Thursday, June 28, 2018

Drapery Panels with Grommets

My family room has two 4 foot wide windows and an 8 foot wide sliding glass door. I planned on making four drapery panels, one each for the two 4 foot wide windows and two for the 8 foot wide sliding glass door. Panels would hang on only one half of the windows and remain open at all times. They were to add softness and homeyness to the room and not be functional for light control. The drapes were to coordinate with the rug on the floor which is a floral swirl pattern in blue, aqua, taupe, and navy on a grey background.

I picked a large scale fabric of stylized trees in the same colors as the rug but on an ivory background. I wanted the drapes to run floor to ceiling and, since the fabric is a very large scale print, I did not want to detract from the graphics with pleats. I decided to do a grommet style drape. I had never done this before. However, when my kids were babies I would sew their clothes and add gripper snaps at the crotch and down the legs. Other than grommets being way bigger, how different could they be from gripper snaps?

The pattern repeat of my chosen fabric is 25". To go floor to ceiling in an 8 foot tall room requires 96" plus 4½" turnover for the top heading 4" wide stiffener. Adding a 4½" rule of thumb allowance to turn up a hem totals a length of 105". Four repeats is too little at 100". At 125", five repeats is a bit wasteful, but necessary. I cut four lengths of fabric five repeats long each. I turned over 4½" at the top edge and stitched on a 4½" wide non-woven heading stiffener butted up to the fold. Then I wrapped ½" of the fabric over the lower edge of the stiffener and zigzagged in place. The back side of the header is visible in later pictures. The non-woven header is shown in the next photo.

I initially bought Dritz plastic grommets size #12 with that are meant to snap in place. But they did not hold well enough with the thickness of two layers of fabric and a stiffener sandwiched between the two layers. They may possibly be OK for sheers or light weight curtains but most definitely not for drapes. Instead I ordered size #12 metal grommets from Amazon, 1-9/16" hole diameter. From my ancient low tech drafting days I used a plastic circle template to draw the hole sizes to cut out. Using a 1⅝" hole was perfect and I drew them with a fine 0.5 mm marker on the right side.

Drapes must have an even number of grommets in order to return to the wall the same at either side. I chose eight, a pretty common standard and the quantity in which the sets of grommets are typically packaged and sold. The holes for the eight grommets were equally spaced  6⅝" apart:

½sp O space O space O space O space O space O space O space O ½sp

Before cutting out the holes,  I stabilized the three layer sandwich so the fabric and header would stay aligned. I stitched a vertical line at each position and then, with the largest stitch size I had on my Pfaff, I stitched all across the header parallel to the top, through the midline of the grommet circles, a stitching line I would later remove.

To get the hole started I first tried folding the fabric in half and snipping in the center of the circle. That was difficult to do through six thicknesses and I nearly nicked the tip of my fingertip a couple times. I later came up with slicing a starting slot by poking a hole with a seam ripper and slicing outward to a point on the drawn circle. I inserted a straight pin at the marked line so I did not overshoot.

Cutting out 32 circles with scissors was not as onerous a task as I first thought it might be. My husband tried using a hole saw in his drill press in the garage but that method just shredded the fabric and flung the sample far out into the driveway. After cutting out the stabilized holes, the next step is to insert the front part of the grommet, the one with crenellations along the inner diameter (like the tower of a castle or the top of a rook in chess), into the hole from the front of the drapes. The hole fits snugly around the upward facing crenellations and I smoothed all around with my pointer finger or thumb.

Then I added the grommet back retaining ring with teeth that grip the fabric. Each of those upright tabs from the grommet front will then get curled outward and bent over, tucked within the annulus of the grommet back all around.

A closeup of the black hard rubber tool illustrates a base with a curved upper surface to mate with the grommet front. A plug then flips over the mated grommet assembly that sandwiches the fabric header. When pounded down with a mallet or squeezed into place with a press, the grommet back and front are then joined, crimping the drapery fabric in between.

My husband has a press so we did not need to pound with a mallet. I was lucky to have him as my brute force input.

At first I had bought four sets of eight grommets each, exactly the amount I needed for the drapes. My husband wisely encouraged me to buy some extra grommets so we could experiment with non-drapery fabric and perfect the installation technique. I did order one more set of eight from Amazon and they were there within a day.  Doing trial runs also gave us the experience of learning how to remove grommets that did not go in quite as desired. His array of tools to peel open those bent over crenellations was quite extensive.

The circle on the right in our practice panel was cut - er, uh, shredded by the hole saw.  Removed and deformed grommets can most definitely not be used again. We only had one out of 32 go in poorly in the real drapes. I was not paying enough attention and an extra fold of fabric had gotten crimped in. All is fixed and to our satisfaction now. 

The grommets look great in the drapes on the rod.

We bought a rod that looks like pipe for an industrial vibe.

The drapes slide easily and are not so crowded that the fabric print is lost.

Backing away a bit, here is what the corner of the room looks like. That blue leather chair is my favorite to curl up in and read in –  or stretch out on and nap.

There are a lot of patterns going on in this room, a quilter's delight. They all seem to work together because they share so many colors in common. I have a post March 30, 2018 about positioning the fireplace tile. 

The hardest part about this project was dragging around and manipulating the weight of each panel. By the third panel, I realized it was best to pile the panel on a chair and slide that chair from the cutting table, to the ironing board, to the sewing machine, and finally to the grommet marking and press station on my hall counter. Other than that, it was all straight sewing and not rocket science. 

I have thirty two of these leftover cut-out holes. They are double sided. Like donut holes, they must be good for something. Perhaps the folks at Lets Bee Social #231 will have some ideas.


  1. Thanks for your detailed account of the installation of the grommets. I had to smile at your description of your experience with the hole saw. I think you could raw edge applique the circles to a background in a grid format and make a cushion cover.

    1. We had to laugh too when that chunk of fabric went sailing out in to the driveway. My husband could justifiably voice his "I told you so!" I like your idea for the circles... I cannot bear to throw them out. Thanks for commenting.

  2. LOVE your style! And I can see that tool table that you recently bought peeking out there. I love that too. This room could be in a design magazine! Thanks for sharing your process. That was very informative.

    1. Thanks for following and for your kind compliments.

  3. Diane, I never cease to be amazed at all that you accomplish. Your choice of fabric is stunning. The colors are gorgeous. I admire your precise measuring and execution of everything you try. Good on Frank for being such a terrific sidekick to your activities. Your home looks as lovely as your personality. I hope you find time now to sit down in your blue leather chair to read or knit. By the way, did you knit the bunny on that chair? Somehow it looks familiar to me. Linda

    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the praise. It brings a huge smile to my face. I did not knit the bunny on the chair – although he, too brings a smile to my face. I bought the bunny for myself (not a grandkid) because he spoke to me. His funky olive gold type belly contrasting with his bright turquoise vest did me in. He is a Jellycat toy, made in London but widely available in gifts stores at least here in California. Their toys are precious, each is more adorable than the previous. The one on my blue chair is Lewis Rabbit and here is a link to him

  4. Oh well, that is so professional. I learned a lot.

    1. Glad you found the post useful. I am not a professional. It probably took me two or three times longer than a pro would. But it does give a sense of satisfaction to have figured things out. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

  5. Wow! Those look amazing! Love the industrial pipe rods, love how professional they look, and they do fit right in with your family room decor! I feel dad's pain on the extensive array of tools for removing a grommet gone wrong, I just had the same experience with snaps for a baby kimono a few months ago. But congratulations on your gorgeous new curtains, and congrats on getting up the motivation to do one of those "not hard, but hardly inspiring" sewing projects!!!