Thursday, October 27, 2016

Saga of Curtains for Master Bedroom

I have two windows my master bedroom. One facing the front of the house is the 6' wide by 4' high and has a 6' diameter half circle above reaching upward into a vaulted ceiling; one facing the side of the house is also 6' wide by 4' high, but has no half-circle above.  Liking the look and functionality of plantation shutters, we had a set installed on each of those two windows. I liked the crisp clean look that made the white moulding pop; but my husband said the room seemed cold and sterile. I guess being married to a quilter he was beginning to have a bit of withdrawal from the usual fabric immersion of our décor. He wanted me to make curtains.

But if we did add curtains, I wanted them to enhance both features of the window, draw attention to the arch and follow the line of the vaulted ceiling. I had to figure out what style to make and, even more critical, how to make them. Rings or grommets on a rod would just slide downhill on slanted drapery rods. A casing alone gathered on a rod would need to be loose enough to gather at an angle and then would have the same slippage problem. Plus gathers were too fussy. Ideally, I wanted some gently undulating waves cascading gracefully down either side of the window. Yeah. Right. Here is a sketch of my concept.

I considered using three drapery sconces on this arched window, thinking they might work well, one at each upper corner and one at the central peak. I envisioned fabric passing through the sconces draping like those red, white, and blue buntings seen on July 4th and Memorial Day, and echoing the line of the ceiling. In retrospect I think those buntings are carefully pleated swags and not merely draped cloth. I expected the material to fall in graceful folds from the outer sconces along the vertical drops. In addition to the three sconces for the front window I bought two for the side window.

The sconces reminded me of wood carvings on an old fashioned carousel. We were striving for a beach amusement pier theme. A metal wall sculpture started it all and was the jumping off point for our design both in color and ambience. That wall decor is shown in the next photo.

I especially liked the cuddling couple under the boardwalk. Remember the song by the Drifters?

                    (Under the boardwalk) out of the sun
                    (Under the boardwalk) we'll be havin' some fun
                    (Under the boardwalk) people walking above
                    (Under the boardwalk) we'll be falling in love
                    Under the boardwalk, boardwalk!

I found a fabric with the perfect hues of coral and periwinkle in a cheerful awning stripe that made me think "sling canvas lounge chair on the sand". I searched the web and found an instructional link to make swags. I decided to start with the side window with its horizontal ceiling-wall configuration and figure out the required variation for the vaulted ceiling on the front window later. The width of the window and how much hangs down on each side determines the length of fabric needed. I started with the lesser fabric investment first, the side window, and used two of the five sconces I'd bought. With the fabric being striped, the folds would alternate between horizontal and vertical stripe direction, a neat effect I thought. The instructions called for an edge to be folded back at an angle to make stair stepped folds. Clever ... a new technique I was curious to try.

The theory was good. I did like the stripe direction variation in the side portion but there was not room for enough of it.

The fabric was far too heavy to drape gracefully being limited in vertical drop by the presence of that wall sculpture. And yet, next to that side window was our only wall space large enough to fit the sculpture.

Even when I pinned the upper edge of central section up to follow the ceiling line, the triangles of blue wall beneath the sconces at either upper corner were pretty ugly and out of place. Lowering the sconces would have interfered with opening the shutters. The ghastly mess wound up looking like the brow of a great horned owl with two tufts where his ears would be.

See what I mean? Back to the drawing board. I abandoned working the sconces. Next I would try working the front window with the arch above by using pleats that followed the line of ceiling.

Too much watching of HGTV had made me scornful of traditional methods as outdated. Perhaps I should not have abandoned them so wantonly. I loved the striped fabric with its colors and awning feeling and was determined to find a way to use it to advantage. Since it was not a gently draping kind of fabric I needed a different approach. I revisited my tried and true method of drapery making learned about three decades ago. In the early 1980's, we had bought our first home and I had taken a class at the local adult education to dress our windows economically and in a fabric of my choosing. It is amazing how much of what I learned stuck with me. I bought several yards of 4" wide drapery heading stiffener and aimed for a more tailored approach. I remembered that the top edge of the fabric was wrapped around the stiffener and then pleated.

Since the ceiling slanted I needed to attach the stiffener at an angle. The angle was determined by how much the highest point differed from the lowest point. On the front of the fabric (so I did not get messed up by right and left handedness) I drew a line from highest point at one end to lowest point at the opposite end before the fabric was pleated. There were no calculations and the angle, even though it seemed to shallow, would be self-adjusting and steeper once pleated. The pleats would be jagged and not perfectly horizontal within themselves on the top but I could live with that. I knew the side edges of the header would poke out at an angle, but I could figure that out later. I made a sample with approximately 18" of length to test out the method.

I turned over ½" of the striped fabric along the slanted top edge and steamed in the crease to wrap the stiffener.

Then I folded over the 4½" separate from the ½", rather than the ½" and then an additional 4". This sequence minimized variation in case the harder-to control ½" was wiggly.

I then sewed the upper edge of the stiffener nestling it into the crease by puffing up the fabric to the left of the pressure foot a slight amount to clarify where the crease was.

Then I remembered to change the pressure foot to the one with the smiley slit opening (on the left) so I did not break my needle by trying to zig zag with a small opening foot (on the right) suited only for straight stitching. It is not unusual for me to break a needle before "remembering" this change of tooling detail.

The ½" overturned edge of the fabric sits better folded over the stiffener when secured in place by a zig zag stitch.

I was constrained to a width that cleared the shutters so they could open. I calculated how much fabric I had to "subtract" from the WOF by including it in pleats. The number of pleats was determined by the horizontal repeat of the stripes so they did not "walk" when pleated. I needed five pleats per panel and each one fell between a coral and a periwinkle stripe. Having the fabric I liked be a stripe was stroke of good luck. I folded each pleat on the same color stripe and finger creased it. This also guaranteed I had equally spaced the pleats.

I measured in from the fold for where to place the vertical stitching line. Again the stripes were a blessing and a good check that each pleat was alike when the stitching line fell on the same color.

When putting in the pleats, the stripes were also an excellent guide for keeping on grain and vertical. Otherwise in making those pleats, I could have been easily misled into making them at right angles to the header edge. My 18" long un-hemmed sample was worth the effort to check out my pleat calculations and confirm my resulting pleated width. By thumbtacking it up to the wall, I determined that the pleated panel followed the slanted ceiling line quite well.

One of the challenging aspects of making curtains, very much like quilting a large quilt, is bulk management. For the long curtains for the front window I suspended the fabric yardage from the back of my sewing room chair to the ironing board to methodically iron out the worst of the wrinkles and turn up the hem.

For the width of the valance on the side window, I would methodically work my way along the top, stitching in each pleat and letting the bulk yardage accumulate to the left where it was supported.

I needed to finish off the side edges. I did not turn under the standard 1½". I had to turn under less because the pleats were close enough to the edge that the bulk of the side hem would have needed to be included within the pleat. The color test dots along one side of the selvage are visible on the back but I was accepting of that look as a bit more relaxed. Similarly I machine stitched the side hems instead of hand stitching. Beach chairs sport top stitching so why not these awning type curtains. Some designs also flaunt selvages so I was OK with this look - dare I call it "organic"?

For a valance for the side window, I used the same pleat size formula as for the long panels for the front window, but with a horizontal, not slanted top, My husband likes the pleats not pinched together to show off the stripe colors more. I think they may be called cartridge pleats if left that way. But cartridge pleats are typically smaller. I claim that, at the size I made them, they look like a row of empty cardboard toilet paper tubes all lined up. Not the same as "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall" but pretty close. I intend to pinch them in thirds and stitch just below the heading.

What remains now is pinching and hand-stitching in each pleat. That is the stage I am at now.

Here are the long front window drapes just thumbtacked up. I could make more panels for the upper part of the arch but I an opting for some sort of other decorative wall art above the window instead - perhaps, shells, crossed oars, brass rings from carousel, carnival ride tickets? I like to see the crisp blue wall white moulding interface.

This pleating method worked for size but did not give me the freedom to feature the colored stripes I preferred. The curtains seem to feature the soft loden green rather than the more vivid tones of coral and periwinkle. I am reserving judgment until I get them steamed and tied back for a few days of "training".

I had an earlier post, way back in a January 6, 2015 , where I made cushions for a window seat within the alcove. The seat cushions were made from a unique IKEA fabric with a rope design shown in my post for December 3, 2014. It was not very colorful but a holding measure until I found the "right" fabric. Here we are almost two years later and my husband's patience for a fabric softening window covering is wearing thin. I had not been being ornery or procrastinating. I'd been been merely waiting for inspiration. I no longer want to be inspired. I want to be done! I am almost there. The panels and valance will be hung by drapery hooks from eyelets in wooden strips - my husband's department. Once I get those pleats pinched and stitched I can say, "Tag, you're it!" Although I do think I have enough striped fabric left to switch out or at least make a cover for those knotted rope seat cushions. It would be a bit more colorful to see that striped fabric shown off to advantage flat, without being scrunched into pleats. For now, I will emerge from the bedroom and sewing rooms to be social at Let's Bee Social #148.


  1. girl! Making it work! That's impressive... and now you can hire yourself out to design for others, like your friend LeeAnna!

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement. Time for me to buckle down and sew up those pinch pleats. I remember when I was little on my birthday my aunts would say to me "and a pinch to grow an inch". After I am done with this valance I sure will have grown (and groan) ;•)