Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DIY Pinch Pleat Drapes - Pleating and Finishing

When admiring pinch pleat drapes, the first thought is normally how intimidating the pleats look -- so uniform and perfect.  But the truth is, pleating is the easy part.  For me, stressing over exact measurements and making sure everything is perfectly straight is the hard part. Once I have gotten this far, with all my panels sewn together, the rest is just plain exciting -- seeing the flat panels turn into perfect pinch pleats.  

Sewing game plan:
1 - Cut out fabric panels and half widths
2 - Sew fabric panels
3 - Cut out lining panels and half widths
4 - Sew and hem lining panels 
5 - Sew buckram into fabric panel
6 - Sew lining into fabric panel
7 - Finish top corners
8 - Sew and pleat buckram
9 - Hem fabric and finish bottom corners

This diagram shows how your panels should look at the top at this point.  All raw edges are hidden, the buckram is fully encased, and the back looks as clean as the front.  All the pleating will be happening with the buckram hem because the buckram is what makes the pleats crisp and sturdy.  

Dividing the top for pleating:
For traditional pinch pleat drapes, 3 pleats are created in each pleat section, and each pleat section is separated by a space.  So the top of your drapes are basically space, pleat, space, pleat, space, pleat, space, etc. -- always starting and finished with a space.  A standard rule of thumb is that each pleat section should be 5 inches wide and each space section should be 4 inches wide.  Also, most consider 10 - 12 pleats per panel to be standard.  
- Measure the top width of your full drapery panel.  Mine was 75.25 inches
- Next, I tried calculating with 10 pleats - 10 pleats x 5 inches = 50 inches needed for pleats.  To balance 10 pleats I would need 11 spaces - 11 spaces x 4 inches = 44 inches needed for spaces.  Adding the pleats and spaces together = 94 inches, which is way longer than my panel (which was 75.25 inches).
- So I decreased by 2 and calculated for 8 pleats - 8 pleats x 5 inches = 40 inches needed for pleats.  To balance 8 pleats I would need 9 spaces - 9 spaces x 4 inches = 36 inches needed for spaces.  Adding the pleats and spaces together = 76 inches!  That is much closer to the width of my panel.  
The key with these measurements is that you want to make your pleats proportional.  So if you only get 9 pleats, that is ok, even them all out.  If you want 12 pleats but it means that your pleats can only be 4.5 inches and the spaces 3.5 inches, that is ok, just make sure they are all the same.  There is no right or wrong here, the only caution would be to not make your pleat section so small (less than 3 inches) to where you don't get a nice pleat and drape when the curtains are hung.
But with those calculations I need 0.75 inches more than I have.  So instead of subtracting a small portion from each pleat, I decided to subtract 0.375 from each space on the end.  Both ends will be the same, so visually everything will still be proportional.  Here is the diagram of exactly how I laid out my pleats and spaces.
- Pins were placed in the fabric to separate pleat sections from space sections.  Starting from one end I measured 3.625 inches, pin, 5 inches, pin, 4 inches, pin, 5 inches, pin, etc. So that there was a pin at every white line on the previous diagram. 
- Starting at one end, fold the panel in the middle of a pleat section, with the lining sides together and matching the pins of that pleat section.  
- Sew a 4 inch seam (from the top of the panel to the bottom of the buckram hem) where your pins are located.
- Repeat for each pleat section, creating 1 large pleat out of each section. 

Triple pleating your pleats:
- Lay the panel on a flat surface with all your large pleats sticking straight up.
- Pinch the pleat fold and push down, separating the pleat section into 3 equal pleats.  Don't worry about measuring this, just visualize equal proportions for each pleat.
- Run your finger along the two new pleats on the sides to crease buckram.
- Fold the two new pleats up beside the middle pleat.
- Pinch triple pleats together to crease buckram in place.
TA-DA!!  That is it!  All the magic was in those 5 steps. :) 
- Repeat for the remaining single pleat sections.  The sturdiness of the buckram should be enough to keep the pleats folded and in place until you tack them.

Which type of pleat do you want?
With the pleats folded, they only need to be tacked together to stay in place.  Question is, what type of pleat do you want, so you know where you need to tack them?  French pinch pleats are tacked at the bottom of the buckram while Euro pinch pleats are tacked at the top of the buckram.  Goblet pleats are also tacked at the bottom, but then the top portion of the pleat is opened up to form a cylinder.  
Personally, I like the drape of a traditional French pinch pleat, so that is what we did.  
- Using ultra-strong button thread, tack the bottom of each triple pleat.  With thick fabric, this can be difficult so use a thimble and double up your thread so you only have to sew through each pleat twice.  

Adding hooks for hanging:
There are many different hook options for hanging your pleated drapes on the drapery rings. Pick the ones that work with your curtain rods.  
- Working from the back of your pleated panel, pierce the fabric and buckram right next to the pleat seam with your hook.  Be careful not to go all the way through to the front of your panel -- you want the sharp end of the hook to remain inside the buckram hem.  
- At each end, put a hook in the fabric next to the inside corner edge.

Hemming the drapery panel:
Even though we already hemmed the lining, I have saved the hemming of the fabric until last.  Why?  Because you want the hem to be perfect, but not necessarily perfectly straight. As discussed before with hanging your rod, most walls, windows, and floors aren't perfectly straight, so if your hem is, then it might look off.  Especially in older homes where there is a slight sagging of the floor, I have noticed when the drapes hang out from the window they don't go all the way to the floor because the floor is actually 1/4 inch lower 5 inches out from the wall.  Easy way to bypass this issue is to hang your drapes first, then measure and hem them.
- Hang pleated drapes by your rod with the bottom puddling at the bottom
- Use your finger to create a right angle with the bottom of the panel on the floor.  Place a pin at the point at which the fabric meets the floor.  Be careful not to pull the drapes tight, you want them to just hang naturally.
** If you want your drapes to always puddle, then you can skip the measuring and jump right to hemming.  If you want your drapes shorter, so they don't hit the floor, use this pin to measure up from for your desired length.   
- Place pins, marking the hem, along your panel every 10 inches, making sure to put a pin at each side.
- Remove the panel from the rod for hemming.
- Fold the fabric back along your pins and iron the fold-line.  If you were to pin this fold and rehang the panel, this fold-line should perfectly skim the floor.  This is the bottom of your hem.
- Fold the remaining fabric again, 4 inches below this fold-line to encase the raw edge and create a hem.  Iron 4 inch fold.  You might notice here that the remaining fabric isn't even, which means your hem isn't straight, but because we measured for the hem, it will be perfectly parallel to the floor regardless of being straight or not.
- Blind stich hem with invisible thread starting and stopping approximately 2 inches in from each side.  

Adding weights and finishing bottom corners:
Basic curtain weights are inexpensive and can be purchased at most fabric stores, so don't skip out on them.  Even if your fabric is heavyweight, the square weights are still needed at the corners.  With all the stitching and folding at the edges, the bottom corners of drapery panels tend to 'flare out' instead of hanging nicely to the floor.  Weighting the corners down will keep the edges and corners in place.  
- Drop a weight in the side fold of each bottom corner.
- Fold the side hem back into place and pin.
- Using invisible thread, top-stitch the side and bottom to finish the bottom corner of each side hem.
- Repeat for remaining corners.
*Notice how the lining hem covers the top of the fabric hem.  Make sure this is in place before you sew your corners.

Final steps:
- Hang the drapes. 
- Steam to remove wrinkles from handling while sewing.
And with that, the drapery panels are completely finished!!  Let's admire the finished product...
(Dusk is not ideal for taking pictures, but hopefully I can update these when the whole room is finished)

As for my client, Prudence, she was delighted with her new dining room drapes.  After having bare window frames for 20 years, adding curtains made a huge impact on the overall feel and visual warmth of the room.  The paisley fabric and golden rods were perfect when everything was installed.  I can't wait to see the full dining room once the table, paintings, and accessories are all pulled together.   

So what do you think?  Aren't you impressed with how easy those darn triple pleats actually are?  I love watching the flat panel quickly come to life with pleats.  Ready to 'clothe' your room with custom pinch pleat drapes?  Before you start into making your own curtains be sure to check back for my next post about Custom Drapery Tips.  Whether you are making pinch pleat drapes or not, these tips will definitely be helpful in making the whole process smooth.  

xo - megan

DIY Pinch Pleat Drapes - Tutorial Links:

PS.  Still not ready to tackle custom drapes on your own?  I am always happy to create some for you.  Email me for details on commissioned drapery.


  1. Amaze balls!!! I will never attempt to make these myself, but your tutorial is wonderful! Very clear to follow, and I love the diagrams! Of course I love the drapes too. One I get a house and need custom panels I will commission you!

    1. Thanks Kris!! Diagrams are so much easier to follow when the panels are too big to photograph all in one shot. Just give me a call, I am eager to try some big chevron drapes, which I know you would love :)

    2. hi there Megan! I literally just Stumbled onto your site and I'm SOOO Envious~!!! thank you for the tuturial as it will take years for me to get here (I'm just now learning to thread and figure out stich designs on my machine) lol.. if you do not mind me asking. WHERE Did you get this GORGEOUS Fabric ?

  2. This tutorial is EXCELLENT! I just received a bolt of fabric today and I'm ready to start my drapery project!

    1. Thanks so much Stephanie!! I love getting new fabric to start a new project. Good luck with your drapes -- I hope they turn out amazing. If you have any questions along the way, I would be happy to try and answer them for you. Share pictures when you are done!!

  3. I am making my first set of drapes for my daughter, a designer, and found your directions to be extrememly easy to follow. Thank you for your help!!

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have no idea how much I am loving on you right now. I have wanted to and feared sewing pinch pleats for so long. Thanks to you, I now have a beautiful drape hanging, and am getting ready to start on my second. My friends don't believe I did it, it looks so good. You are so talented, and kind for posting such an understandable and detailed tutorial.

  5. I'm planning to make floor to ceiling drapes for a wall 17 ft long(it has a 10 ft long "tryptic" window in it and I like to pull my drapes COMPLETELY off the glass. I want a bit of a luxurious look, and will cover the ceiling track that holds these drapes with a valence of sorts.

    So 17 ft wide = 204 inches, which is roughly 4 panels at 51 inches ea (finished size, post-pleating). If I figure about 2.5x in fullness -- then I'll be working with 4 panels 128 inches in width when I go to pleat them.

    Here's what I'd like advise on, if you're willing to say:
    a) since the drapes will be almost 8 ft tall, I'm thinking to make the pleat longer than average; that is to get 6" wide buckram -- is that a good width of buckram for this application?

    b) with each panel being 128 inches before pleating -- should I still plan on only 10-12 pleats per panel or more like 20-25 pleats per panel. In other words, if standard is 5 inches fabric width for pleat, 4 inches in between pleats... so I keep that scale, or scale up and if the latter, what a maximum on the width to plan for each pleat? 8 inches or so?

    c) and finally, if I'm going to take 2.5 widths of fabric for each panel do I put the 1/2 width in between the other 2 widths or on a mating edge with the next panel? Would the answer to that change if I am going to border the panel in a contrasting fabric?

  6. Tutorial was great, but where did you find those rods?

  7. This is a fantastic tutorial. Thanks for being so generous with your time and for not teaching a "dumbed-down" version of the real thing. Great fabric is so expensive and so detailed instructions, helpful math, awesome photos and the wisdom of experience is so encouraging! I particularly like that (unlike so many curtain tutorials) you do the hem last....I live in an old house (i.e. no perfectly straight floors) and wouldn't dream of hemming the bottom until the end. I cringe when I see tutorials that have you hem near the beginning of the project and wonder how many crooked curtains there are out there in the world because of it. Thanks again!

    1. @Janelle: Totally agree with you re leaving the finishing of the lower hem until last. Also, something that I have learned (vie trial and error) pin up your drapes and let them hang for two days or so to 'allow the fabric to relax' particularly if the fabric is of a heavier weight (and/or lining is attached) as sometimes it can stretch. Then go back and if necessary adjust, then complete/sew the hem. -Brenda-

  8. Wow. I have been searching the internet far and wide to find a good tutorial for this. As a major user of internet tutorials, and also as someone who rarely posts on blogs, I just gotta reach out. This is so super clear - pictures, markings on pictures, computer diagrams, wording. Nice work! I didn't know about the buckwheat;) stuff, will go buy some in the morn. Thank you so much!


  9. Thanks for posting this, it was more than helpful! Here is my public Thank you

  10. Made a comment on your previous post -- 'Sewing Drapery Panels' and again must say this is the best tutorial that I have ever read re construction of pleated drapes. Have been a sewer myself for many, many years. (Both garments and interior decor.) Think the only thing that I can add is; if printing Stephanie's instructions off, use a 'legal size paper' format as it will take less paper. ☺ -Brenda-
    (I am going to pass this along to one of my friends to encourage her to try sewing her own.)

  11. I am very thrilled with this tutorial. I had no intention of making my own pinch pleats, but with your instructions I am going to go for it! The buckram kind look so much better than the kind made with the tape! I also followed your suggestion to look at Mary Jo's for fabric and found a gorgeous choice for my little girl's freshly painted room. Goodbye, Target curtains! Thanks again.

  12. I want to comment that I used this tutorial last year to make draperies for my living room, and they turned out great! Your instructions took all of the "fear" out of making pinch-pleated draperies. Everything you wrote was so clear and user-friendly. Very inspirational. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and publish this.

  13. I too find your tutorial very helpful. And your description of European pleats solved my mystery. I want to make a pleated valance with the pleats 10" to 12" (12 " spaces) apart so it drapes from my wooden rings. The look I want is very soft - is it possible that this is achieved without buckram? Or are there varieties of buckram that are not stiff?
    Thanks for your very clear description of this process.

  14. Thank you, thank you so very much for taking the time to make this excellent tutorial! I have done a lot of professional sewing including window treatments but this was my first attempt at pinch pleated drapes, and I followed your instructions all the way. Now I'm done and it really wasn't as intimidating as it seemed when I took on the project. l am so very appreciative!!

  15. I notice the lining is never sewed at the top. Why is this?

  16. Thank you for the wonderful, clear instructions on how to do the drapes. I make bridal wear professionally and have made the odd set of drapes in the past, but it was so tedious. Your instructions are excellent and so easy to follow. I have completed my drapes, save the hem and they are looking lovely thus far. I have not been able to find the type of hook you showed under "Pleating and Finishing" here in Perth, Australia. Would you mind suggesting where I may find these and give me the particular name and size of the hook. I will order them in (since I am doing several rooms worth of drapes). Many thanks. Karen

  17. Thank you for this wonderful tutorial. I have been sewing for years but didn't feel confident in making Custom pleated drapes so I have waited 8 years for dining, living room and master bedroom drapes! .I am ready to pleat my first drape and love all the pictures and diagrams. Wonderful, simple instructions for pleat and space sizes too.can't wait to finish this set of drapes and go on to the next.

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  21. loved the pleat diagram! Your tutorial was very helpful in making my curtains. I referenced your blog in mine. Take a look!

  22. Great tutorial. Now I can finish my curtains. Thank you.

  23. thank you! I was having such trouble figuring out how to make pleats even! Life saver!

  24. haven't made them yet but am very confident that by following your instructions they will turn out fabulous! thank you :)

  25. Great tutorial, I am working on my drapes but my fabric is awful. Won't lay flat, seems off grain, but getting close. I have a seam, as I did a panel and 1/2. Seems too bulky to put that seam and the lining seam in a pleat, but not really looking forward to recalculating to get the seam in the flat area--ideas?

  26. Hello:

    Thank you for the posting and great information. I am in the process of adjusting the lining on the berthing drapery for our boat. It looks like they cut both the fabric and lining, sewed them together, then created the pleats. What happens is that the lining shows beyond the length of the drapes in a semi-circle shape as it nears the center. I noticed you hemmed your lining separately. Otherwise, I was wondering if there is a formula to adjust the curve of the lining if they are sewn in this faster, production-oriented environment. Thanks for reading/listening and sew on!

  27. Just about ready to put in the pleats and am wondering why there's no seam to hold the lining to the drape fabric - the 4" seam in the buckram to make the pleat looks like it won't catch all the lining to hold it once the drapes go up. Should there be a seam just below the buckram to hold everything together at the top?


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