Curtains are one of the many design factors and any room and, if the windows are large, they can become its most important feature. To get precisely the effect you want, pay attention to the many details which make one pair of curtains look completely different from another. Make a list of these and go through each point, deciding what suits your taste and your window.
Types of heading
A curtain’s heading is the way it is gathered before it is attached to the track and the type of heading you choose will dictate the amount of material you need for the curtain.
This type is the easiest to make and the cheapest since it requires just one and a half times the width of the track in material. Looking very much like the random gathering on a skirt waistband, it is suitable for curtains where the top will be hidden behind a pelmet or for simple, short, unlined curtains.
Also very easy to do, this heading is more even and formal than the gathered type and needs two to three times the track width in material to look effective.
A very formal triple pleat which alternates with flat sections of material. The finest pinch pleats are gathered and sewn by hand and take two to two and a half widths of the track.
This heading consists of single, cylindrical pleats often stuffed with cotton wadding or tissue paper so they keep their plump shape. Like pinch pleats, they alternate with flat sections of fabric and are still done by hand in curtain workshops, taking about double the track width.
Although the best pinch and cartridge pleats are still hand-made! you can buy heading tape for all four types. One company now distributes a slightly different kind of heading tape which gives a smocking effect at the top of the curtain. This tape is sewn with four rows of stitching and requires about twice the width of the track in material. In theory, all you have to do is sew these tapes to the top of the curtain and pull the cords to get the required heading; but in practice some headings are easier to handle than others. To get the best results, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and never skimp on material. It is much better to buy a generous quantity of cheap cotton which will always look luxurious because of its fullness, than to use too little of an expensive fabric which will look mean no matter what it costs. If you are planning to use one of these tapes, ask your retailer for a cord tidy at the same time. When you pull your curtains up to the required width you will have a length ol cord left over which you will need when you want to pull them flat for cleaning this inexpensive accessory keeps this length of cord out of the way.
Deciding on length
Our grandmothers usually had heavy curtains which trailed on the floor to keep out draughts. Nowadays there are two main lengths: to the sill or to the floor – anything in between will give a very awkward ‘halfl-mast’ effect. If your curtains will hitting to sill level only, keep them just above the sill or 50 – 75mm below. Floor length curtains should clear the floor by about 13mm to protect them from dust and dirt. If they are very long and heavy, allow 50mm clearance since they are bound to drop after a time. Sill length curtains are best when there is a radiator under the window since long ones will prevent heat getting into the room. If you need light and privacy at the same time, choose cafe curtains which are usually hung to sill length from a pole fitted halfway down the window. Whichever style you decide on special weighted tape sewn into the hem will make your curtains hang more neatly.
Lining and interlining
Unless you particularly want the light to filter in through your curtains, it is almost always better to line them, usually with cotton sateen. Besides helping them to hang more attractively lining protects curtains from dirt and from the sun which will fade and damage any fabric exposed to it over a long period of time. The lining fabric can be hung separately from your curtains so you can take it down for washing, but you will find the curtains look better if the lining and fabric are treated as one. To give the outside of your house a co-ordinated appearance use the same colour lining throughout. Cream or ecru is usually best unless most of your curtains are white or have a white background, in which case white lining would be more appropriate. There are several special linings on the market which add more to the effectiveness of your curtains than ordinary ones.
Available only in cream, this lining costs more than the normal types but is very useful where you want to block out all the sun’s rays, such as in a nursery where children could have difficulty sleeping while it is still light.
This has a special aluminium backing which keeps out more light than ordinary sateen and helps to insulate your home against cold in winter and heat in summer. Although the side which faces the curtain fabric has a metallic look, the other side is quite plain and available in a wide range of colours.
A flame-resistant material often used in public buildings and office blocks. It consists of plain sateen treated with a fireproof substance.
Interlined curtains, which are especially thick, soft and heavy, have an additional layer between the curtain fabric and the lining. Usually called bump, this is a thick cotton which has its surface brushed up to make it thicker and help it cling to the other two layers. Interlined curtains offer effective insulation and are particularly good in rooms which are subject to cold and draughts.
Pelmets and valances
A pelmet is a piece of buckram (coarse linen or cloth stiffened with gum or paste) or wood which you place over the top of the curtains to conceal the track and heading. If this covering is gathered or pleated, it is called a valance, while a single piece of draped fabric is called a swag. With the advent of plainer, good looking tracks, these are becoming less common; but if you find your track unattractive, fix a pelmet or valance yourself or buy one ready made.
The most common curtain decoration is a set of tie backs which give the window a formal look and hold the curtains back so as much light as possible is allowed in. If your window is very narrow, make a single curtain and hold it to one side with a tie. Link your curtains to other design elements in the room by fixing a border decoration or band in fabric which has been used for upholstery, cushions or lampshades. One particularly fancy curtain is called a festoon and is lifted up by cords running vertically at intervals across it, rather than pulled to each side. A very old fashioned style of curtain, these were often used in restaurants and public houses.
Before you buy your fabric measure carefully, calculating the width and length of material required from the track and not from the window itself. There is no such thing as an average window and you will not know what you need unless you take precise measurements.