Monday, December 15, 2014

Pinch Me. And Then Pinch a Pleat. And Then Pinch Me Again. I Can't Believe I Made Hand-Sewn Pleated Draperies!

The guest room is starting to come together. We hung the headboard and mirror, and I just finished the scariest part of the project: Sewing curtains. I spent last Thursday and Friday making hand-sewn fancypants draperies with weights, pleats, buckram, the outer edges pinned to the wall, the works! If I didn't have photographic evidence, I wouldn't believe I made them. I keep making excuses to walk by the guest room so I can stare at them. *sigh*

Voila! The fabric is Robert Allen's Neo Toile. The nickel rods and crystal ball finials are from Lowe's.
If you've been reading closely, you know that my Mom makes custom, hand-sewn draperies. And she's good. Like, so good that she's made draperies for Nashville royalty like Barbara Mandrell. Mom made the curtains in our living room and bedroom, and she wanted to teach me how to make my own curtains. So I bought the fabric, went to her house, and she instructed me and supervised my work while I did everything myself (with one exception--but more about that later!). I was a very eager student. I wanted to do everything right, and I didn't want to cut any corners. I kept asking Mom, "Is this how Barbara's curtains were made? I want my curtains to be just like Barbara's!"
On day one, I spent four hours measuring, ironing, pinning, and hand-stitching. First I cut and hemmed all four sides of the fabric that makes up the front of the panel. Next, I did the same to the lining. Last, I sewed them together. All by hand.
The lining is attached to the drape with a stitch that goes through the lining and the back of the hemmed edge, but never pierces the front of the panel. From the front, this stitch is completely invisible. I kept confusing Mom by referring to it as the "ninja stitch." *grin*
At the end of day one, I had two 94'' tall panels hemmed to size, with the lining attached. It was around this time that we turned on Napoleon Dynamite, and Mom confessed that Uncle Rico's style reminds her of my Dad, circa 1978. HAHAHAHAHA! Ew. 
Mom asked me not to share all her secrets, so I can't post step-by-step instructions. But I'm happy to share a bit of what I learned. First, you need a sewing table to do this! It would be nearly impossible to do it without a very tall, 9+ foot long work table. I imagine that for many people, not having a long, clean, flat surface to work on is probably the greatest barrier to doing a project like this. And that's a bummer.

The next thing I learned is that if you have a 9 foot long table where you can lay your project out flat, it's not so difficult to make these curtains. Ironing? Pinning? Sewing a stitch with a needle and thread? That's not hard! If you've ironed a shirt and sewn a button, you already know how to do 90% of this. The hardest part was remembering which step came next. I constantly asked Mom, "Is this right? Is this what I do next?" I was intimidated by the scope project, and sometimes I didn't feel confident about my work. But when you break the project down into small steps, none of them are very hard.
On day two, we sewed in the weights and buckram. Mom sewed vertical seams at the top of the panels to start the pleats. Then I folded and sewed the pleats into place by hand.
Look, Ma! I'm sewing pleats! Also, I'm wearing a Nuka Cola shirt. Let me know if you recognize the reference!
This is what the finished product looks like from behind. To hang the curtains, I inserted a drapery hook into each vertical seam, about an inch from the top edge, then hung each hook from a curtain ring. 
I can't promise you that it's 100% easy, because there's one major step that I didn't do myself: I didn't work the math to figure the pleat placement, take the resulting numbers, and machine stitch the beginning of each pleat. There is a formula for figuring out the placement of the pleats. It's not a difficult formula, but Mom tells me it can be time consuming, especially the first time. Mom did this part of each panel while I worked on the other panel. When I realized she did this part without me, I turned into a whiny teenager. "MOOOOOOM! I wanted to do it myself!" Ha. 

I couldn't actually be mad, though. She knew I wanted to finish the curtains as soon as possible, and it was sweet of her to make the project go faster. Also, I think she was in a hurry to get to her Bunco game. But she happily handed the panels over to me for hand-pleating, watched me work, and told me I had a knack for it. I have a knack for pleating, y'all! 
Keith and I hung the curtains together on Saturday. We used an adjustable rod/finial/bracket set from Lowe's. I chose this set for its pretty crystal ball finials. Seriously, look at those finials! Are they not the best?

Keith measured and installed the brackets and rods. I attached drapery hooks to the back of each pleat, and hung the hooks from curtain rings that have a small loop for drapery hooks under the main body of the ring. I avoided curtain rings with clips. Clip-on curtain rings are really easy to use, and they can be nice when you want a casual look. But I don't think alligator clips sticking out at the top of curtains look very professional. And after all the work I'd done, I wanted to get the most professional results possible.
Can you see the straight pins? Mom recommended pinning the pleats for the first week or so, to encourage them to retain their shape.
To prevent a gap between the edge of the curtain (aka the return) and the wall, I used this professional trick: I put small eye screws in the wall, right under the finials. Then I inserted a drapery hook at the end of each panel, and threaded the hooks through the eyes of the screws.
The curtains just hit the floor. Perfection.
To do: Paint dresser.
I'm so pleased with these curtains, I already want to make more. But the rooms that still need curtains are at the bottom of our project list. Womp womp! But I have plenty of other things to do. The guest room needs art, pretty shams, and a handmade pillow or two. And after Christmas, I'd like to paint the nightstands and dresser. I painted them black seven years ago, and they all need of a fresh coat of paint. I want to paint the nightstands white and the dresser a very bright, bold reddish-orange. I'm inspired by this piece.

Painted Campaign Dresser from Vintage Transformed
What do you think? Too bright and crazy, or just crazy enough to work?


  1. OMG, go you!! That fabric looks amazing and the drapes turned out perfect. It's fun to see how they are made....I didn't realize how much hand-finishing goes into custom drapes. It's no wonder they are so pricey...that's a lot of labor.

    1. Thanks! *happydance* I'm still shocked by how well it all turned out. And I'm glad you liked the pictures of the process. I wasn't sure if those would be interesting or boring, but since *I* like to see how things come together, I figured someone else might, too. This stuff is normally so expensive that if you can find a proper work table, it's worth it to learn how to make them. I asked Mom what she would charge for these drapes, and her response made my jaw hit the floor. And she tends to undercharge!

  2. I love that color. I think it is crazy bright but it works. Its a good statement piece!

  3. I have eyeballed that fabric myself, it is lovely!! They turned out great. A reddish-orange dresser would go well with them!

  4. Great job, they look amazing ! I'm looking at this fabric for my kitchen.


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