Ready-made. These are an excellent easy update if you’re working with a smaller budget or a tight time frame. They come ready to hang straight from the shop, and you won’t need to wait for makers and fitters. You’ll have to take your own window measurements, but many retailers offer guidance on this. There are drawbacks, however. “Because they’re available in limited size options, ready-made curtains may not be a perfect fit for your window,” Amanda Duffield of Unidrape Blinds & Interiors says. “You may have to position a track or pole to suit the closest curtain size available.” Duffield also warns that the linings used for ready-made curtains are generally of a lower quality than those of made-to-measure.
Made-to-measure. Opting for custom curtains lets you tailor the material, pattern, color and style to your own requirements.“Ready-made curtains come in standard sizes, while windows don’t — especially in period or traditional homes, where they can be a variety of shapes and sizes,” Sarah Quilliam of Hillaryssays. “With a made-to-measure service, you can be confident your curtains will be the best fit for your window.”
In addition, having a wider choice of fabrics means you’ll have a greater scope in putting your own stamp on the design. “You can add in extra features too, such as additional lining, tiebacks and headings for a bespoke look that meets your needs,” Quilliam says.
A potential disadvantage of custom curtains is that you can expect a lead time of two to three weeks, depending on the availability of the fabric. Also, as Duffield points out,“although in the long term made-to-measure curtains offer value for money, they’re a more considerable initial outlay than ready-made ones.” So look for designs that won’t become dated and that you won’t tire of, to justify the higher cost.
Never skimp on the making part of your custom curtains. If cost is a factor, choose a less-expensive fabric and, regardless of your budget, look for quality in the service you get from your maker.
“Always use a recommended curtain-making service, which will send a trained staff member to your home to measure up and give advice on the best style to suit your windows,” designer Mary Gannon says.
A curtain’s heading is the way in which it’s attached to the pole or track. It can have a big impact on the look of your curtains.
French or pinch pleats. These headings are made by joining three pleats together at the top of the curtains. They are pricier than other options, because they’re more labor-intensive to make, but Quilliam says they’re worth the extra money.
“Pinch pleats give a more tailored finish, with the curtain falling into elegant folds that can easily be dressed for a slightly more formal look — ideal for living rooms,” she says.
Pencil pleats. These are narrow, single pleats formed in neat folds. “Pencil pleats are less structured than pinch pleats and have an attractive, uniform gathered edge that works particularly well in more casual situations, such as a home office or bedroom,”Quilliam says.
Blackout lining. Your curtains will not be complete without the right lining for your lifestyle. Blackout linings, for example, will block much of the light that would otherwise creep through closed curtains. “For [nighttime] workers, parents with babies and cinema rooms, blackout is an essential element,” Gannon says. “They also provide insulation, thus energy-saving benefits, as well as reducing noise from outside.”Blackout curtains are a useful feature in other areas of the home too. For example, in living areas they can prevent glare on a TV or computer screen. “For total darkness, you could team blackout curtains and blinds together at one window,” Quilliam says.
Sheer, or voile, drapes soften the overall appearance of a window, maximize natural light during the daytime and still offer privacy. They’re not lined, so they don’t take up much room when pulled back from the window, which also makes them ideal where space is at a premium.Available in a range of fabrics, including cotton, silk and synthetic materials, sheers can be more cost-effective than traditional curtains. “Lots are available in wider widths, cutting down on the amount of making-up time needed,” Gannon says.Sheers have health benefits, too.“They’re good for people who suffer from hay fever, as they can help to stop pollen entering a room,” Gannon says. “With the exception of silk, they can be cleaned more regularly than standard curtains, which is a benefit to asthma and allergy sufferers.”
Combining different layers of window coverings allows you to control light and increase privacy, and can cut your energy bills.“We often get asked if curtains and blinds work together,” Quilliam says. “For the most part, the answer is yes. When paired, the two can provide a perfect balance of function and style. The blind generally does the job of light control and privacy, and the curtains add softness and a greater design element.“Although rollers, Venetians or Romans are most commonly layered with curtains, we are starting to see a rise in people opting for a curtains-shutters combo,” Quilliam adds. “The curtains are a way to soften the look of shutters and bring warmth and coziness to a room.”
Quilliams’ top tips for layering window coverings are:
- Choose complementary shades for a coordinated impression, or different prints for a more eclectic feel.
- Teaming curtains with blinds can create the illusion of a bigger window or make your ceiling appear higher. Just fit your blind about an inch above the window, with the curtain pole at the same height but extended up to 2 feet out at each side.
- Roller or Roman shades are a stylish way to dress a bay window. Go for a bold pattern on the blinds and plain curtains in a toning hue at either side, or vice versa, for a decorative focal point.
The pattern you choose can make a room seem larger or smaller than it actually is. “It’s important to keep the background colors the same when you’re using coordinating patterns, and make sure you don’t overwhelm the room with a riot of different designs,”Quilliam says. “When dressing large windows, the scale of pattern is critical. Too large a print can overpower, while too small looks fussy and will blend into the background.”
Most curtains can be dry-cleaned, but you may see some shrinkage — sometimes as much as 5 percent. Clean curtains only when really necessary, and always go to a recommended dry cleaner. Consider using the upholstery attachment of your vacuum cleaner too, for a quick refresh. Over time, this will minimize the need for dry cleaning.
Curtains are a big investment for most people. Think long-term and whether you’re going to tire of a color or design. “Before committing, borrow a returnable sample if available, or buy [a yard] and see it in your own light,” Gannon advises. “The color can change dramatically depending on light levels.”Think too of the effect you want to create. “Linen — and in particular embroidered linen — is beautiful but will not, by its very nature, give a smooth, streamlined look, so if this is what you want, then avoid it,”Gannon recommends. “Consider the end result you’d like to achieve and discuss this with your designer, curtain maker or the fabric house. Once you’ve agreed on a fabric and it’s been made up, there’s no going back, so take time to do your homework.”