I have been sitting on this post for over a month now. Seriously. Bad Genoa. I made curtains for our new apartment right after moving in, but I have had an unusually tricky time writing about it. Curtains aren’t a difficult DIY in the cutting and sewing sense, but they are harder on the wallet than you might expect. Two apartments in a row now I have made my own curtains, and both times I spent way more than I intended to.
So here it goes. I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer: DIY curtains are rarely economical. They’re the sort of project for somebody who knows exactly what they want, but can’t find it in a store. If you’re planning on saving a bunch of money by making your own curtains, hopefully my Monday morning quarterbacking of this project will help. Either plan carefully, or make a trip to Ikea.
The new place has west-facing wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling windows in both the bedroom and living room, and we are only a stone’s throw away from the next building over. I found the ease with which I could watch my neighbors eat dinner to be a little creepy, so curtains were a priority.
The living room windows are thirteen feet wide and the bedroom windows are eight, so I needed a creative solution for hanging curtains. I figured out pretty quickly what I wanted: thin, lightweight curtains, preferably made from organic cotton, that would block peeping eyes but not the late afternoon sun and slide easily across the room.
I got the idea of using rings at the top for easy sliding from these chambray voile panels from the Company Store, but they’re expensive! I would have needed nine of their 44″ wide panels.
I decided to design my curtains based on Pottery Barn’s sheer voile. Voile is a thin gauzy cotton, perfect for letting in sunlight. Another great option for natural curtains is linen, a thicker woven cotton. Fabric choice is important because enough yardage to make curtains can be expensive. Look for deals, buy in bulk, and pay attention to the width of the fabric. You will need from 1.5-2x as much fabric as the width of the windows. I purchased my voile from Organic Cotton Plus. They have the best selection of organic GOTS certified fabric I have ever found, and they do both wholesale and small orders. Many of these fabrics can also be found on Etsy.
(Note: Organic Cotton Plus sells their fabric mostly in 5 or 10 yard pieces, so if you buy from them you should factor this in to the amount of fabric you need, and also probably double check with them that they will be shipping large enough pieces of fabric for your project. I actually only needed 18 yards but the free shipping made it worth it to buy two ten yard pieces.)
Hardware is the other important (and expensive) part of curtain making. If you are on a budget, try to either make your own hardware or use as little as possible. Using clip top rings was my most expensive mistake, but I really did want my curtains to slide easily. Rod pocket curtains would have saved $80 (!), but more of that to come.
Figuring out how to hang the curtains across the room took a little research and creativity. One option was to mount a tension wire across the top of the windows, but based on the construction of the walls we settled on a homemade bar made from iron plumbing pipe mounted on two notched blocks at either end of the room. My seriously awesome creative handy father thought up this system. (Thank you Papa!) The black rods have a rustic feel and are much cheaper than authentic curtain hardware.
And now for the DIY…
The sewing part of this project is simple, requiring only basic sewing skills and some patience for working with large pieces of fabric. All you have to do is cut strips of fabric to the height of the ceiling and hem each end. That’s it.
Materials for the panels
- fabric (duh)
- fabric scissors or rotary cutter
- tape measure
- iron and ironing board or cardboard and a towel
- sewing machine
- thread to match your fabric
Step one: Figure out how much material you need, and find it.
Measure the height of your ceiling and the width of your windows. You will need curtains that are a few inches shorter than your ceiling (unless you want them to drag on the floor) and anywhere from 1.5-2x the width of your windows. I skimped on panel width and made 60″ wide panels for every 40″ of window, which came out to four 60″ wide panels in the living room and two in the bedroom. My ceilings are 96″ tall, so allowed 3 yards (108″) for each panel, totaling 18 yards of 60″ wide fabric.
When fabric shopping, pay close attention to the fabric width. Standard widths are 42-44″ and 58-60.” Some special interior design fabric come even wider. Obviously, the wider it is the fewer panels you will need.
I bought organic cotton voile in bulk, but if you are feeling particularly thrifty and don’t have super high ceilings you could make cheap no-sew curtains out of old sheets.
Step 2: Prewash and iron your fabric.
Always wash your fabric before you sew anything in the same manner you will clean the finished curtains. Don’t forget to press the fabric to make cutting easier. This step is a little trickier than it sounds when you are working with large cuts. I layered a big piece of cardboard and a towel over an empty desk to protect it and ironed there, using clean laundry baskets to make sure the fabric didn’t touch the floor.
Step 3: Cut & Hem
I chose not to finish the sides of my panels. The selvedge, the kind of scruffy finished edge that runs the long way across your fabric, will not unravel, and unless you really don’t like the looks of it, I recommend just leaving it and saving yourself hours of boring pressing and sewing.
To finish the top and bottom of my panels, I started by cutting a straight edge across the top of piece of fabric. Next, without cutting any more, I sewed a simple double turned hem by pressing in ~1/4″ and then folding and pressing another ~7/8″ under so that the raw edge was hidden. With the wrong side up, I then sewed a line of stitching 3/4″ from the pressed edge, just inside the fold.
After I hemmed the top, I cut the curtain to 96″ (figuring that it would lose about another inch once I hemmed the bottom). This step is best done on the floor if you don’t have a realllllly big table. I folded the fabric in half the long way, measured 96″ from the top of my hem with a tape measure, and then chopped. I finished the bottom of the panel in exactly the same manner as the top. With the remaining big chunk of fabric I hemmed the top of the next panel, repeating the cut and hem steps until I had six completed curtains, each slightly shorter than my ceiling height.
Step 4: Hang the curtains
I can’t quite give you a blow-by-blow on how to make a curtain rod out of plumbing pipes because my father put mine together while I was at school, but here are the materials we used. He took two blocks of wood about an inch think and notched them so that the curtain rod would sit on top. Those were mounted on the wall. The pipe for the living room is actually two pieces of pipe joined with a connector. I used black iron pipe 3/4″ diameter from the plumbing section of Home Depot.
To hang the curtains, I used 1 1/2″ diameter clip rings from Bed Bath and Beyond,
one two packages of seven for each panel. With fabric this thin, clips need to be spaced not more than four or five inches apart, or the curtains will sag in the middle and look funny. Special thank you to my mother for buying me five more packages of clip rings than I originally though I needed.
Overall cost breakdown:
- Fabric: $120
- Hardware: ~$90.
Final thoughts: This project was not the cheapest, but I did get exactly what I wanted.
Do you have any tips for cost effective DIY curtains? Any fabrics or ready made curtains that you love?