Sunday, January 22, 2012

DIY Pinch Pleat Drapes - Sewing Drapery Panels

Yesterday I went through the basics of how to measure your window and calculate your yardage of fabric needed for making pinch pleat drapes.  Today is on to the fun part, sewing the drapery panels together!  Sewing curtains can be simple because you are only sewing straight seams the whole time, but the hard part is making sure your fabric is on the straight of the grain so the curtains hang straight... and being patient.

Yes, if there is any tip that I could ever tell anyone who is learning to sew, it is to be patient! Sewing isn't always easy, and sometimes everything goes wrong even when you know what you are doing, but from years of experience I can tell you that if you are patient and don't try to rush through your sewing project, then things will go a lot smoother.  While there aren't many seams in sewing curtain panels together, there is a lot of cutting, ironing, measuring, pinning, and aligning; these are all things that actually take a lot of time.  Just to put  a gauge on your time, I like to set aside 10 hours per panel for sewing.  I know that seems like a huge time commitment if you are wanting to sew drapes as a weekend project, but trust me, that time will pay off in the end when you admire how perfect your custom drapes are from every angle.

For sewing your pinch pleat drapes, you will also need thread and buckram:
If your drapery fabric is a solid, you made it easy on yourself: pick a solid thread that matches and proceed; however, if your fabric is patterned, well then what color thread should you use?  For drapes, I use an invisible nylon thread that can be found at most fabric stores.    If it isn't located with the other thread, then try the quilting section or near the sewing notions.  Using clear thread is key for the blind hems along the side and bottom of your drapes.  This allows you to make sure you get all the layers of fabric and lining attached together while keeping the seam invisible.  Nylon thread can be yucky to work with; it breaks easily and can melt with a super hot iron.  But believe me, it is key in professional looking drapes, so just proceed gently with it.  

Buckwhat?  Buckram is a stiff interfacing material that comes in standard widths of 4, 5 and 6 inches.  Traditionally, buckram is a cotton fabric soaked in a starch solution to make it stiff; however, in some stores you will also find a synthetic paper-like buckram.  I have used both types, and they both give a similar finished pleat.  For normal drapery lengths, 4 inch wide buckram provides a nice pleat, but if you were making drapes for vaulted ceiling windows, then 6 inches would provide a more balanced pleat to the overall curtain length. Buckram is sold by the yard and you will need enough to go along the top of each panel.  In my case, for 6 fabric widths of fabric that is 55 inches wide, I needed 9.2 yards of buckram.

Sewing game plan:
If this is your first time sewing pinch pleat drapes, I recommend sewing one set of panels (a pair that will go on the same window) first before you cut and sew all the other panels.  This way you can work out all your kinks and measurement details with this set and then go full speed into production of the others without having to stop and think each time.  Also, if something goes wrong, and your measurements don't work out on those first two panels, then you haven't ruined all your fabric and you can adjust your calculations for the remainder of the panels.  I still do this for new drapery projects, just as a safety net, because the last thing I want to do is ruin an whole bolt of expensive special order fabric.

Whether you are sewing the first set, or the remaining sets of panels, sewing curtains as an assembly process can really save time on changing thread, changing sewing feet, and ironing.  Also, sewing your panels in pairs that go on the same window, if you have multiple windows, helps simplify the process and makes sure those two panels are exactly the same. They need to look perfect together because they will be hanging right next to each other instead of across the room.  This is important when your fabric has a pattern and you are using multiple widths per panels.  The diagram shows how you want the pattern of both 1/2 width pieces of each panel to match in the center when the curtains are pulled together.  If your sets get mixed up during sewing, it might be difficult to find the match.
Basic sewing steps:
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
I want to mention that this is the process and order that I have found to work best for me; however, if a different order works best for you, then change it up.  The drapery police will not hunt you down :)
** Hold Up!**
Remember in the previous post where I mentioned that it can be a huge help to hang your curtain rod first if it is a large rod?  Well that is exactly what we did at this point.  The rods finally arrived so we put them up on the wall and took another set of measurements. Because our rods were so big, they look up 4.25 inches more of the wall than the original calculation.  With the rod in place, we measured from the bottom of the ring (where the top of the curtain panel will attach to the rings) to the floor, for a more accurate measurement of how long the drapes needed to be.  Our new finished length needed to be 84.5 inches instead of 88.75 inches.  Once the top buckram hem (6 in.) and bottom hem (6 in.) inches were added, our new total length for cutting the fabric pieces was 96.5 inches.

If you can't put the rod up before sewing your panels, it will be ok, I would just hold off on hemming the lining and fabric until you can hang the panels.  Or the other option is to sew the panels, and then adjust where you want to hang your rods according to how long your panels are.  Just remember, all walls aren't exactly straight or even, so if the molding, window and wall aren't perfectly parallel, then visually things might look off.  It is always easier to adjust your fabric a little than it is your wall, and visually, no one will notice that the panel is a little off, as long as the rod is level with the wall and all the other rods.

Enough chit-chat, lets get started!

Cutting your fabric:
When taking our new measurements with the rod in place, we determined how long each finished panel needed to be = 84.5 inches.  For my client, we needed 1.5 widths per panel and were making curtains for 2 windows.  Thus I needed to cut a total of 6 pieces of fabric at 96.5 in. long (remember we added 12 inches for the top and bottom hems).  Two of these pieces were then cut in half to be my half widths.
- Make sure your fabric end is on the straight of the grain, i.e., the cut end is as straight as possible.  This will keep your panels straight so they hang properly in the end.
- Before measuring and cutting your panels, a good tip is to cut off the selvage of each side. The selvage edge is where the pattern stops and usually has the manufacturer's name printed on it.  Often the selvage is woven tighter than the weave of the fabric, which can throw off the drape of your fabric from the edges to the middle of your curtains.  Also, when the sun is shining through your drapes, the manufacture's printing on the salvages may be visible.  It is easy enough to cut the selvages off to eliminate these problems, it just means that if your fabric is loosely woven, you will want to serge or zigzag your edges to keep them from fraying out while you are working with the panels.  You can cut off the selvages as you unroll the fabric. 
- At each side, measure 96.5 in from the cut end and mark with a fabric marker.  Use a straight edge to draw a straight line connecting the two marks.  Cut across the fabric following the line you just created.  Now you have 1 fabric piece.
- If you are matching patterns on your fabric, cutting the next panels is the tricky part.  With right sides together, lay your cut fabric piece down on your fabric.  Match the pattern on all edges and pin to keep the piece from shifting on the fabric.  Now, cut the fabric on each end at the same length as the 96.5 inch piece.  Use pins or special markings on the back side of your fabric pieces to remember which two pieces go together, and which is the top and bottom of your pieces.
- For 1.5 widths per panel I needed 3 pieces that matched so that my middle seams of each panel would have matching patterns, as well as the middle edge of my panels when the drapes were pulled together.
- After all the pieces were cut, my two middle pieces needed to be cut in half.  I matched the 'selvage' edges (the long sides) and folded the fabric in half and smoothed it out so the weave laid flat without pulls at the fold.  Using my left hand to hold down the fold, I cut the fabric straight in the middle on the fold.  Be sure to remark your new halves on the back so you know which side is the middle seam and which side is the inside edge of your curtain panel.
- At this time, if needed, I would serge the edges of my fabric to prevent fraying during panel sewing.

Sewing the middle seam:
- With right sides together, match the pattern of your half width piece to its coordinating full-width piece.  
- Pin these edges together every 10 or so inches to keep the pattern matched properly while sewing.  
- Sew a 5/8 in. straight seam down this edge.  
- Open seam and make sure the fabric's pattern stayed matching during sewing.  If all looks good, then iron seams apart.  Now you have 1 panel.  Repeat to create the second panel.
Cutting and sewing lining panels:
Now you can wipe the sweat from your forehead because all the stress of matching patterns is done!!  The lining is cut the same way as previously done with the fabric, creating your whole width pieces and half width pieces.  The only difference is that we don't need the lining to be as long as the fabric because it won't wrap around the buckram, nor will it go all the way to the floor.
- To calculate lining length subtract 6 inches (for the top buckram hem), 2 inches (because you want it to be approx. 2 inches shorter than the fabric), and 1.5 inches (for a smaller hem) from your total fabric panel length.
     96.5 - 6 - 2 - 1.5 = 87 inches length for lining panels
- Often you see lining torn rather than cut.  Tearing fabric can be a great way to make sure you are on the straight of the grain, but only when you know for sure the weave is straight.  Even at high end fabric stores it can be hard to find lining that is truly on a straight weave, so I caution you to cut your fabric straight, rather than tearing it.
- Once the lining pieces are cut, sew a 5/8 in. straight seam to attach the half widths to your full lining widths and iron seam apart. 

Next step is to hem the lining panels.  I put a 4 inch hem in my lining, as well as the fabric panels, because I think it not only looks nice to be the same as the fabric, but also having that extra lining fabric in the hem is nice if something crazy happens and you need the curtains to be longer.  It is so much easier to take out the hem and create a smaller hem than having to add extra fabric. 
- With the wrong side facing you, iron the lining bottom up 1/2 inch.
- Fold the bottom over again 4 inches, iron and pin.
- Sew the hem 1/4 inch from the first fold line to secure the hem (you can choose to do a blind-stitch hem or straight stitch hem).  Don't forget to iron your hem after sewing.  
- Repeat for the remaining lining panels so that they are all hemmed.  

Attaching the buckram:
At this point, I like to go ahead and attach the buckram to the top of my fabric panels before sewing the lining in.  
- At the top of each fabric panel, with the wrong side of the fabric facing you, iron the fabric down 2 inches.
- Tuck the buckram under the 2-inch fold you just created so that two inches of the buckram are under the folded fabric and two inches are exposed.    
- To cut the buckram at the right length you will want to measure 3 inches in from each side and cut the excess off.  Later, when we are sewing the lining into the fabric, these 3 inches of fabric will be folded back, so you don't want buckram in there because it would make the corners extra bulky.  
- Pin the buckram to your 2-inch fold.  Open the fold and sew a straight stitch along the middle of the buckram to secure the buckram to the top of your panel.  Once the buckram is sewn down, refold the 2 inches and iron.
- Fold the fabric over the 4 inch buckram again to totally encase the buckram in fabric.  This is similar to making a hem, but you are encasing the buckram in the hem.  Press the 4-inch fold around the buckram. 
Now you have created your top 6-inch hem by folding over 2 inches, and then folding 4 inches again.  While it is a little cumbersome to work with the buckram already attached, it helps to already have the folds made for sliding the lining in place.  

Sewing the fabric and lining together:
- Along the side of each fabric panel, with the wrong side of the fabric facing you, fold the fabric back 3 inches and iron.
- Once the whole length is ironed 3 inches, open the fold and fold the raw edge 1.5 inches in so that it meets up with the previous 3-inch fold line and iron.
- Refold at the 3-inch fold line and iron again.  Basically, you have created a 1.5 inch hem on the sides and encased the raw edge.  
- Repeat on all long sides of your panels
- Lay your fabric panel out as flat as possible, wrong side up.  This works best on a clean floor, huge table, or king bed.  
- Lay a lining panel, right side up, on top of the fabric panel matching the middle seam.  
- Depending on the width of your fabric, at this point you may need to trim the edges of your lining panel.  Pin the middle seams of the lining and fabric together so the fabric doesn't shift while you measure how much you need to trim the lining.  You want your lining panel to lay inside the 1.5-inch side hems you just created.  For me, I needed to trim one lining side 2 inches and the other lining side 2.5 inches.  Don't worry too much about being perfect here -- the main goal is that your lining will lay inside the hem so that when you sew the edge, it will catch the lining fabric as well.  The more important factor is that your middle seams match so that the drapes hang correctly. 
- After the edges have been trimmed, lay the lining, right side up, inside the buckram hem.  The top of your lining should be laying next to the 4-inch fold line underneath the buckram.  Pin the top of the lining in place so that the fabric stays pulled to the top while you sew the sides.  Also keep the pins used to line up the middle seams in the panel so the fabric doesn't shift.
- Tuck the lining side edges into the side hems of the fabric.  Remember you only need the lining to go to that first fold line, not folded around in the hem with the fabric.  
- Pin the sides to keep the lining in place for sewing.
- With your blind-stitch foot* attached to your sewing machine, fold the side hem over and blind sew down the side of each panel starting from the bottom of the buckram and sewing down to the top of the lining hem.  You will finish the top and bottom of the side hems later, just don't forget to back-stitch to secure your treads where you started and stopped.
- Repeat with the remaining panels, making sure to align lining tops with fabric tops so that all your panels fit together properly.  Iron each side seam back in place after blind-stitching.  
*Never blind-stitched before?  Never fear, it is easy to do on your sewing machine.  I have always blind-stitched by hand when making garments, because I am much faster by hand, but with all the yards of fabric that you need to blind-stitch on drapes, your hands might just give out.  Make sure you have the right foot and read about your machine's blind-stitching in your manual.  While most sewing machines operate similarly, it is always best to consult your manual first.  Also, there are some great YouTube videos demonstrating machine blind-stitching using contrasting thread that you can reference.  For my side seams, because my fabric was very thick, I needed to move the sewing machine needle two points wider to make sure all layers of fabric and lining were picked up in the side stitch.  With my invisible thread, this was not a problem -- you couldn't see the thread on the right side of the drapes at all.    

Finishing the top corners:
Once all your fabric panels now have the lining sewn into them, you are nearing the end of creating your drapery panels.  At the top of each panel, we started sewing the side seams at the bottom of the buckram.  Now we need to close the corner.
- Topstitch, using clear thread, along the top and sides of the side hem to secure it in place at the top near the buckram.
- Iron the corners so they are nice and neat
- Repeat for each drapery panel

Kudos to you if you made it through all those words, whew!  At this point you can hold up your panels by the corners and they should look like curtains!  Next steps are to pleat the top, hem the bottom, and hang those suckers up.  Sadly, I am saving those next steps for the next post.  I want to knock your socks off with how easy pleating the top is, so make sure you wear cute argyle socks tomorrow :)

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. Wow... Thank you so much for this in-depth and painstakingly detailed tutorial. I just bought a 1964 travel trailer with pleated drapes that need to be replaced. I am going to try and tackle this on my own and I feel confidant i can do it with the help of your awesome tutorial.

    1. Lacey - oooo, a 1964 travel trailer sounds awesome!! I can already envision pleated drapes out of fantastic vintage fabric. Good for you for doing them yourself -- you should send pictures when you are done. Good Luck!!

  2. This tutorial is AMAZING! Thank you so much. I am wanting to make pinch pleat drapes like this picture for a very tall room-I think they are 8" pleats or longer- I am not sure how to do this long style of pinch pleat with the buckram, though. Would you do the same technique, but maybe sew on 2 rows of 4" or 6" buckram to have these longer pinch pleats? Please let me know if you have any suggestions. Thank you again for your attention to detail and the wonderful tutorial! -Corrie

    1. Thank you so much!! It makes me happy to hear that all those details actually make sense :) I love the drama of those long pleats in that taupe velvet. I would be nervous to use two pieces of buckram because if it created a crease in middle, the long pleat would loose its structure. The Rowley company is one of the most common brands of buckram and they actually make a 8" wide buckram I would call around to stores and try to find it. Otherwise, I would just cut heavyweight interfacing into a 8" width, making sure my length was all in one piece. Hope that helps! I would love to see pictures of your drapes when you are done, do share!

    2. Great advice - thank you! I will share pictures when I'm done!

    3. I want this fabric! Where can I get?

    4. Pam -- It is a great pattern isn't it?! It is by Richloom Fabrics Group, Inc. The design is Giverny in the Chameleon color-way. Since Mary Jo's is my go to fabric store for designer fabrics at great prices, here is the link to this fabric on their website:

    5. Ooo thanks! I think... My windows are bare, because I can not committ to fabric! This patter pen is so bold I don't know if I can do it in the living room!

  3. This is the best tutorial EVER! I can pretty much figure out how to sew anything but have struggled to find the best way to sew draperies. I sew them one way and they turn out fine, I sew them another way and they turn out fine, but it is always a huge headache for me! This is the way they need to be sewn and I am soooooo happy I stumbled across this post and I soooo appreciate you sharing your talents! Thank you for making my life so much easier :)

  4. These are the best instructions I have found! Thanks for all the details. I can't wait to begin. Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Wow. What a great tutorial. I've got windows that are nearly 9 feet long and need two panels 8 feet wide each. You've inspired me to tackle it myself. I just can't justify the outrageous costs of having the drapes custom made. I keep telling myself it's just straight seams and a couple of very long hems!

  6. This is one of best tutorials I have ever read! Kudos to you for doing such a fantastic job and sharing your knowledge. -Brenda-

  7. Funny thing is I just purchased the very same fabric used in your tutorial. I was haivng a difficult time finding a fabric with navy, red and yellow. This one was PERFECT!! I love it and want to use it to make a pleated valance for my 5 sided bay window in my kitchen and then repeat the valance in my great room... It seems easy, I'm just praying the sewing machine holds up.

  8. I forgot to ask can you elaborate on sewing/matching 2 fabric widths together?

  9. I'm confused. what was the size of the window? I have a rod length of 42. My DIL wants two panels with pleats. So each finished panel will be 21 inches. I assume I will need 42 inches of fabric width wise. is that correct? I realize I won't be able to get as many pleats but it is what she wants.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this series of posts! Please don't ever take it down!!! There are many panels in my future and I expect I will be reading this series over and over again.

  11. What a generous set of clear instructions. Thanks so much and good luck with your blog and business. You should be famous!

  12. Did you use the monofilament thread to blind hem along side the panels? and regular thread to hem machine stitch the bottoms? Mary

  13. I just read the answer on another page. Thanks for providing us with a wealth of information. Thanks a lot. Mary

  14. Brilliant tutorial - just what I needed to refresh my memory and get some good tips. I have only ever used the pull tapes to get pinch pleats but this is a far superior finish so I'm looking forward to getting started. Thank you!!

  15. Thanks so much for your tutorial. I do have one question. I am at the part where I have sewn my lining in on the sides. The next step in the process is to finish the top corners with invisible thread. Did I miss the part where we sew the lining across the top? I have it pinned and matched up with the seam but I don't see where we actually sew it. Do we not because of the pinch pleating to be done next??? Thanks! Novice here trying my best to follow!!

  16. i think you have done an amazing tutorial. I immensely appreciate your detailed instructions. I however did run into a problem by cutting the selvage edge off as I unrolled my fabric, per the instructions during the cutting stage. I had no problem getting my print lined up perfectly, the problem was I needed part of the selvage edge to make the seam. I ended up with beautifully matched panels with no way to seam them together. Perhaps there should be a warning not to cut the selvage edge off until after the 1/2 panel is joined to the whole panel, just in case you need the edge to join the fabric too. I live in SC and the fabric store that I purchased my fabric from was completely destroyed by the recent flood waters. I have no choice but to complete my project using just one panel on each side, hopefully it will still look fine. Andrea Freels

  17. There is an enormous amount of information embedded in this pattern. Let's start with terminology. I wouldn't call these knickers, I'd call them breeches.

  18. I am getting ready to start my drapes and feel confident after reading your wonderful tutorial! However I do have a question - I am making them out of velvet which is not the easiest fabric to sew on and my main concerns are the bulkiness at seams and the ironing of the fabric. Do you have any tips on how I might modify the process to lessen bulkiness and ironing without leaving iron marks on the velvet? Thanks! Melissa


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