Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How To Sew Curtains: Bedroom Makeover Part 1

Although making window treatments really scares a lot of people, I always tell someone who's learning to sew to start by making plain curtain panels. It's really not hard, and no intricate fitting is required. The main issue is the outlay of cash to purchase fabric, but if you try a room with just one window and look for discount fabric sources near you or online you can make them pretty inexpensively.

If you follow this blog, then you know I started the bedroom makeover over a couple weeks ago. I started cutting the fabric in my Musings post, but I'll recap in this post so you have all the information in one place. I hoped to finish the bedroom sooner, but I had another big allergic reaction. It started with a rash on my face, which I thought was acne at first, but within a day it was all over, including inside my ears and the inside of my throat and my lips were itching, so I knew it had to be allergies. I'm hoping I can recover on my own without having to go on another steroid. I had to be on the steroid for a reaction in the Fall, just a few months ago, and I like to try to keep it under once a year if I can!

I have really bad allergies. So far, I've shown some level of reaction to every single thing they've ever tested me for, but I am severely allergic to dust and dust mites and mold. Unpacking dusty boxes and renovating a house that has been sitting empty for years is hard on me. This week we painted the bedroom and my job was to crawl around on the floor painting the trim and lower walls. Everything in the room was filthy, but the carpet is particularly dirty. I vacuumed it but I no longer have a carpet shampooer and vacuuming isn't enough. What it really needs is to just be ripped out, which we will do as soon as we can afford hard floors in there.

I think the carpet, combined with the paint fumes and the dust from the attic renovation we also have in progress just overwhelmed my system. At least, I hope I am not this allergic to this new place! I've been so heavily medicated since we got here I hardly know what I'm doing. The doctor told me years ago North Carolina is the worst possible place for me to live. He said I should live in the desert and I'm also not supposed to have any carpet or curtains or upholstered furniture. That makes it really hard to get the people living with you to put up with you though! I also don't like heat, so I don't think the desert would be the best place for me. I think if we stay in North Carolina I should live on the beach...on an island, specifically! My favorite beaches here are Topsail Island and Ocean Isle. I don't even have to take medicine when I'm there, but as soon as we cross the bridge to the mainland I start sneezing.

It's probably genetic. Two of my great-grandmothers, as well as my great-great grandmother, and my great-great-great grandmother were the daughters of lighthouse keepers and grew up on islands. My great-great-great grandmother lived on Ness Island in Norway and rode a boat to school each day. My great-great grandmother was terrified of water and would not let her children learn to swim. When they rode back and forth from the island she made them lie in the bottom of the boat! So, I hope eventually to make it to an island if I have to remain here!

But, I digress. Anyway, you can read about my process for choosing the color palette and fabrics in my Art of Life post, and the previous camel wall color is pictured in my Feast entry. My favorite color is blue, specifically turquoise and robin's egg blue. I've tried several times over the years to find the perfect robin's egg blue. It should be an equal mix of blue and green, with not more of either color, and not too dark. I really like the color I found this time. It's Oasis by Olympic One paint. At first I thought it was too mint green, but that turned out to be the camel color showing through. After two coats of paint plus primer and a third coat of touch-ups here and there it's perfect.

The brocade fabric I chose at Mary Jo's has a light golden beige background with a retro-looking bird motif. I chose it because it has three shades of blue: robin's egg, turquoise, and ice blue, as well a gray brown that matches the dust ruffle I already owned, and sage green. It also has a scroll in gold, which matches our disgusting carpet (for some reason, even though this house is only 8 years old or so, the previous owners chose this horrible mustard yellow 1970s looking shag carpet and then let the house sit empty until it got so dirty it's gray around the edges of the walls), so until we can redo the floor in there at least the curtains tie the carpet in! This fabric should give me lots of choice in the future when we need to replace the bedspread or if we move again and I use these in a different room. Since it was so expensive I want to make sure I get full use out of it!

This might be the perfect robin's egg blue paint.

Before you purchase fabric you will need to calculate the yardage. When you measure your window, make sure to measure 4 inches from each side of the window and from the top of the window. You want the drapes to extend on each side (except the floor) at least 4 inches for maximum light control so if, unlike myself, you are lucky enough to get to sleep in past sunrise or if you have a bright streetlight outside, you won't be bothered by light leaking in around the curtains. If you are not making floor-length drapes, make sure to measure 4 inches past the bottom of the window as well.

If you are going to the trouble of making curtains, you will want to make sure each panel is at least 1.5 times the width of the window. I personally prefer 2 times when I can afford it. That's each panel, so I am talking about 4 times the width total. Here are some photos to help you see the difference:

The existing curtains
Here is a photo of the existing curtains. These are purchased panels, and they are actually lined, so a little nicer than many store-bought options. Still, notice each panel is only 1 times the width of the window. That means, if you pulled it across the window, the panel is the same width as the window. With two panels, these are 2 times the width of the window total. They do not extend 4 inches above or past the sides of the window, either. Notice the amount of light coming in, even though these are lined.
The new curtains.
Now see the new, handmade curtains. You will notice these, at 4 times the width of the windows, are much more full, like ball gowns. I love ball gowns. I actually found a huge box labeled "Old Ball Gowns" when we moved. Oh, the life I used to lead! We had all kinds of formal dances when I was in Alpha Phi sorority at university. I only want the ball gown lifestyle if I can have my previous college figure to go along with it, though!

Anyway, you will also see how much less light is coming in, and I took this photo before I added the lining. This is thicker fabric, but not that much! If you are going to put in the time to sew your own curtains you might as well make them look custom, in my opinion! If you are careful in your measuring and purchasing you will probably be able to sew them for less than the cost of purchasing pre-made panels as well.

Notice the increased fullness on the handmade panels. Also, note the previous wall color.
Once you've decided on the width of the panels you can calculate the yardage. You can save money several ways. You might decide against floor-length drapes, just going 4 inches past the bottom of the window. Instead of 4 times the window, you could do 3.5 times width without giving up too much of the fullness. That is more work, however, and takes some finesse when you are cutting. I will go into that later. Most home decor fabric is around 60 inches wide. My windows are 31 inches wide, so I knew I could use the width of the fabric to make panels nearly 2 times the width.

Once you have your fabric it's time to cut the panels out.
I used the existing curtains as a pattern.
As I mentioned in my Musings post, I used the existing curtains as a pattern for the length of the new drapes. I opened up the top and bottom seams of the front panel so I would make sure to account for the seam allowance. The front panel is pinned flat; the roll you see in the photo is in the lining. I wanted the new ones to be wider, though, so I used a t-square as you see in the photo to draw a straight line across the panel. If you don't have a t-square, measure from the bottom of the fabric to the length you desire and mark it on the wrong side with chalk board chalk. Do this every few inches until you get to the end and then use a ruler to draw a straight line across with your chalk. Then cut along the line.

My windows are 92 inches from the rod to the floor. Fabric is sold in yards, and a yard is 36 inches, so I would need 2.5 yards for each panel for it to reach the floor IF I didn't need to hem it or anything. I did need to hem the panels, though, as will you, and if you need a rod pocket you will need to add yardage for that. You want to make your rod pocket big enough for the curtains to slide easily across the rod, so for a rod of an inch in diameter I would allow 4-5 inches to make the rod pocket. You will also want to do a minimum 4 inch hem on the bottom so the panels don't look too cheap and so there is enough weight at the end for the panel to hang properly. If you are sewing lining onto the panels, cut the lining fabrics the same way, but make them an inch or so shorter, allowing for the extra inch and seam allowance when you cut out your drapery fabric.

Since I was using the entire width of the fabric I wouldn't even have had to hem the edges, since the selvage (the woven vertical edge of the fabric) is finished and won't fray, but the selvages on this brocade were fuzzy, so I just turned them under a half inch and again and hemmed them. If you are lining the curtains, you can do this now by placing the lining fabric wrong sides together on top of the drapery fabric and turning the edges over as one to hem them. Another option with lining is to place the fabrics right sides together and sew around three sides like a pillowcase, leaving the top of the curtain open. Then turn right side out and press, turning under the unfinished edge. Finish by hand.

Hemming the panels' length.

If you were going to use less fabric by making 3.5 times width panels you would need to buy a little extra yardage to match the pattern and for the seam allowance. You can ask the cutting table clerk to help you decide how much. Most of these ladies are pros. I myself, for instance, never do these big calculations anymore. At this point, after all the curtains I've sewn, I can pretty much just look at the windows and tell you how much material they will take!

Seam allowance is really up to you, but for most things it's 5/8 inch. To make 3.5 inch wide panels for 4 windows and save money you would cut 8 panels and then cut 4 of those panels in half vertically, marking the length as I describe with chalk. Then you would sew a half panel to each full panel vertically, moving up or down to match the pattern, and hem the outside edges. This would save, in the case of my windows, 6 yards of material. It is a bit more work, since you have to match the pattern and perform extra marking, cutting, and sewing, but if you want a custom look on a budget it's worth it. This is actually the first room I've ever done in 15 years of marriage where I actually splurged on 4 times width panels for curtains and didn't have to do all the matching and extra sewing! Really, to be truthful, these aren't quite 4 times width because this fabric is only 58 inches wide. They are close enough, though. I also would have needed 24 yards to do a really deep hem and rod pocket, but I decided I could squeeze by on 22 and still have enough for an accent pillow and I'll give you some tips on how I did that.

The finished curtain clipped onto the rod.

The first way I saved on yardage is that I didn't sew in a rod pocket. Instead I used clip rings. Clip rings are expensive, about $1 each, but they save so much in yardage and time they're pretty much all I use now. For one thing, I only did a 1.5 inch hem along the top, saving several inches from each panel that would have been used in a rod pocket. I saved time as well, because I just clipped the pleats into place rather than having to measure and sew them. Finally, I saved money on lining material. You really need to line your drapes to protect your investment. They will rot much faster from sunlight if they aren't lined. Lining fabric is much less than drapery fabric so it makes sense to spend the money on the lining. Since I was using clip rings, though, I just clipped old curtains my mom gave me to the backs of the new drapes. You could use any fabric you wanted as lining this way, and it's easy. You can use old, unwanted curtains, old curtain linings, even old sheets. Just cut and hem to fit inside each panel so the lining doesn't show from the front.

I just clipped old curtains to the backs to line the panels.
You might notice I am using two different types of clips. For some reason, even though you need about 40 clips minimum to hang four windows, most stores only stock about 14 at a time in each color. It's very frustrating and is the hardest thing about using the clip rings. Also, since I was trying to save money I am using old rings from our other house. They aren't made anymore and I don't have enough for 4 windows, so I did two windows on one wall with one type and used the other ones for the second wall. The rings are all pewter or nickel colored, though. They just look black in this photo for some reason. Since they match in color and match the rods I don't think you notice the different shapes. Maybe someday I'll have enough money at once to buy all matching ones, but it's not a high priority right now!

I'm feeling much better about the room now that the old camel colored, dirty paint is covered and the old, nasty curtains are gone. I always have a blue bedroom; it's quite nice of Jerry to put up with it, as he's never had much say in the bedroom decor. He says he wants me to be happy with the room.

My favorite color combinations are turquoise and red or light gold or beige with pretty much any light blue, like robin's egg or ice blue. Turquoise and red is a bit bright for a bedroom, though, at least in my opinion. I like a really soothing combo in there, so I usually go with a beachy palette.

The wall color is pale enough to look nearly white in certain light.

This time I used a portrait I drew of my son when he was a toddler at the beach in Michigan. This was meant to be a quick pastel study for an oil painting, but as the years went by and more children came along I gave up on the oil painting and just framed the study! I think it really does capture him as he was, though. I pulled colors from the portrait to help me choose the fabric and paint. I know brass frames are out of style right now, but I think gold is coming back again and so I don't feel like putting in the effort to re-frame it! I also wanted to match the stained glass peacock lamp, or at least coordinate with it. My step-dad made that for me.

The finished curtains and paint with the new bedspread.

My next project will be to re-cover the accent pillows on the bed. I have a turquoise and white reversible fabric in a bird silhouette pattern and a little bit of the curtain fabric to use, as well as the remnant trims I wrote about in the Art of Life post. The beige pillows on the bed are nice, but they are really old and the covers are looking pretty ratty and falling apart. I will write up another tutorial on making pillow covers once I'm finished. I hope this time to complete the project more quickly!


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