Make Your Own Curtains, and Window Treatments

DIY Curtains and Window Treatments Materials

Transforming yards of alluring fabric into graceful folds of color and texture to enhance your windows and at the same time control privacy and light can be a highly satisfying creative experience. Even a simple roller shade can be vivid personal expression in your home.

window with translucent curtainsCredit: Wikimedia Commons

If you do your own custom design curtain, you not only free yourself to vise fabrics and styles that exactly reflect your taste—you also save a considerable amount of money, that saving may allow you to choose costlier fabrics or to extend your decorating adventure further than you had originally planned. Making curtains, decorative shades—even floor-length draperies—is not as difficult as may think. All you really need is care, patience, basic sewing skills, and plenty of time.

There is a wide variety of window decorating projects to choose from. Each has a corresponding set of step--step instructions that adapt to suit the measurements of your windows. Here are useful guides and helpful tips on organizing a work space; tools you'll need; measuring your windows; buying, preparing, and cutting fabric; and sewing the basic seams and hems used in window treatments.


Preparing Your Work Space for Curtain Making

Whether you're draping a wall of windows or whipping up a single snappy shade, you'll undoubtedly have to handle much more fabric than goes into clothing construction, and you're going to need plenty of elbow room. Mapping out and organizing a special work area is well worth the time it takes and the living space it steals.

A sewing room, with a large table and special nooks and crannies for supplies, is the ideal place to work. Perhaps you could temporarily convert the den or guest room to this purpose. Having a separate room allows you to come and go as you please without, having to set everything up, then stash it all away, each time, you work on your project. Your fabric will be safer, too, from accidental rumpling or soiling.

You'll need a large, flat surface on which to measure, cut, and sew. If you intend to decorate a number of windows, it might be worth investing in a piece of plywood as a tabletop. Set on two table-height sawhorses or atop a protected table, a 4 by 8-foot sheet of plywood will give you ample work space. A hollow flush door also makes a thrifty tabletop. Many stock doors weigh less than a sheet of plywood.

If the kids are willing to lend it to you, their ping-pong table can offer scads of space. Or, if you're going to have to work in a busy part of the house anyway, the dining room table—if it's rectangular—might be a likely choice.

To make any work surface you choose more serviceable, consider covering it with padding as explained under "Padding a work surface" (see next page). Here you'll also find details on selecting plywood.


Tools needed for making curtains

After you have blocked out an area to work in, you'll need to gather a few supplies—some of which you may already own. The following list includes all the necessary tools for making window treatments, as well as some that are very useful though not absolutely essential.


Cutting tools

Bent-handled shears

 Easier on the hands than regular scissor handles, the bent handle offers another advantage—allowing fabric to lie flat while you cut. Choose a pair that is 8 or 9 inches long; they're lightweight and the blades cut quickly. Cherish your shears— use them only on fabric (paper will dull the blades in short order).

Pinking shears

Available with saw-toothed or scalloped blades, pinking shears are useful for finishing seam edges so that they resist raveling.

Serrated shears

These 8-inch specialty shears are extremely sharp. Professionals use them on polyester fabrics, which have a tendency to dull ordinary blades.

Embroidery scissors

About 4 inches long, embroidery scissors are handy for clipping threads while sewing.

Thread clips

Even more convenient to use than embroidery scissors, this simple little tool snips threads in a snap.


Ironing tools  



A steam iron is the most versatile, because it adjusts conveniently to a wide variety of fabrics.

Hand steamer

This tool is perfect for steaming out wrinkles and for giving a fresh look to window coverings after they are hung. It can also be used on hard-to-reach places, such as valances or cornices that are attached to boards. You can buy one where small appliances are sold.

Ironing board

Consider padding a large table to take the place of the ironing board, especially if you will be pressing quantities of fabric (see "Padding a work surface," next page). If you opt for the conventional ironing board, legs that adjust to different heights are an asset. A lower position allows you to sit comfortably as you iron.

Plastic spray bottle

Keep one handy near the ironing surface for extra moisture. But be careful: some bottles squirt too freely and may water-spot the fabric, particularly if it has a finish. Test a sample swatch first.

Press cloth. A 9 by 24-inch strip of unfinished muslin, cotton marquisette, or cheesecloth laid between iron and fabric protects the fabric from scorching and iron shine. It is especially recommended for the final pressing of seams and hems.


Measuring tools

Tape measures

 A spring-return 12-foot steel tape measure assures easy, accurate measuring of windows and fabric. For measuring fabric, a 60-inch synthetic or fiberglass tape is convenient, but it is not designed to measure windows. Avoid cloth tapes—they tend to stretch.


Record all measurements in a notebook so you can double-check them and refer to them easily later. You will need this notebook when you shop for fabric and also when you are ready to cut the yardage.

Carpenter's square

This tool is essential for squaring off the ends of yardage. You can buy a square at a hardware store. Watch for slight roughness on the edges that might snag fabric, particularly synthetics.


A metal or wood yardstick is useful for marking long cutting lines. Again, make certain the surface is perfectly smooth, so it doesn't snag the fabric.

Chalk pencil

 In the notions section of fabric and department stores, you can find several kinds of chalk or wax pencils for marking fabric. Experiment on a sample swatch first. Some leave permanent marks after pressing.

Hem gauge

This 6-inch ruler with adjustable slide aids in measuring seam allowances and hems.


Sewing tools


Masking tape

Strips of it, laid down on the throat plate of your sewing machine, serve as handy guides for keeping seams and hems straight.


Use sewing machine needles that are compatible with the weight of your fabric. Check the needle package and your sewing machine manual for guidance. To machine-tack pleats, be sure to use a sturdy needle—size 16 or 18—for it may have to penetrate as many as 18 layers of fabric.

A packet of hand-sewing needles in assorted sizes should take care of most hand-sewing jobs. But tacking pleats by hand will require a special heavy-duty needle. For this job, buy a packet of repair needles.


Fine, sharp dressmaker pins, about V-k inches long, made from steel or stainless steel, are best but sometimes hard to find. Check upholstery suppliers in your area.

Stronger than dressmaker pins are T-pins, useful for holding plush or open-weave fabrics, which tend to swallow pins with tiny heads. If you make curtains with multiple-shirred headings (see page 70), you will need T-pins to secure the fabric to a padded surface while you work.

Keep safety pins on hand for pulling cords and tape through casings.