How to Make Your Own Curtains


Although I am a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, sewing is not one of the home skills I enjoy very much. I used to sew a lot, and I think I got burned out. So, when our living room curtains started looking tired, I ignored them. When the cat stretched and put holes in one of them, I ignored them. When they looked dingy, I washed them, but they looked less crisp. I resumed ignoring them. However, the time came when I could no longer pretend they were fine.

Thinking I could save myself a lot of fuss, I went shopping for ready-made curtains. Not only was the selection small, but not a thing was the right color, style, or weight.

Only slightly daunted, I hit the Internet, and I looked hard. I was determined to find something. Unfortunately, the only ones I liked were expensive — and the wrong size, which meant they would need hemming, anyway.

It was time to suck it up, go to the fabric store, and make my own.

If you choose to embark on this project, here’s how to do it in 10 easy steps. (See also: 10 Cost-Effective Ways to Make Your Own Bookshelves)

Step 1: Assess Your Needs

Take a look at your windows to decide your purpose.

  • Do you need curtains that give you privacy?
  • Are they primarily decorative?
  • Do you need them to help keep the heat in?
  • If you have light sensitivity, do you need room-darkening curtains?

In my case, I needed partial privacy but also wanted my curtains to be decorative.

Step 2: Measure Your Windows

Get out your tape measure and...measure your window openings!

A general rule of thumb is that curtains should measure 1.5 to 3 times the width of your window opening. The more generous you are with the fabric, the more folds you will see when your curtains are closed, and the "richer" they will look.

For length, you want the curtains to fall at least below the window trim. You also need to allow for the top and bottom hems. You can leave as little as a 2-inch bottom hem; but here again, the more hem you leave, the better the curtains will hang, and the richer they will look. A 3- to 5-inch hem is preferable. Add another ½ inch to each hem to turn them under before stitching.

Will you be making a folded-over hem at the top? Or rod-and-pocket?

An easy compromise is to just make a 1½ inch hem at the top, which can be used as either a folded-over top hem or a rod-and-pocket. Add ½ inch to turn the hem under for stitching.

Step 3: Calculate Fabric Needs

This part gets tricky for the math-challenged (like me).

If you choose a “decorator” fabric, they usually run at least 60 inches wide. However, if you purchase a non-decorator fabric, you will need to buy more, as the widths traditionally run about 45 inches. As a result, you need to do two calculations, so that when you decide upon either a decorator or standard fabric at the fabric store, you make sure to get enough.

The two windows I was working on are 88 inches wide, and the curtains are partially open all of the time, so I decided that 1½ times the width would be fine. It also worked out well with the 45-inch material I chose, requiring three widths of material per window.

I wanted the finished panels to be 60 inches tall to cover my 57 inch high opening, so I added 3½ inches to each panel for the bottom hem, and 2 inches for the top, making a total of 65½ inches per panel.

At three panels per window, that equaled 196½ inches of fabric, or about 5½ yards. I rounded this up to 6 yards per window, or 12 yards total.

That gave me plenty of extra for un-square cuts from the fabric store, as well as extra material for accent pillows, etc.

Step 4: Gather Tools and Supplies

If you don’t have them already, you will need curtain rods and hardware for hanging your curtains. Most “big box” stores sell these. You can also be creative. In our case, since bamboo is abundant in Hawaii, my husband cut green bamboo poles and flamed them to dry them and to give them a nice, toasted color. He then mounted them on some homemade, wooden wall brackets. If you are trying to keep your cost down, look around and see what alternatives you have. I also purchased curtain rings. If you choose this look, plan to buy enough rings that you can hang them at 4-inch intervals.

Hopefully, you own — or can borrow — a sewing machine. Although curtains can be sewn by hand, this simple DIY job would then become time consuming and tedious.

You will also need:

  • Fabric and thread
  • Pins
  • Measuring tape
  • Sewing or regular pencil
  • Table or large work area
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Washer and dryer

Step 5: Shop for Fabric

The fabric store needs to be negotiated carefully. If you aren’t careful, your fabric can run you as much as ready-made curtains.

First off, ascertain whether your store has any discount programs. If so, sign up, and use those coupons! They can save you a bundle.

Since you will need a lot of fabric for curtains, clearance is a good starting place, where you can often find yardage for as little as $4 a yard. Here is a caveat about clearance fabric — check it carefully! Make sure there are no stains, tears, or other problems with it.

Once you have made your selection, choose a spool of matching thread.

Step 6: Prepare the Fabric

If you have purchased an all-cotton or cotton blend, you will need to pre-shrink your fabric. This simply means getting it wet (easy to do in the washer) and drying it in the dryer. (Look at the fabric care instructions to be sure this is recommended.) This prevents your curtains from shrinking or puckering if you wash them later. Before washing, I like to run a stitch along the cut ends, to prevent excessive unraveling in the washer.

Once dry, also iron the fabric. It needs to be wrinkle free when cutting and sewing for greatest accuracy.

Step 7: Cut and Sew

With your measurements handy, lay out your fabric on your table or work area. Measure twice, and cut once!

I use my dining room table to lay it out and cut it because the table holds the full width of 45-inch fabric, and also because the table has perfectly square ends, which I can use as a cutting guide for nearly square tops and bottoms.

After cutting out the pieces, I mark the hems with a fabric marker or pencil, drawing a line the length of each side of the fabric, to aide in making a straight hem. I use a ½-inch fold (or the width of the fabric’s selvage, whichever is greater).

Iron and Hem the Sides

Before hemming the sides, place your fabric on your ironing board.

Fold the entire length, carefully ironing as you go. Fold over, and iron again. Pin. Sew. Repeat for the other side.

Most instructions advise sewing the side hems by hand, to avoid puckers. Instead, because I know I will never complete the curtains if I have to sew every side hem by hand, I take a couple of steps to minimize puckering while sewing with the machine:

  1. I minimize the downward pressure setting on the pressure foot; and,
  2. I make sure that I do not push or pull the fabric, which tends to stretch it, while it feeds through the machine. I just allow the machine to feed the fabric, with minimal interference.

Iron and Hem Top and Bottom

Next, do the tops and bottoms.

For the top hem, fold over at ½ inch, iron, and pin. Fold over again at 1½ inches, iron, pin, and sew.

For the bottom hem, fold over at ½ inch. Iron. Fold again at 3 inches. Iron, pin, and sew.

Step 8: Iron Again

Sorry, yes. I hate ironing as much as anyone, but if you want your curtains to hang nicely, iron them once more before they go up.

Step 9: Hang Your Curtains

This is most easily accomplished if you have a tall helper. If not, a stepstool or ladder is handy.

Step 10: Admire Your Handiwork

Pat yourself on the back for being creative and saving some money!

Have you tackled this project? Please share your tips and advice in comments!

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Guest's picture

This was very helpful (thank you) AND your curtains are quite lovely. I especially like how light diffuses through the fabric. Well done!

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, SuzeMagoo (like your name) and thank you! Hope it does indeed help. :-)

Guest's picture

Thank you very much for this detailed tutorial about making curtains. A man at church had told me that he made the curtains for his home and described the process, but I was still oblivious. I think my wife and I can work through your tutorial together to finally get some curtains in our office area to soften that room up a bit. Thank you very much!!!

Marla Walters's picture

Jon, you definitely can do it. If you get stuck, contact me and I will help. Thanks for commenting and good luck!

Guest's picture

I can barely sew a straight line, but I made valences for my entire house. It really is this easy!

Marla Walters's picture

Hi, LJ! I have never attempted valences. If you say they are truly easy, well, maybe that will be a future project. Tx for suggesting them.

Guest's picture

I have tackled this but in fairness I will say that I have been sewing (simply) for many years since my Home Economics class in 1963 ! Curtains are very easy since you are at least just hemming and not cutting a pattern or doing seams, zippers or buttons.
I recently needed to cover two small basement windows so I bought one curtain panel in Target (a sheer paisley print), cut the panel into two pieces and hemmed both accordingly. Quick, easy and cost me about $15.00 total.