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Tutorial for Fully Lined Tab-Top Drapes

Posted May 20 2009 1:24pm


Introducing my how-to for making your own, customized drapes!  These instructions are for a fully lined, tab-top style, although you could certainly make them without the lining (only recommended if you want a sheer look, or if the fabric you're using is extremely dense and won't let light show through).  Sewing your own drapes takes a surprising amount of time (not something to be whipped up in an hour), but it can be significantly cheaper than ordering them, or even less expensive than buying ready-made drapes if the fabric you use is not too expensive. 


These drapes were made from the fabric of a duvet cover from IKEA (recognize the material?) because I had a very limited budget and couldn't afford to go out and drop $15 to $200+/yard for home dec fabric (I made 6 drapes = 18 yards).  For $80 I bought two duvet covers and got 4 drapes out of one and 2 out of the other, with half the duvet fabric left over for whatever else I want to use it for.  The length of the duvet cover was too short for how long I wanted the drapes to be, so I added a strip of white linen (cut from a white linen store-bought panel that I had on hand and didn't have a use for) to each one and sewed black ribbons on for accent.

To begin, think about what style and "feel" you want for your room.  Formal?  Playful?  Casual yet sophisticated?  Light and airy or rich and bold?  In our front room, the carpet and walls are basically white, and the blinds are a dark faux-wood.  It's a rental house, so I can't do anything to change those elements (although I'm thinking I'll take down the blinds now that I have the drapes up) but I CAN add color to the windows and furnishings.  The armoire anchors the long, empty room (a CL bargain at $120, we use it for a computer station) and the dark furnishings provide contrast and visual weight, but the drapes really create a lot of playful drama.  I didn't want anything too formal or serious, so I used a graphic print, and I used red because, well, I just happen to love red!  As if you hadn't noticed....

Now all I need to do is paint those paintings I've been itching to do for months so that my walls are no longer forlorn and blank!

Anyway, if you want a summery and/or casual look, choose a fabric with a nubby texture such as linen or a cotton blend that looks like linen.  If you want to go more formal, choose dupioni silk, or a heavier material such as velvet, velveteen, microsuede, or thickly woven home dec fabric. 

MEASURE your window and the height of your wall.  I always like to install the curtain rod first so I know exactly how long I want to make the drapes, then add 4 inches to that length.  Do not install the rod so that the rod supports (the hooks that hold up the rod) are right at the ends of the rod.  With tab-top drapes, it looks better to have the hooks about 4 to 8 inches in from the ends of the rod so that they are hidden behind the drapes when the drapes are hung, and the drapes can extend all the way to the finials uninterrupted.  A word about curtain rods...they can get very pricey, so I like to scout them out at places like Ross, and if they're the wrong color I just spray paint them (I painted these ones black).  You can also buy a large dowel (the kind for closets) and screw finials into the ends of them, but I have found that by the time you buy the wooden rod supports and finials it can still get pretty expensive.

Back to measuring... make sure that the width of your panels is wide enough to cover your window when they are drawn shut.  If you're just using them as accents on the sides of the windows it doesn't really matter, you can get away with a width of about 40 inches.  The easiest thing is just to use the entire width of the fabric straight from the bolt, unless you're cutting apart a duvet cover like I did!

Allowing about 4 inches extra beyond the finished desired lenth of your drapes (if you want the finished drapes to measure 90 inches, cut the lengths to 94 inches), cut the drapes out.  Make sure that you have a straight cut that is 90 degrees perpendicular to the selvedge edge of fabric so your drapes don't end up being crooked.


If you want to add a contrasting band of fabric like I did, do it now, before cutting out the lining.  When your panel is the way you want it, it's time to cut out the lining.  Technically you should use official drapery lining fabric, but I usually opt for the less expensive option of using a $5 twin sized sheet from Walmart instead.  It's not as thick and insulative as drapery lining, but the printed fabric was fairly thick anyway and I didn't feel the need to pay for real lining fabric.  In retrospect I should have used the lining fabric, because when the sun shines through the drapes, the red liner imparts a pink "glow" to the white flowers.  Oops.  I never have the drapes drawn during the day, so it's not a huge problem, but still, it's something to be aware of.

Lay out the lining fabric on the floor (right side up, if it has a right side), smooth it all out, and place the panel on top, right side facing down.  Pin the top edge, smooth it all out, and cut the lining to fit the exact dimensions of the panel.


Using a 1/2" seam, stitch the top edge of the panel + lining together.  Turn right side out and press. 


Here's a tip for getting that seam to press nicely:  Lick your thumb and forefinger (or get them wet a different way) and rub the fabrics near the seam back and forth until you get to the exact spot where they are sewn together.  The moisture on your fingers creates friction and enables them to wiggle the fabric down to where it needs to be.

Press top seam in place all the way across the top, making sure the lining won't be seen from the front of the panel.


Now it's time to finish the side edges of the panel.  Press the raw edge (or the selvedge edge, if you're using the entire width of the fabric) over to the back, turning over about 1" of fabric.  If you're working with a thick fabric such as velvet, turn over 1 1/2".


The lining fabric will also be pressed over at this point, but leaving it there will just create unnecessary bulk.  Carefully cut away the part of the lining that was pressed over, removing the folded crease of the lining.  When you get to the top of the panel where the two fabrics are stitched together, pick out the stitching 1" from edge so you can cut off the liner cleanly.


Now, to hide the raw edge of the panel fabric, fold it under itself and press again, so that all raw edges are hidden and the raw edge of the liner is tucked neatly inside the folded-over edge of the panel fabric.


Hopefully these photos will illustrate what exactly I'm talking about.



Pin the side seams every 8 to 12 inches or so.  It's time to sew!


Stitch side seams closed, taking care to catch the underside of the panel in the stitching.


I like to use my left hand as a guide as I'm sending the fabric though.  My thumb can feel where the folded-under edge is on the underside, so I can tell if the needle is going to stitch where it needs to in order to catch the folded-under seam beneath.


Now it's time for the tabs.  Since I had 6 panels to do, I got lazy (or is it ingenuity?) and used wide ribbon as my tabs.  You can make tabs from fabric by sewing a long "tube" of fabric and pressing it flat, then cutting it into little 6 inch pieces.  The ribbon method is faster.

My panels were about 40 inches wide, so I used 5 tabs per panel.  In retrospect I should have used 6 or 7, but I'm not bothered by it enough to redo them!  You want to aim for about 6 to 8 inches of space between each tab.


I didn't want the dots to show when looking at the backside, so I folded and pressed the raw edges of the ribbon under so that they faced the dotted side.  I used pinking shears and pinked the edges before pressing them under to help prevent fraying.


Once all tabs are prepared, pin them to the backside of the panel, starting in 1/2" from edge as shown.  The fastest way to figure out the exact spacing of the tabs is to pin the two edges and the middle first, then fill in the other tabs accordingly.  That way you don't waste time doing a lot of unnecessary math (unless, of course, you want to!  Brain exercise is always good.)


Pin the top and bottom edges of tabs, making sure the tops of the tabs don't extend beyond the top of the panel (you don't want to see the tabs sticking up above the top of panel).


Now, turn the panel so that the backside faces up and stitch carefully along the very top edge of panel.  Try to stitch about 1/16" away from top edge, making sure the tabs are not shoved aside all skewampus as the presserfoot goes over them.  I usually have to stop, making sure that the needle is down in the fabric, and lift up the presserfoot slightly as it starts to run over each tab.  This way the presserfoot doesn't scoot the tab out of alignment.  Don't run over those pins!  Pull out the pin after needle has stitched a few stitches of each tab.


Once you are done with the very top edge, stitch along the bottom edge of the tabs, sewing in a straight line all the way across.  I just use the bottom of the tab as a visual guide and "eyeball it" all the way across without marking a stitching guide, but you could certainly use a yardstick before you begin sewing and lightly mark a line with a pencil if you're unsure of yourself.

Press all the edges of the panel, and you're ready to hang it!


I never hem my drapes until they're already hung.  Once they're in place, I pin them up where they touch the floor, then bring my ironing board over to the window and press the hem under right there.   Then I turn the raw edge under (just like I did for the sides) and use a fusible web (it comes in a little roll, and is designed specifically for hemming) to secure the hem with my iron.  And that's it!  Admittedly a rather tedious project (at least in my opinion it is!) but well worth the effort when completed.  Best wishes to you as you begin your own custom drapes, I hope this was helpful to you!

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