How to | Make curtains

Here’s our professional guide to making hand-finished lined pencil pleat curtains. Methods for interlined curtains and hand-finished headings differ a bit, but the basic sequence remains the same. This guide shows you the process our makers follow when creating made-to-measure curtains. It assumes that you have some sewing skills and suitable equipment, including a sewing machine.

Cutting out fabric and lining

Step 1

Refer to our measuring guide and curtain fabric calculator to help with the size specification and quantities for your curtains. You will need to have planned how many widths of fabric (drops) you need and the required finished length of the curtains.

Step 2

Find a spacious flat surface to use a worktable (dining table or floor covered with a blanket and a clean sheet, for example).

Step 3

Check you have the correct fabric and it’s the right way out and right way up. Check for flaws before beginning to cut the fabric.

Step 4

Unroll a couple of metres of fabric (face side up) onto your worktable and decide on the best position for the pattern in relation to the top and bottom of the finished curtain. Make sure you allow for turnings, plan and pin where to make the curtain hem for the first drop of fabric.

Step 5

Adding a 15cm (6”) allowance for hem turnings plus a suitable allowance for the top turning (enough to allow the raw edge to finish behind the heading tape – e.g. 5cm (2”) for 3” pencil pleat tape), cut the first drop of curtaining and leave this drop face up on the worktable.

Step 6

Now unroll more fabric onto the top of your first drop, so that the fabric is face-to-face.

Step 7

Match the pattern carefully by aligning one of the edges and checking the pattern exactly matches between the two pieces of fabric. Keep this match aligned by holding it in position with a couple of pins.

Step 8

Cut the second drop of fabric to length, having matched it to the first drop, allowing for hems and tops as before. You may have “waste” to cut off from the second drop, which is the redundant part of the pattern repeat.

Step 9

If you are making a pair of curtains with just one drop of fabric in each curtain, you have now completed the cutting out stage and can progress to Step 16 below.

Step 10

If you are making a pair of curtains (or single curtain) of more than two widths total and if your fabric has a straight horizontal match continue with cutting the third drop. If you are making a pair of curtains with 1 ½ drops in each but if the pattern repeat is staggered or half-drop (not a straight horizontal match), see Step 14.

Step 11

Fold the second drop in half along its length to expose its face side and align its edge with the other matched edges.

Step 12

Unroll the fabric face side down, so it is face-to-face with the folded half of the second drop, match the pattern with the second drop and hold in place with a pin.

Step 13

Cut the third drop, allowing for turnings and removing waste as before.

Step 14

If you are making a pair of curtains with just 1 ½ drops in each curtain, you have now cut all your drops. You now need to cut along the centre line of the entire length of the middle (folded over) drop, creating two pinned panels of 1 ½ drops each. When making up the curtains, the half-widths go to the outside (the returns edges). Note that if your pattern match is not a “straight match” (the pattern is not exactly horizontally matched to the next drop) you can’t swap the half widths in this way. Instead, you need to cut the 3 drops in as ½, then 1 then ½, so that the meeting (leading) edges of the curtain will match. In this case, care should be taken to plan the cut positions of the first and third cuts (the half-widths) since they will not start and stop at the same points of the pattern match.

Step 15

Repeat the same process, laying the fabric face-to-face, pattern matching, pinning, allowing for turnings and cutting to length until you have cut out the total number of drops required for your curtains. Remember that, for fabrics with a staggered pattern match, if you are making a pair of curtains with a half-drop in each curtain (example: 2 ½ drops per curtain) special care is needed – refer to Step 14 above.

Step 16

Now cut your linings. If the lining is the same width as your fabric, you will need the same number of drops. If the fabric is more than about 10cm (4") wider than the lining, you will need to allow extra drop(s) of lining to fully span the fabric width. If the fabric is a bit narrower than the lining, you can trim off excess lining at the making-up stage.

Step 17

The linings should be cut to include 15cm (6”) for hems and enough turning at the top to finish behind the heading tape - 5cm (2”) for pencil pleat tape. Because the finished lining hem will sit 2.5cm (1”) higher than the curtain hem, the total cut length of the lining in this case will be curtain finished length less 2.5cm (1") (set up from hem) plus 15cm (6") (hem turning) plus 5cm (2") (top turning).

Step 18

Cut the required number of lining drops. Make half-widths where appropriate to coordinate with half-widths of fabric (for example, for a pair of curtains with 1 ½ drops in each curtain).

Making curtains

Sewing drops together

Step 19

Seam the lining drops together, by aligning the edges and straight stitching with a sewing machine down the length, just inside the lining selvedge (edging). For example, for a pair of curtains with 2 widths in each curtain, you will just have 2 vertical seams to stitch. Take care to identify which side of the lining you are using as the visible side and, when seaming, lay visible side to visible side, so that when joined the selvedges will be on the “back” of the lining. Use an iron to press out the seams.

Step 20

Press the lining hem over twice, 7.5cm (3”) and 7.5cm (3”). Machine along the top of this hem with a straight stitch.

Step 21

Now seam the fabric drops together. For plain fabrics, the process is the same as for the linings. For patterned fabrics, with two drops laid face-to-face, peel back the selvedge of one fabric layer to decide where the seaming line best runs down the drop of fabric to achieve the best possible pattern match. Use an iron to press a line along this match position. Now use as many pins as you need to match the pattern carefully between the two drops.

Step 22

Repeat Step 21 for each seam line.

Step 23

Now carefully machine sew with a straight stitch along the seam lines, fabric face-to-face.

Step 24

Place your fabric face down on the worktable and use an iron to press out the seams thoroughly.

Step 25

Some selvedges may be “springy” causing the fabric to gather a little. If so, making little snips into the selvedge at 10cm intervals to relive any tension in the selvedge stitching. On lighter fabrics, it is sometimes possible for the writing or colour references printed onto the selvedge may show through to the face side of the fabric in strong light. If there is a risk of this, cut off the selvedge edges that have writing on, but do not go too close to your sewn seam.

Sewing curtains

Assembling curtains

Step 26

You are now ready to start assembling and finishing the curtains. You first work on the fabric of the curtains, with one curtain at a time laid face down on your worktable.

Step 27

At the bottom of the curtain press up a 7.5cm (3”) crease and then a further 7.5cm (3”) crease for a double-turned hem. Next fold the hem back open and press a 5cm (2”) turning down each edge of the curtain. Cut off strong writing or make snips to de-tension along selvedge if necessary, as before.

Step 28

Now make the miters in the bottom corners of the curtain. These are to make tidy flat corners that do not involve cutting away excess fabric (which would prevent any later alterations). To make a mitre, unfold along the crease lines that you have made for the second hem turning and for the side of the curtain. With the first of the two hem folds left in place, turn press the corner of the curtain at 45 degrees passing through the point at which the edge fold line and the second hem fold line intersect. Your curtain will now appear to have angle corners. Now fold in the edges and the second hem fold. Your curtain will now be square again at the corner, with a neat flat join on the back angled up from the corner where the side turning meets the hem. Press with an iron.

Step 29

Lock stitch the side turnings just catching the face of the fabric with a long running stitch – anything up to 15cm long.

Step 30

Prepare curtain weights by sewing them into little lining pockets which can be made from scrap pieces. These pockets are to prevent any metallic residue on the weights making marks on your curtains.

Step 31

Hand stitch weights into the corner mitres and into the hem at the base of each vertical seam. The weights should be placed in the fabric layers away from the face of the curtain.

Step 32

Sew in the miters by hand, along the folded diagonal line.

Step 33

Hand stitch along the folded hem with a herringbone stitch along the top fold of the hem, just catching through to the face of the curtain.

Step 34

The hem and 2 sides of your curtain are now complete. With your first curtain still on your worktable, now lay in the lining. You can attend to the other curtain preparation later.

Step 35

Lay the lining reverse-side down onto the reverse side of the prepared curtain, setting the finished hem of the lining 2.5cm (1”) up from the finished hem of the curtain, and aligning one vertical unturned edge of the lining with one finished edge of the curtain. Do not worry about aligning the other edge just yet. Pin in a couple of places to hold the lining in place.

Step 36

Turn in the raw edge of the lining down the length of one side by 2.5cm (1”) and press. The turned edge of the lining should now be 2.5cm (1”) back from the finished edge of the curtain. Slip stitch by hand down the lining edge, catching through to the curtain fabric beneath, with a stitch length of about 1cm (3/8”). At the bottom of the curtain, continue this slip stitching about 3cm (1 1/4")horizontally along the lining hemline from the corner.

Step 37

Smooth out lining across back of fabric to ensure that the two components are lying flat together.

Step 38

Trim down the whole length of the second side of the lining so that the cut edge of the lining is level with the finished edge of the curtain.

Step 39

Turn in the edge of the lining 2.5cm (1”) press and stitch as before, including going around the corner at the hem.

Step 40

With the curtain carefully laid flat on the worktable, lining side up, measure up from the hem the required finished length of the curtain and turn over the curtain and lining together to make a fold at the required finished length. Press down along this fold and pin temporarily. With practice, you can combine this with pinning on the heading tape. Repeat the measure and pin operation across the whole curtain, checking the length at least every half-width of fabric.

Step 41

Prepare a length of heading tape – for example 7.5cm (3”) Pencil Pleat tape – by pulling out the gathering strings from one end and knotting them securely together on the reverse (non-pocket) side of the tape. This prevents the strings pulling through the tape when you come to gather up the curtain heading.

Step 42

With the knotted end of the heading tape at the outside (“return”) edge of the curtain (when viewed from the face side of the curtain), pin the tape along the top of the curtain in preparation for stitching (you can set the tape down if required to suit your track or pole specifications). The pins should be placed at the top of the tape to allow for cutting off excess turning (see below). Remove any temporary pins that you may have used when turning over the curtain top to length. At the far edge of the curtain, cut the heading tape about 4cm (1 ½”) beyond the finished edge of the curtain, pull through the gathering strings to the pocket side of the tape, about 4cm (1 ½”) from the cut end of the heading tape and fold the tape over to form a turning, such that the edge of the heading tape is set within the edge of the curtain.

Step 43

Now that the tape is pinned in place, cut away from under the heading tape any excess fabric or lining, turning in such a way that the trimmed line of fabric and lining is just within the depth of the heading tape, which will then act to hide the raw edges. Do not trim shorter than you need, since the “spare” fabric can come to the rescue should your curtains ever shrink after being dry cleaned.

Step 44

Pin at intervals across the bottom of the heading tape.

Step 45

Carefully selecting a suitable thread colour, machine a straight stitch through all layers across the top and across the bottom of the heading tape, handling the curtain through the sewing machine with heading tape uppermost. If your curtains are very big, you may need to support the bulk of curtaining on a table or similar arrangement or get an extra pair of hands to help guide the heading through the machine.

Step 46

Give the curtain a final press and fold up until you are ready to hang them. When folding, fold them lengthways rather than across, since any vertical creases are less noticeable than creases across the curtaining. A useful trick is to fold them vertically only, then drape them across a pole, coat hanger or the inner cardboard tube that your fabric came on.

Jane Clayton made to measure maker

Additional curtains

Step 47

Now repeat the process for sewing and assembling the next curtain.

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