Curtains are one of my favorite things to sew for the home. They require only the most basic sewing skills, and stitching them yourself allows you to create distinctive, custom draperies that could cost a fortune to have professionally made. Luckily, if you have a sewing machine and a spare weekend, you can sew curtains that are guaranteed to look professional and add a truly polished finish to your room. In the past we’ve looked at how to make a basic curtain panel, but in this post we’re taking it up a notch and making pleated curtains that are also lined. These curtains are the real deal, and I promise that they’re easier to make than you think — the trick is using pleating tape, which makes perfect pleats a breeze. Let’s get started! — Brett Bara
Read the full how-to after the jump . . .
- fabric for the exterior of your curtains (You can use a wide variety of fabrics here, from medium-weight cottons to heavy-weight decorator fabrics. Calculate the amount you need below.)
- fabric for lining (A medium-weight cotton or special curtain-lining fabric, which comes in many weights and options, including black-out. You can also use a white sheet for the lining.)
- pleating tape
- drapery hooks
- drapery weights
- sewing machine, pins, scissors, iron and basic sewing supplies
In addition to your selected fabric, these are the special materials you’ll need to create pleated curtains. At the top is pleating tape, which is what makes all the magic happen. It’s a special tape that you sew to the inside top of your curtain panel. It has skinny vertical pockets every inch or so; you insert the four-pronged drapery hooks (bottom left) into the pockets, cinching the tape and creating perfectly even pleats. There are many types of pleating tape on the market that allow you to achieve all kinds of effects — from shirring to box pleats to pencil pleats — so feel free to explore and choose whatever you like for your windows.
In this post, I’m using four-pronged long-neck/ceiling pleat hooks. Like pleating tape, there are many types of drapery hooks on the market, and they all interact with the pleating tapes and your curtain rod/rings in different ways to achieve different effects. So take a look at what’s out there when you’re deciding which hooks to use.
At the bottom right is a curtain weight, which is not absolutely crucial but will lend a more professional look to your curtains. The weights get sewn into the bottom hem of the curtain panels, helping them hang nice and straight.
To determine how large to cut your fabric, first you’ll have to measure your windows. I start by installing my curtain rods wherever I want them so I have a fixed place to measure from. Then, measure for the finished length of your curtains by measuring from the spot on your curtain rings or rod where the curtains will attach to the point where you’d like the bottom of the curtains to fall. Write down this number as measurement A. Next, measure your desired width of each curtain panel and write this down as measurement B. (Note: Each type of pleating tape creates a different gather, so check your specific tape to see how much extra fabric width you need to plan for your pleats. In most cases, it is at least double the desired width of each panel.)
For the exterior of each curtain panel, you’ll need to cut a piece of fabric that is as long as A + 11″ and as wide as B + 4″. For the lining, cut a piece that’s 5″ shorter and 4″ narrower than your exterior piece. (Note: If your fabric isn’t wide enough to reach your measurements, seam two pieces together vertically and then proceed.)
2. Cutting the fabric
Okay, I know I said that sewing curtains is extremely easy, but there is one tricky part, and that’s wrestling with the large pieces of fabric and keeping everything straight and even. First things first: It really helps to have a good workspace for a large project like curtains. Try to set yourself up in a space where you have enough surface area (usually on the floor, unless you have the luxury of giant work tables) to spread out your fabric comfortably. If you need to move furniture out of the room to make space, do it!
Once your fabric is all spread out, it’s time to cut. To keep your pieces of fabric straight and square, use the selvage of your fabric as a guide. The selvage is the finished edge of the fabric, which is where the fabric was attached to the loom when it was manufactured. Often the selvage will be a different color and have some writing on it that indicates who made it. Here’s the important thing to know: You should trim off the selvage before you start sewing. Because it is a different texture than the rest of the fabric, it can cause puckering in your seams if you don’t trim it off.
When you trim off your selvage, know that that edge of the fabric is a true straight edge, so use it as a guide when you cut. Use a long ruler and pencil to draw a line (or a rotary cutter and straight edge, if you have one) and make your first cuts parallel to both selvage edges. Then when you make your perpendicular cuts for length, be sure to make them at right angles to your selvage cuts. These steps will ensure that you have nice, straight pieces of fabric to work with. I find it very helpful to use my cutting mat as a guide for this, but if you don’t have a cutting mat, you can use a carpenter’s square to check your edges and corners. (I’ve even been known to use a laser level square to check my edges when sewing big things!)
(In this post I’m making a miniature curtain panel so you can see all the elements, but in small scale.) After you cut your pieces, this is what you should have: your exterior piece plus your lining, which will be a bit smaller on all sides.
3. Hem the bottoms
The first step is to hem the bottom edges of both the exterior and the lining. To do this, fold up the bottom edge 4″ and press. Fold it up another 4″ and press again.
Pin the layers in place, then sew the hem by stitching about 1/4″ from the interior folded edge.
Hem the lining in the exact same way.
4. Sew the sides
It’s time to attach the lining to the exterior. Lay out both of your pieces, with the right sides of the fabric facing together. Align them so that the hemmed edge of the lining is 2″ above the hemmed edge of the exterior (as shown in the right edge in the photo above) and the raw edges of the pieces are aligned along one side (as shown in the top edge in the photo above).
Sew the two pieces together along the aligned raw edges, with a 1/2″ seam allowance.
Next we’ll sew the other side. Because the exterior is wider than the lining, you’ll need to shift the fabrics to line up the raw edges of the side opposite the seam you just sewed. Be sure to keep the hem of the lining 2″ above the hem of the exterior. Pin the fabrics in place, then sew along this edge as you did before.
Turn the two pieces right-side out, and this is what you’ll have: The exterior fabric will fold in and create a border on the lining side.
Be sure to evenly distribute the fabric so the lining is centered and the border on each side is even, and then iron the sides so that the seam is flat and the edges are creased.
This process makes the exterior fabric wrap around to the lining side so that if the edges of your curtain panels flip out slightly, you’ll see your decorative fabric and not the lining.
5. Insert the weights
Now we need to finish the hem and insert the weights. As you can see, when you turn your panels right-side out, there will be a spot at the bottom where the raw edge of your fabric is visible (in the 2″ space where the lining doesn’t cover the seam). Turn this raw edge under 1/2″ and press it.
Then slide a weight under the edge of the fabric, tucking it into the space where the fabric wraps around to meet the lining. Using a needle and thread, tack the weight in place by sewing the fabric tab on the top of the weight to the inside wrapped portion of the curtain. Finally, use the needle and thread to sew the interior folded edge closed (i.e., the edge you just folded under and ironed).
Repeat to add another weight on the other bottom corner of each panel.
A note about the hem: The hem of the lining and the hem of the exterior do not get sewn together. The idea is that they each hang freely, which helps the curtain panels to hang straight, without puckering. The hem is made 2″ shorter than the exterior just to avoid any chance that the hem might peek out from the bottom or become visible when the curtains move.
6. Finish the top edge
Here’s what the top edge of your panel should look like: The exterior will extend 3″ above the lining.
Simply fold the exterior down 3″ over the lining, and press it in place.
7. Attach the pleating tape
Finally, it’s time for the pleating tape! Simply cut a piece of tape that is as wide as your curtain panel (folding under the raw edges of the tape 1/4″ and pressing them). Align the tape with the top edge of the curtain panel.
Okay, now we’re going to take a brief detour so I can tell you about a little trick. As you can see, the drapery hook here is not as tall as the pleating tape. (I could not find hooks the same size as my tape.) If I were to sew the tape in place as is, the hook, as you can see, would fall about 1″ from the top edge of the curtain panel. What this would mean is that my curtain fabric would extend 1″ beyond the spot where I hang it, which in my case would mean that it would partially cover my curtain rings. I wanted my panels to float just below my curtain rings, so I needed a fix for this.
My solution, since I couldn’t find skinner pleating tape in the style I wanted, was to simply fold under the top edge of the tape and iron it in place. This solution worked just fine, and as you can see, now the hooks meet the top edge of the curtain. So if you have a similar issue, know that you can play around with the tape to make it do what you want!
Once you’re happy with the placement of the tape, pin it in place, using lots of pins along both edges so nothing will shift. Then simply sew it to the curtain panel, stitching along the dotted line at the bottom of the tape, as well as along the top edge of the tape. (Be sure to check that the pockets of your tape are situated at the bottom with the opening of the pockets on the outside!)
Here’s how everything will look at this stage: The panel is finished on all sides with no raw edges visible, and the tape is stitched flat to the panel, flush with the top edge.
8. Time to pleat!
We made it! It’s time to pleat! All that’s left is to insert the prongs of the pleating hooks into the pockets of the tape.
Slide the hooks all the way in . . .
And you’ve got pleats!
You can place the hooks at any interval you like, depending how close you want your pleats to be. I placed mine with three or four empty pockets between each pleat.
Here’s how they look on the front. Magic!
Place each hook on your curtain rings or rod, and sit back and admire your work!