Dining Room Curtains: After

[Here's the dining room before. See how the room really called out for curtains? Feels unfinished an a bit cold. The Phillipe Stark Ghost chairs are our our old dining room chairs, and that chair on the end was out on approval. I did not, in the end, approve of it, and love the teal eames chairs, which ground the space much better than the white.]

I am usually a rule-follower. I read rule manuals for games and can be quite a stickler, I would always abide by formatting rules for papers in college, and it makes me nervous to turn when a sign declares no turn on red, even in the middle of the night when clearly no one is around. There are two major exceptions to this tendency. In baking and in sewing, two realms that actually require precision, I'm an eyeballer, a wing-it kind of a gal. When trying to make proper curtains for the dining room, I tried my best to follow instructions. I learned the hard way (my favorite way, I suppose), why a number of common practices are, in fact, common. While readers of this blog may have the budget and the good sense to hire a professional, I thought I would share my mistakes with those who might want to do it themselves. I am not going to go through the whole curtain making process--there are many, more qualified sources out there. Instead, consider this a list of warnings or addenda to keep in mind as you work through instructions from a professional source. Also, if you are a professional, do not cringe! Instead, leave a comment with any added tips, if you care to share trade secrets with us DIYers.

1. Plan your project in advance and buy the right amount of fabric.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but for some reason I have never considered a curtain that might be wider than a single width of the fabric as it comes. By the time I realized that the dining room curtains needed more fullness, there was a distinct danger that I might not be able to get another six yards from the same dyelot, especially since I bought by silk at a discount warehouse. Upon returning to the store with the existing silk in hand to match, I circled the silk section in panic. It appeared that my bolt was gone. Finally, after digging through hundreds of bolts, I found the remainder of the original bolt, and--thank goodness--it had six yards left on it. But this could have been an unhappy ending.

Any drapery book will have instructions for measuring, but basically you need the full length of your curtain from rod to floor, plus eight inches for the hem, plus about four inches for the heading (depending on heading type), and most curtains that you plan to actually close should (as opposed to stationary decorative panels) have 2 1/2 times fullness. This means that your fabric, when laid flat, is 2 1/2 times the width of the opening it needs to cover.

Here's the fabric as I'm getting used to it. Feels a bit skimpy.

2. Do not hang your fabric up "just to see how it looks"--for weeks, or even months, at a time (see photo above!)
Again, perhaps obvious. But sometimes I need to live with something for a while before fully committing. (Which is funny because I almost always commit in the end. You'd think I could skip those extra steps.) Anyway, as I learned, leaving the fabric unceremoniously hung by clips or pins can warp the fabric. My project included two panels, each with two widths of fabric. The panel made from the original silk, which had been hanging up while I mulled it over, was much more difficult to deal with than the fresh silk. The side hems were almost the end of me because of the uneven pulling and the near impossibility of pressing an even hem.

3. Measure before you start
I went ahead and assumed that the people at the fabric store had measured correctly. Turns out one persons 6 yards can be another person's 6 1/4, and that's a mighty big difference. Because, well, sewing is precise. Following directions, I went ahead and put in hems first, then side seams, THEN measured from hem to top to make sure my two panels were of equal length. Guess what? Not only were they NOT of equal length, but one of them was TOO SHORT, leaving me with a couple of bad options: lower the curtain rod or take out the hem and redo it with a much smaller allowance. It would have been more pleasant to make an informed decision in the beginning than to rip out 7 feet of seams from silk. Also, I could have gone back to the store to complain that I had not gotten the right yardage.

4. Square your fabric
Another step I skipped, and regretted skipping. Okay, I didn't skip it, but on the first panel I half assed it. Here's the thing: you can't eyeball square. It's simply not possible. Do it properly from the beginning.

5. Trim the selveges
Selveges are those woven edges that basically keep the fabric from unraveling. I'm always thought they were kind of useful in keeping things in line, but in this project I discovered that, with delicate fabrics in particular, the selveges may again pull in an uneven way. Trimming them just before you pin and sew a seam makes the pinning and sewing much smoother--literally.

Looking at this list, I'm not sure there's much I did RIGHT. Also, I realize in hindsight that 9 foot, double width curtains in silk is perhaps not the place to start when learning to pinch pleat, but remember? I'm the one who learns the hard way. (If only I could learn that lesson--not to learn things the hard way.) The good news is I applied some of these lessons to my other curtain projects for the house, and the curtains for the girls room came together quickly and beautifully.

Here's the other thing: there are NO instructional videos out there for "tiny soft pinch pleats," "fan pleats," or "parisian/french pleats." My drapery book just said to proceed as for pinch-pleats, only pinch the fabric at the very top. So I took that for what it was worth, and ended up with this.

Happily, I am loving the results, and feeling very proud of my handiwork. I think I got the effect I was going for.

Even if one panel has a proper 4 inch hem and the other is more like an inch. Even if I did the pinch pleating a couple of days apart and didn't write down what I did the first time, leaving me with a more free-form pleat on the second curtain. You know what? No one sees that but me. And any of you, now, if you come to my house.