DIY Basics

My Top Suggestions For Beautiful, Professional-Looking Draperies

Last Updated on May 21, 2016 by Kristi Linauer

Well, my dining room draperies still aren’t finished. But it’s not for lack of trying! I worked on them quite a bit this weekend, but only got three of the four done.

I’ve said before that I’m kind of slow when it comes to sewing, and that’s not just because of my procrastination. 🙂 I’m actually slow once I get started, especially on drapery panels. I just like to really pay attention to details since any little mistake or oversight (like not trimming off the selvages, or not getting fabric perfectly straight and square) can have a pretty big effect on the outcome.

So I have one more panel to finish today, and I’ll show you how all they all turned out tomorrow. In the meantime, I wanted to share my top suggestions for creating beautiful, professional-looking draperies.

Always line your draperies

Drapery lining makes all the difference in the world in the finished look of your draperies. Unlined curtains can look thin and cheap, and when the sun streams through the fabric, the colors can look distorted and every seam and thread on the back can be visible from the front. It’s just not a good look.

drapery tips - always line draperies - unlined panel

And it’s an even worse look from outside your home, where anyone looking at your windows can see the back side of the fabric, any seams, and the back side of the side hems.

Lining drastically changes the look, and while I suppose any lining is better than no lining at all, I personally prefer blackout lining. Blackout lining has a rubbery backing on it, and doesn’t let any light through at all. Even on panels that are purely decorative and won’t ever be closed, I always use blackout lining simply because of the difference it makes in the appearance of the fabric. It keeps the colors true and undistorted, hides the appearance of seams and threads from the front view, and gives a nice, clean, finished look from the outside of the house.

drapery tips - always line draperies - lined panel

It also adds weight, both literally and visually, which makes the drapery panel look more substantial and luxurious.

Don’t forget the return

Drapery returns — where the top outside corners of the drapery panels are attached to the wall — always give a more finished, professional look to a drapery panel. I wrote a post about how to do a drapery return several years ago, and it’s still one of my most popular posts! Here’s the difference it can make. Here’s how most people hang their draperies…

The problem with that is that if your window is positioned in such a way that you get a side view, you can see right between the drapery panel and the window.

That’s just not a great look. But adding a drapery return will close up that gap.

Always use header tape

Header tape, also called buckram, is the woven interfacing-type stuff that goes in the top hem of the panel.

I buy mine at Joann Fabric, but it’s available at most fabric stores (both brick-and-mortar and online), and it’s very inexpensive. When it’s sewn into that top fold of the drapery panel, it gives the fabric enough body so that the top header stays upright, rather than the header drooping and sagging under the weight of the fabric.

A droopy, sagging drapery header is almost always a bad look, with the exception being very thin, lightweight, gauzy fabric panels that are intended to give the room a very casual, breezy look. But that’s a very specific look for a very specific type of style. 99.9% of the time, even sheers look much better with header tape used in the top.

Pay attention to the pleats and folds

When it comes to how you treat your pleats and folds, there’s really not a “right” and “wrong” way, but it’s important to give attention to this detail because the way in which the pleats and folds are treated can have an impact on the overall look of the room.

Let me explain what I mean. 🙂

Right now, my dining room drapery panels have “untrained” pleats and folds. I simply finished sewing the pleats, hung the panels, and just let the folds fall where they wanted to fall on their own.

drapery tips - pleats - don't train the pleats for a more casual look

There’s nothing at all wrong with that look, but just keep in mind that “untrained” folds lend a more casual, untailored look to a room. Again, if that’s the look you’re going for, that’s perfectly fine. (I still haven’t decided if I want this casual look or a more tailored look in my dining room. We’ll see.)

But if your room is more formal, or you prefer a more tailored look, then you should “train” your pleats and folds so that they look more polished like this…

In order to achieve that look, it just takes some time and patience to fold the fabric from each pleat so that it’s even from the top to the bottom of the panel. And you have to do that with every single pleat. (If you don’t have pleats, just fold the fabric so that the folds are evenly spaced on the whole panel). It generally helps to have a helper who can hold the folds in place. Once the folds are in place, use a scrap piece of fabric to tie around the panel to hold the folds in place, and leave it for a couple of days.
I generally tie mine in three places — top, middle, and bottom — and sometimes it helps to use a steamer or steam iron to really help the folds stay in place. After a day or two, remove the ties, and your drapery panel shoudl have perfectly trained pleats and folds for a very tailored look.

Hang them high and wide

I love draperies so much that I never think a room is finished with out them. And because I love them so much, I’m always shocked when someone tells me, “Oh, I don’t like curtains on my windows.” What?! How can that be?!

But about 99% of the time, they follow up that sentence with, “I don’t like to block the view,” or “I don’t want anything blocking the sunlight.” Aaaahhhh, okay. I get it. The problem isn’t that they don’t like draperies. The problem is that they’re hanging them wrong.

Draperies look their absolute best (in my humble opinion) when they’re hung high on the wall, and wide on the window. Not only does that make the ceiling look taller, and the window look bigger, but it also doesn’t block the view or the light.

how to hang drapery panels - high and wide - via Homegoodsvia Homegoods

In my mind, draperies should act more like frame on a piece of artwork. If you have a beautiful oil painting of a landscape, and you take it in to be framed, you wouldn’t choose a frame that covers up several inches of the painting on each side, right? You’d choose a frame that just barely covers the painting (maybe 1/4 inch on all sides) just enough for the painting to be secure in the frame, but any decorative part of the frame would add inches of height and width to the overall look of the artwork rather than being placed over the artwork.

It’s the same concept with your draperies. Don’t cover up any of the beautiful landscape that you see through the windows. Instead, use your draperies to frame that landscape, only covering up as much of the edges as necessary in order to create that beautiful frame.

And finally…

Don’t use clip rings

Yes, I know I used clip rings in the photo of the drapery return above. This is a “do as I say an not as I do” kind of situation. 😀

Leave the clip rings for the young girls decorating their dorm rooms and first apartments. Because the fact is that even if you can cleverly hide the clips on most of the fold and pleats, there will always be one or two clips (e.g., on the leading edge) that can’t be hidden. And this is definitely something that separates the DIY look from the professional look.

It really doesn’t take any more time, effort, or money to use the clipless rings and actual drapery hooks, the finished look will be much more professional and polished.

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  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Fern Upshaw
    May 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Thanks for the info about having lined curtains. I purchased what I thought were good quality curtains for my family room. The curtains however were so thin they looked cheap when hung. I am going to try my hand at lining them and see if they look better. I must admit, with no sun coming in they look fine, but once the sun is shining in the windows, they are look like I got them at Odd Lots or KMart. 🙁

    Can’t wait to see your room tomorrow. You really do inspire me to take on projects I would never have taken on before – like making a chair! LOL

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Thank you Kristi! I am going to do what you said about tying the drapes. I had luck with using clothes pins one time, but I am afraid with my new drapes the clothes pins would leave a mark.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Susan Bell
    May 2, 2016 at 10:41 am

    I am not sure I agree with the clips. I am 47 and like clips, it makes opening the curtains easier — I have two teenage boys and a husband that would prefer the curtains are closed vs. open so I have to make them easy to open.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      May 2, 2016 at 11:37 am

      I agree with you about the clips. They make it easy, and they are, in my opinion, much more “today” than heavily pleated and folded draperies. Doing it Kristi’s way if you want a formal look, but I don’t think the people that shop at places like PB, WS etc are going for those looks. They tend to use lined silk in formal rooms with clips and unlined linen in less formal rooms, in addition to wooden blinds or even shutters. It is a more layered looking window.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        May 2, 2016 at 1:56 pm

        Clip rings are not more “today” than standard rings and drapery pins. They may seem that way because they’re available in abundance at every Bed, Bath & Beyond, JC Penney, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and every other store that sells curtain rods. But where you’ll never see clip rings is in the pages of Elle Decor, Traditional Home, etc., or in the portfolios of nationally known designers like Toby Fairley, Caitlyn Wilson, Amanda Nisbet, or any of the others whose names and work are regularly featured in design magazines. Clip rings are for DIYers and homeowners looking for quick, easy, and cheap solutions. But regular rings and drapery pins have always been and will always be the standard with designers. And they don’t require pleats, either. If a person doesn’t want pinch pleated draperies (which still remains the most common style seen in the aforementioned magazines and portfolios), that’s fine. You can hang almost any style of header with proper pins and rings.

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          May 3, 2016 at 6:35 pm

          Thank you for your tips. They are very helpful!

          The only thing I take exception to is your condescending reply to the commenter above. Certainly you could have acknowledged her opinion and given suggestions why rings with pins are preferable. These negative retorts just give the commenters over at GOMI more fuel for the fire.

          • Reply To This Comment ↓
            May 3, 2016 at 6:53 pm

            Quite honestly, and with all sincerity, I really have zero cares in the world about what those idiots at GOMI have to say about me. 🙂 I acknowledge that I sounded harsh in my comment above, and that’s because I was incredibly frustrated when I wrote it. That particular commenter was asked last week to not comment on my blog anymore because lately, she seems to get her thrills out of turning my comment section in a drama-filled free-for-all cat fight with other commenters who take issue with her tone and her continual snarkiness which has been on display for months now. She stayed away for a couple of days, and the returned with a new username and new email address, obviously thinking I wouldn’t notice. I did notice (IP addresses, people!), and it really frustrated the heck out of me that she was back, yet again, to basically insult me over yet another project (Perhaps someone should tell her about GOMI. I’m sure she’d love it over there!) In hindsight, I should have just deleted her comments, and not said anything. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that, but I will from now on.

            • Kimberly
              May 3, 2016 at 10:04 pm

              Kristi, is there any way you could ban the problematic commenter by IP address? I suppose not, or you’d have done it by now. Seems perhaps you’re going to have a bit of a housekeeping issue with deleting her comments from now on, which is a PITA that you don’t need to deal with. I can’t understand why anyone would continue to cause trouble on a blog when they were specifically asked to leave, and not just by you but by other commenters.

              I was *thisclose* to e-mailing you about her, then saw you openly address her negativity on your blog. In trying to rationalize her behavior, I honestly thought at first that she’d had turned to drugs or drink, then I thought maybe senility had set in (people can become abusive and rude with Alzheimer’s), then I thought maybe it was one of an assortment of mental illnesses that was motivating this vile behavior. All I know is she has the unenviable talent of totally bringing down the room, and like you I had taken to cringing and scrolling past her comments as fast as possible. I do wish there was a way you could auto delete her comments, because no one wants to see them or hear from her. I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that your blog is one of the highlights of my day, and Snidely McSnarkington sure can spoil the happy buzz I get reading your posts!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      Kathleen Conery
      May 2, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      I think maybe there is a misunderstanding about the difference between clip rings and rings attached with drapery pins. You can still get the easy open and casual drape look with the rings and drapery pins… just forgoing the clipped on to the fabric part. I don’t care for clip rings because I’ve found it’s possible to tug the curtain out of the clips if they hit a bump when opening or closing.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        May 3, 2016 at 9:50 am

        I think you’re right about the misunderstanding. When I hear “drapery pins”, I think of the drapery rods with the pull chain like my mother had. I forget that you can use rings with the pins and still have the easy open/close.

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          May 3, 2016 at 10:29 am

          rods with the pull chain = traverse rods! Couldn’t think of the term! lol

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      May 2, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      I don’t understand how clip rings would be easier to open and close than regular rings. Rings are rings…they both slide on a curtain rod. And with regular rings and drapery pins, you can’t pull the fabric out of the clip. I used clip rings on the curtains that I hung over the closet with the washer and dryer in the condo, and I was constantly pulling the fabric out of the clip when I’d open and close them, and constantly having to get the ladder and re-clip the panel. You never have to deal with that with standard rings and pins.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    kim domingue
    May 2, 2016 at 10:42 am

    A very informative post. I must admit to having a preference for unlined curtains and drapes in some instances. Perhaps because I’m a quilter, I find that the seams where two fabrics are joined (if done correctly) add a graphic element that I like. A lot of it depends on the type of fabrics and if there is a major difference in the colors or a minimal one. I don’t find it pleasing when printed fabrics are used though. Not a problem as I generally prefer a solid or tone on tone fabric at my windows, lol!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carolyn Mahoney
    May 2, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for your sewing tips regarding drapes. At this time, I am needing to make drapes for two-story windows. The fabric needs to be a quality fabric, but not heavy. The current fabric is lovely (drapes were installed by the former owner), but it is deteriorating. They are also nicely lined. I don’t know what type of fabric to purchase. They need to be as light in weight as possible. I am wondering if they may be a silk fabric combination–they hang so beautifully. If you could make any suggestions, it would be so appreciated.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      May 2, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I find that decorator cottons and cotton blends are by far the easiest to work with.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      May 2, 2016 at 11:56 am

      I think lined silk would be work as well as lined linen. Both are very lightweight and if you get a lightweight cotton lining it should be fine. When I worked I had a few clients who had the really high windows. They look beautiful once they are all finished.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Susan C
    May 2, 2016 at 10:57 am

    My dilemma is no wall space around the windows, both in my living area and master. The back walls in each room are simply walls of windows, so I guess I must cover some of the view if I want to add the color and softening effect of fabric (the main reason I want them). Is there a formula for how wide decorative panels need to be to look right on each end of a wall of windows? I do not want them so that I can close them, although in the master that would be luxurious to have a full wall of fabric at night!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 11:30 am

    Hi Kristi ~ Have you posted where you purchased the hardware for your B&W panels? I do not want to miss that info!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for all the tips. I can hardly wait to see these draperies completed.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    I didn’t know about “returns,” so the information was very helpful. My mother made draperies for our living room when I was about eleven and I found it interesting even then. There was the “pleater tape” (hers were pinch pleated), the painstaking measuring of fabric and lining and the weights. Weights (square pieces of metal) were sewn into the bottom corners of the panels to help the drapes hang properly. When finished, the drapes were hung on traverse rods, which were hidden by upholstered wooden valances. (A style from another era.) My mom was lucky enough to have an older friend who made drapes professionally to help her through the process. She used her standard Singer machine, which didn’t make any fancy stitches, but had plenty of power to glide through heavy fabrics. The used Necchi that I have makes fancy stitches but doesn’t equal that old Singer in power or stitch quality.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marianne in Mo.
    May 2, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    I totally agree about draperies being lined. I remember a certain subdivision near me that required all drapery to be lined in white or off-white linings, so they were uniform from the street view! Kinda wish that were the case where we just moved from – the young people across the street from us had four panels in one window, and they alternated turquoise, orange, turquoise, orange. They hung like that for 7 years, fading out and looking worse, until they decided to list their house. No, they did not take them down for the sale, but the new owners removed them first thing, and installed blinds on all their windows. I hated looking at those faded panels, and wondered if they would ever change them. It looked like a circus tent hanging in their window!
    So yes, please line your drapes!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks for all the great info. Those small details really add up! I had never considered returning the drape, but it does make a difference.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Great post, Kristi. I agree that curtains need a good lining and buckram for a professional look and I’m not sure how you’d put in drapery pins without damaging or distorting your fabric otherwise. Lining them also prevents them from getting sun damaged so you don’t need to replace them as often. I like to use drapery weights on my curtains too, particularly if the decorative fabric is somewhat light, so that even after “training” they hang straight and crisp. For those who find traditional French pleated drapes too formal, inverted box pleats are more casual while still providing a polished look.
    One thing I noticed you didn’t mention in the Part 1 of these drapes but maybe you have in past drapery posts is the width of the panels. Not everyone realizes that in terms of the fabric needed, you must have 2-3 times the width of the finished drapes i.e. a 48 inch window where the drapes will be hung 12 inches on either side needs 2 panels where the bottom width of each finished panel is at least 72 inches = 144 inches total.
    Another tip for lining is that while blackout lining is great at keeping summer heat out of your house, those that live in cold climates should add a thermal interlining. After my first winter in the Midwest, I took apart my curtains and added a layer of heavy flannel drapery lining which cut my heating bill by more than 25% the following winter.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Kristi, thanks for sharing your drapery expertise again. I’ve relied on your previous post (lined, double width, pleated drapes) again and again as I’ve sewn my way through drapes for most of the windows in my house. i like to make two-finger pleats and tack them at the top for a more modern look. Your detailed directions and many tips gave me the courage to challenge myself to sew drapes that don’t look homemade. You are the best.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 3, 2016 at 5:33 am

    Kristi, thank you for another great post about draperies!

    I had my fabric and lining delivered and am looking for the rest of the materials now. It seems there are different types of buckram – “fusible” (with some sort of adhesive), which stick to the fabric if ironed, or buckram, which is just fabric without any adhesive. The fusible can be one sided or double sided. Which type would you recommend?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Amy Kuronen
    May 3, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Hi. A question about interlining – An earlier poster mentioned it for insulation. Are there other reasons for using it? Thank you!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 3, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Hi Kristi,

    This is unrelated to your drapes although I do enjoy all your posts!

    Just came across this on Home Depot site, a Crown Moulding Jig! Thought you may be interested!

    Nancy 🙂

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      May 4, 2016 at 10:47 am

      I “eavesdropped” on your comment and followed the link. That’s a handy tool! I’m very math impaired…so thank you!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    May 4, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Oh, man…I’m always asking questions…sorry!

    I was wondering about interlining. Any advice on when to, or not to, or if it’s ever even necessary?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    July 29, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for your very informative posts!!! I’ve sewn many different types of curtains, and wish I had the benefit of your tips sooner. I have a quick question (and apologize if you have answered this on another post) – how do you correctly insert drapery pins? I sewed some really pretty silk dupioni double wide panels (decided against pinch pleats). I refuse to use the awful clips (after spending that much money on the fabric I don’t want my curtains to look cheap). Can you walk me through the proper placement/insertion of the pins?

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      July 30, 2016 at 8:00 am

      Jennifer, the pins go on the back of each pinch pleat. After you add your pleats, you’ll have vertical seams on the back of the header where the pleats have been sewn. The pin is inserted right into that seam, and you want it towards the top so that the top arch in the drapery pin is about 1/8″ to 1/4″ from the top of the drapery header.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        July 30, 2016 at 11:12 am

        The curtains I am sewing this time are not pinch pleats – just double wide panels. I am guessing they should be spaced 4-6″ apart? Is there a trick to making sure they are all even? I know this sounds like such a rookie question…

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    April 30, 2018 at 7:49 am

    Wow this was interesting.
    Newbie here

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Kathy York
    November 7, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    I know I’m coming to this discussion about 2 1/2 years late, but I’m hoping it’s still open. I’ll be making some flat panel drapes soon, and I want to get your opinion, Kristi, on the use of the header tape on these. I’ll be using rings and drapery pins to hang them. The fabric is a medium weight cotton and will be lined. From all I’ve read, the buckram tape is used primarily for pleated and grommet drapes. Have you used the tape on lined, flat panel drapes? Thanks.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      November 7, 2018 at 4:49 pm

      Yep, I use it even on flat panels. It just gives the header such a nice crisp look.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        November 7, 2018 at 6:31 pm


      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        April 13, 2021 at 8:24 am

        Even later to comment, would you recommend buckram on flat panel and then also pleating tape to but the hooks thru?

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          April 13, 2021 at 9:46 am

          I always use buckram (called header tape at Joann Fabrics) in the headers of my draperies, but I don’t use pleater tape. Since I always do double or triple pleats, I just put the drapery pins right into the backs of the pleats.

          • Reply To This Comment ↓
            April 13, 2021 at 11:37 am

            Ahh. I wasn’t going to do pleats, just rings and hooks for more informal. Didn’t want to try grommets.