics before beginning!)

Patchwork Layout

Of course, you can piece together random sections of fabric in almost any layout you want for this project, but here are the numbers to make a curtain like the one shown here.

The total finished size of the curtain is 76″ long by 71″ wide, after seaming and hemming. If you prefer a longer curtain (check the distance from your shower curtain rod to the point where you’d like your curtain to end), just adjust the length accordingly.

The basic premise of construction here is that you assemble five vertical columns which are each a specific width. The columns are constructed of randomly sized blocks and strips – you can mix and match any blocks you want within each column, as long as the finished column is the correct width and length.

To begin, plan five vertical columns as follows:

Column 1 (far left): 18.5″ wide (allowing for a 2″ side hem)

Column 2: 13″ wide

Column 3: 12″ wide

Column 4: 20″ wide

Column 5 (far right): 15.5″ wide (allowing for a 2″ side hem)

Each column needs to have a total length of 87″, which allows for an 8″ bottom hem and a 3″ top hem.

For those of you who are pattern people, here’s a VERY crude diagram showing how I assembled my patchwork. The measurements given are the sizes you should cut the blocks; the numbers allow for seam allowances and hems, so that you’ll arrive at the correct finished size. (At least I hope you do, if my math is correct!)

For a Solid Curtain

If you prefer to make a solid shower curtain, simply cut two pieces of fabric that are 87″ long and 38″ wide. (Remember to trim the selvedge edge off your fabric pieces before) Seam the two pieces together using a French Seam (more on that below). Then, follow the hemming and finishing instructions below.

Some Cutting Tips

Lots of you have been asking in the comments how to cut straight lines on large pieces of fabric. My indispensible cutting system is a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and straight edge. These tools allow you to place your fabric on a gridded surface and cut in a perfectly straight line every time.

I find the best way to cut fabric straight and accurately is to use the selvedge edge as a guide. You can count on the selvedge to be a straight edge – so I begin by cutting any perpendicular lines I need by aligning my cut at a 90-degree angle to the selvedge. Then I make any cuts that are parallel to the selvedge. So for a curtain, I’ll cut the length first, making sure I’m cutting at a right angle to the selvedge, and then I’ll cut the width, being sure to cut parallel to the selvedge.

When cutting really long pieces of fabric, I carefully fold the fabric aligning the selvedge edge with itself, then cut through the layers of the folded piece. Even if you don’t have a rotary cutter, you can use this method to trim long pieces of fabric with scissors for fairly accurate results.

This is by no means a comprehensive lesson on cutting fabric, but I hope it will help get some of you pointed in the right direction! Now, back to the shower curtain at hand!

Cutting the Patchwork Pieces

Cut all the pieces according to the assembly diagram or in any layout you prefer.

Sewing

I recommend sewing French seams on this project so that the curtain will look neat and finished from both sides.

Start by assembling the patchwork pieces of each column. Sew each seam as follows:

Place the two pieces of fabric to be joined with raw edges aligned and the WRONG sides of the fabric together. Pin in place. Sew this seam with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Trim off about half of the seam allowance. (A rotary cutter is great for this, but scissors work too of course!)

Iron the seam allowance to one side, then fold on the seam so that the RIGHT sides of the fabric are now facing each other. Press.

Pin the two layers of fabric together to avoid shifting, and sew another seam 1/4″ from the folded edge.

Open the fabric and press the seam to one side.

The “flap” forms a neatly finished seam on the wrong side of the piece, and from the right side, the seam looks like a standard seam.

Neat Freak Tip: As you assemble each column, press all the French seams so that they are facing downward on the curtain.  This ensures that when the curtain is complete, all the seams will be facing in the same direction.

Once all five columns are assembled, sew them to each other with French seams.

Once all five columns are assembled, it’s time to hem the curtain.

Hemming

First, hem the bottom edge. Turn up the raw edge 4″ to wrong side of curtain and press. Turn up another 4″ and press again. Top stitch close to interior folded edge.

Next, hem the sides. Turn in the side edge 1″ and press. Turn in another 1″ and press again. Top stitch close to the interior folded edge. Repeat on each side.

Hem the top by turning under 1.5″ and press. Turn under another 1.5″ and press again. Top stitch close to BOTH folded edges.

Note: if your fabric is lightweight, you may want to apply a 1.5″ strip of interfacing to the top edge of your curtain before folding the top hem. This will provide some extra stability to support the weight of the curtain.

Buttonholes

In this project I used buttonholes to attach the curtain to the curtain rings. If you like, you could purchase a grommet-setting tool and install grommets in your curtain. I’ve never had a lot of luck with these tools and my grommets always seem to fall out — maybe I just need to try a better brand, but I decided to go the buttonhole route this time. Plus, aren’t you excited to learn how to make buttonholes? It’s easy!

I suggest using your shower curtain liner as a guide for placing the buttonholes. Mine has 12 holes total, and they’re each 6″ apart and 1/2″ from the top edge.

Here you should pause to check your sewing machine manual for specific instructions on making a buttonhole. Almost every machine offers this function, and it’s really very easy — if you haven’t done buttonholes before, don’t be afraid. Just do a few practice runs on scrap fabric and you’ll be all set.

Mark the placement of your buttonhole, indicating where the top of the hole should be (1/2″ from the top edge of the curtain), and where the bottom of the hole should be. (Here I’m making the holes 1/4″ long, which should accommodate most shower curtain rings.)

Sew your buttonhole using the method your machine offers.

When it’s finished, it will look like this: a little box of stitching.

To open the buttonhole, pierce the fabric with a seam ripper and GENTLY wiggle the seam ripper until it cuts the fabric inside the buttonhole.

And you’re done! All that’s left to do is hang your curtain and enjoy.

See you in two weeks! Is there anything you’re dying to learn to sew? Leave a comment and let me know!

ESH

I would LOVE to learn how to much a bench cushion…I have radiator covers in most of my rooms and I want to make them into cozy sitting areas and I have attemped to make them with piped edges but my first attempt was a failure and I haven’t picked up the project since due to the discouragement of the project….but I love reading your columns and look forward to whatever your next project is.

caroline

I took a sewing class awhile ago and made pillow cases, pajamas, and pants and this has made me so excited for my birthday. I asked my husband for a sewing machine and this will be my first project. I love all your ideas and tips, and this shower curtain is full of brightness. I love it!

Kristin

Your fabric selections are fun + gorgeous! Where can I find great fabric like that?

Hilde

It looks nice, but ehhmm… a fabric shower curtain????? Won’t it get quite heavy when wet and worse, moldy? Or am I missing something here?

grace

hilde

as long as you throw a plastic liner behind it (on the water side) and make sure it’s hanging on the outside of the tub when you shower, it’s a-ok. that’s what the plastic liner is for ;) also, be sure you leave your bathroom door open so the room can air out. i’m sure if it’s left shut and things are super steamy the fabric will eventually get grody, but if you wash it every few weeks you’re fine. i have a fabric one and do that every other week and it’s fine.

grace

Martha

I bought some fabric specifically for this purpose, but that’s as far as I got. Now that I have instructions, I’m inspired to complete the project!

Miranda

I LOVE this! Great fabrics together too, very inspiring. I am moving soon, might have to sew new curtain for my new bathroom!

Ele

Awesome post! Great instructions. I’m sure this is something I could do, but it never occured to me. Thanks for sharing!

April

What a lovely idea for a shower curtain! I’d love to learn how to sew a simple dog bed for a large dog :-) I have three that love dog beds, but they go through them too fast to buy them all the time.

Eva

cool, i saw one in a sneak peek and wanted to make one myself. Now i certainly can :-) thanks!

Kristi

How adorable and it’s funny that you post this now when I have been meaning to learn how to sew a shower curtain! I really want to get rid of the one we have now. Thanks so much for sharing. ♥

Chantel

What would the measurements be for an extra long shower curtain, one solid piece?

Nancy Monsebroten

I love this idea. I have two good friends who are quilters. They always have way to many scrap pieces leftover. I’m going to go through their giveaways.

Nik

Brett – where did you get that BOMB yellow bird fabric??? It’s amazing!

Debbie

For the buttonhole, I like to squeeze on some Fray Check or other similar product and let it dry before cutting the buttonhole. It helps prolong the life of the buttonhole.

Also, I have used a cloth shower curtain for several years and I actually use a nylon liner and I have no trouble with mildew on my cloth curtain (the cloth one always hangs outside the tub.)

Cute shower curtain…thanks!

melina bee

oh man, what a great diy project! I love quilting taken to the next level! I hate to say this, but I will probably ask my grandma to do this with/for me (I really suck at sewing no matter how simple or clear your instructions).

Shannon

Your directions on how to make pillow cases a few weeks ago inspired me to take my first sewing class. Now I’m looking forward to this project as well! Thanks!

Nan

This is a great post! Thanks so much for your fun sewing tutorials. Gives me so many ideas, ideas, ideas!

alisonfay

What a great project! I LOVE the color combination you used in your shower curtain. I feel a fabric shopping trip coming on:)

Tanya

I absolutely adore this post. This would make a great shower curtain or just curtains even. Or a dress, a skirt, wall decor. Ah I love it!

stacey pyne

hi, i love this curtain! any idea where i could buy one like it?

marie

What a great project, now I just need some motivation to go with this inspiration!

Lisa

If button holes are a little daunting then perhaps grommets would be that much easier – plus they are usually on cloth shower curtains.

Emily

I absolutely love this project! I am moving in three weeks and this is certainly on my list of DIY projects for the new house! Thanks for posting!

Rachel

Gorgeous, Girl!! No matter how grungy your bathroom, this shower curtain will make it perfect!! I can relate. We are an Army family and never no where our brood will land. So it is all about the adorable accessories and I will be adding this to my ” to make” list! Thanks so much!

Kirsten

I bought myself a new sewing machine a year ago and it’s still waiting to be used…I’m inspired by your posts though, so I’ll be getting on the stick shortly! Thanks for the great instructions, I’m really looking forward to trying this neat idea!

~Heather

I haven’t used a plastic liner in ages. I got a lovely (but now rather old) shower curtain off of freecycle – a nice green Ikea job.

Think I might try to use upholstery weight fabric for this project.

JW

Please, Please tell us about your fabric sources. I see crafts online all the time with these cute fabrics but I can never find them in my local fabric stores.

Brett

Thanks everybody! All of these fabrics are from my collection and they’re all a couple years old. The blue floral is Amy Butler for Free Spirit Fabrics, the green floral is Heather Bailey Pop Garden, the yellow birds are a Japanese fabric that I got at Purl Patchwork.

Look for indie fabric stores in your area – they tend to have some of the cooler fabrics. Also search for Japanese fabrics online or locally, they’re always great. Free Spirit fabrics features some good designers too. Etsy has lots of cool stuff. Fabricworm, Superbuzzy, and Phat Fabric are all good online fabric stores.

Have fun! Once you start shopping for fabric, you can’t stop! :)

anna

i was thinking about making a shower curtain this very morning! thanks!

Pam Kueber

Love the patchwork curtain. But, I think that if you want to use just one fabric, piecing two 38″-wide pieces together is not the best answer. Better to use three panels — with a wider one in the center. Also: Will need to match the fabric edges, as with wallpaper or pinch pleats…

Holly

That curtain can really brighten up a dingy bathroom. Thanks for the idea I might even make different ones for the holidays.

Jillian

I cannot WAIT to get to work on this this weekend. I have a HUGE basket of scrap fabric, too big to throw away, too small to make anything other than patches/pockets/quilts… I will definitely be making a shower curtain!

Lisa

Hi – I love this shower curtain! But how does it fair with water? Should you hang it in front of a clear plastic curtain to protect it? thanks. x

grace

hi lisa!

like all fabric shower curtains, make sure you use a plastic liner behind it to protect it from excess water, unless you’re using a fabric that’s been treated to be water resistant.

all fabric curtains needs to be aired our properly, so be sure you hang it OUTSIDE the tub when you shower (and tuck the plastic liner inside the tub) and stretch it back out (rather than pushing it to one side) when you’re done so it can air out. an open window always helps to- it will keep things from mildewing too fast :)

g

Mary

Hey! The fabric is a retired Alexander Henry pattern of goldfinches. The most adorable pattern I’ve ever seen.

Carleigh

AH! This is adorable!! I actually just finished my own :) I’ll be living in a big old house downtown in the town where my university is, so I made one for our downstairs bathroom – and all 7 of the girls I’m living with LOVE it :)

I used a different patchwork layout – 8 10″ wide columns with varying length patches – I was using scrap fabrics so I had to work with the size pieces I had :) It turned out really well though!

Thank you so much for the inspiration and the instruction! I got a little impatient with the French seams, but they were definitely worth it :) Your online fabric source suggestions are really neat, too!

Marie davIs

You can also make a real full shower curtain by buying a queen size of full sizes flat sheet.

Marie davIs

You can also make a shower curtain with a full size or queen size flat sheet.

JACKIE WATERS

Your instructions were very helpful and very much appreciated.

Kristin

For the real intermediate person reverse the French seam instructions. Sew right sides together first. That way you cannot see your mistakes on the inside. Who looks anyway.

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