All You Need to Know About Curtains
Blinds and shutters may be easier window dressings, but nothing beats the allure of a light billowy curtain or drama of heavy drapes
There are so many beautiful fabrics to choose from and so many different styles to consider. If you use a patterned fabric for the curtains, for example, then keep the patterning in the rest of the room to a minimum. If, however, you prefer plains, add a complementary pattern to spice up the room. Read on for lots of tips, from different hanging systems to types of curtain pleating.
The great thing about curtains is that you’re not just investing in something beautiful for your home, you’re also adding practical insulation. Curtains reduce cold and heat but also help to dampen noise.
Good quality window treatments form a barrier between energy-sapping windows and the inside of your house, lowering energy consumption, saving you money and reducing your carbon footprint. During the summer, simply closing curtains – particularly lined curtains – can reduce heat gain inside by up to 33 per cent.
TIP: Lined and interlined curtains will insulate even further and provide a total ‘blackout’ that can help to prevent textiles fading from the sun. Lined curtains also help the fabric drape and fall more evenly.
More tips for saving energy
The curtain style you choose should be in harmony with the style of your home. Each room is likely to be slightly different but should follow form. For example you may have two to three layers in a bedroom – something decorative to dress the window, something sheer for privacy and a blackout layer to control light.
If privacy is not a concern in your living room, it may only need a beautiful set of sheer curtains. A nursery, however, will need a blockout layer to go with some industrial strength sound proofing!
TIP: Think about how you would describe your home to a stranger. This will help you decide the style of curtain to choose.
Fabric is one of the key considerations when choosing curtains. The fabric you choose will determine how well your curtains will function and bear up over time. Heavy fabrics may not fold and drape properly when they’re drawn, and if the fabric is too light, it may not fall well. Linen, silk and velvet are great fabric choices as they tend to hang and drape very well.
Take your time and collect swatches. Most fabric shops will provide swatches on the spot, others will have to order them in for you. Create a mood board with your swatches, or use your smartphone and take photos of the fabric and start an Ideabook on Houzz.
TIP: Hold the fabric up to the window to get a feel for how the light will play with it. Test the drape of the fabric by pleating or gathering a good length of fabric to see how it falls.
Where to shop for fabric
Unless you live in a log cabin on the prairie, curtains should always be long – they should just touch the floor. Hanging curtains higher than the window will add height to the room. If you can, hang your curtains at least 15cm above the window frame. For a more dramatic look, hang them even higher, from the ceiling or just below the cornices. This will lift the eye and make a low ceiling appear higher.
Remember that curtains should frame a window, so make sure hardware is installed to reflect that. A rule of thumb is to allow an extra 10 per cent of rod on each side, but heavier fabrics will require a bit more.
When curtains are open, the space that the gathered fabric takes up is called ‘the stack’. The stack should not cover too much of the window itself when the curtains are pulled.
TIP: To ensure that your curtains look draped when closed, curtain widths should be two to two-and-a-half times the width of the window.
Curtain tracks are an unobtrusive and elegant way to hang curtains. Install double or even triple tracks for a layered look of sheers and blackout curtains, particularly if you lack privacy but want to let the light in. The quiet, efficient and smooth operation of tracking systems make them a very popular choice. They are particularly good if you have a curved window and need to bring the curtain around a corner.
TIP: These hanging systems are great for a contemporary space. Add a pelmet or valance and these systems will work in a more formal space.
Curtain poles, or rods, are a really versatile way to hang different types of curtains. They are available in different sizes and can be made from a number of different materials. Poles are usually capped at each end with a finial, a decorative stopper affixed to the ends of a pole to prevent the curtain slipping off.
TIP: If you have high ceilings you should choose a pole diameter of more than 40mm, or the pole will look lost.
Heading is the term used to describe the way the top of the curtain attaches to the hardware (the poles or tracks). The most basic heading is the rod pocket (also known as pole pocket) style. This is when the curtain fabric is turned back on itself to create a pocket through which to feed the curtain rod. Heading tape or eyelets are also used, and this determines how the curtain will hang. The type of heading tape you use can sometimes determine the curtain’s character, and deliver either a contemporary look or something a little more traditional.
TIP: Rod pocket curtain headers are not as easy to draw as other curtain headers, as the curtain doesn’t easily slip along the pole. You may need a tie back, but this can be something as simple as a tassel rope that coordinates with your curtain, or one made from the same or a contrasting fabric to the curtain.
These tidy and consistent folds at the top of the curtain resemble the size of a pencil, hence the name. These curtains are hung with drapery hooks attached to the back of the curtains where they can’t be seen, and then hooked onto a rod system.
TIP: This curtain style in sheer fabric is perfect for a family room with large glass windows or doors, particularly when there is sunlight flooding the room.
The beautiful curtains pictured here have pinch pleat headings and are gathered up more than other curtain styles. The pleats are sewn into the curtain for a permanent gathered look. This is a very versatile style that can be hung on curtain tracks or poles.
Pinch pleats can often be quite formal, but these curtains have been trimmed in a cool colour and paired with modern furnishings and finishes to offer a contemporary look.
This style of pleated curtain is a cross between a pinch pleat and a pencil pleat. A gathered curtain is created by sewing a pleating tape to the back of the top edge, then pulling cords in the tape to achieve the desired level of gathering.
Creating a tailored, elegant look, French-pleated curtains have groups of triple pleats, placed evenly along the curtains to create a formal heading. These curtains stack neatly to each side and are ideal for a formal dining or lounge room.
These goblet pleated curtains are the most formal of all styles, with a cylindrical cuff that resembles a wine glass. The main pleat is shaped and filled with wadding or interlining. These curtains are usually seen in grand or traditional rooms with high ceilings.
Tab-top curtains have loops at the top, made from the same or contrasting fabric. These modern, informal curtains can only be used with curtain poles. They look great in a sheer, billowy fabric and result in deeper folds in the curtain.
TIP: As the curtain hardware is very exposed, it’s important to invest in quality, good-looking poles and finials.
Eyelet curtains can only be used with curtain poles and have a very contemporary and almost industrial feel. Curtains with eyelet headings give large, even and naturally soft folds.
TIP: This type of heading means that not as much fabric is required. The style is great for showing off prints.
These are placed above windows and over the heads of the curtains to add a finished look to the top of the window and curtain, camouflaging the track or pole. They can be used to create an illusion of height and change the proportion of the window.
A valance is usually soft and drapey, while a pelmet is firm and structured and usually, but not always, upholstered.
The pelmet featured in this room is constructed from timber and simply painted to create a modern framework to conceal the curtain hardware. The beauty of this type of pelmet is that it’s easy to construct and means you can be a little less concerned about the detail of the poles and tracks. The curtain falls to the floor, seamlessly creating a light and floaty feel.
Framing the room
Good curtains will soften the look and feel of a room in a way that no other window treatment will.
Curtains can ‘play’ with the proportions of a room, frame a pretty outlook or shield a bad one.
If there’s one trend in curtains that’s big right now, it’s sheers. We’re not talking about Grannie’s net and lace nylons here, but rather beautiful natural fibres.
From living rooms to bedrooms, whether you pair them with blackouts or parade them on their own, sheers are the high-fashion models of window treatments; beautiful, versatile and inspirational. Cascading sheer curtains out of a bulkhead or simple pelmet gives the illusion of light and space, while still providing all-important privacy.
TIP: Team sheers with blackout blinds to allow for transparency and light during the day and privacy at night.
Use curtains in unusual places. There is nothing more relaxing and soothing than a beautiful sheer curtain fluttering in a light breeze on a summer day.
The popularity of these hardworking window treatments has led to new developments in fabrics with sheer linens and fine wools entering the fold.
Curtains in unusual spaces
In bedrooms, and nurseries more particularly, curtains can block out the light and keep baby (and you) asleep during daytime naps. The room needn’t look dark and gloomy though. Choose a vibrant colour like this sunny orange to keep the space cheery, even when the curtains are drawn.