One of the quickest, simplest and most affordable ways to transform the whole look and feel of a room is to change the window treatments. This is something you can do yourself in no time at all, and the visual rewards are instant.
Whether you buy curtains or blinds ready-made or have them made to fit, you need to measure the window and its surrounds accurately. If you are having curtains made, the amount of fabric required will depend on the style of heading you want, but also on the length you choose – you have absolute flexibility here.
You’ll also need to decide whether to opt for a pole or track. Go for a pole if you’re happy for it to be seen, but if you’d rather it be hidden, you’re better off choosing a track. Fixing either a pole or a track is fairly straightforward, and is certainly something that even a novice DIYer can successfully attempt.
- Made to Measure Curtains
- Benefits of Linings
- Gathering the Heading Tape
- Hanging Curtains
- Choosing Curtain Poles & Tracks
- Fixing the Supports
- How to Fix Poles & Tracks
- Types of Blinds
- Measuring for Blinds
Made to Measure Curtains
Whether sewn by you, a friend, or a professional curtain-maker, made-to-measure curtains give you the widest choice of fabric and heading. They may be the only option if your windows don’t conform to the standard sizes of ready-made curtains.
Sheers, voiles, and laces are very thin fabrics that give daytime privacy and help screen an ugly outlook.
Medium-weight fabrics, like cotton prints or linen, give privacy after dark but, unless lined, will not keep out the morning light or stop heat loss and draughts.
Heavy fabrics, like velvet, chenille, or tapestry, are good for keeping light out and keeping heat in.
Fabric seconds can be great bargains, but find out what the fault is before you buy. A pattern printed just slightly askew will look conspicuously crooked once it’s hanging at a window.
The heading tape hides the edge of the top of the curtain, holds the cords that are used to draw up the curtain fabric to the required width, and provides slots to hold the curtain hooks.
These are the most popular heading tapes:
- Gathered or Standard Heading. Pulls the fabric into an irregular ruffle. Good for unlined, lightweight fabrics. Allow one and a half to three times the width of the pole or track.
- Pencil Pleats. Suitable for all fabrics. Allow twice the width of the pole or track (three times for lightweight fabric).
- Pinch Pleats. This heading tape makes regular and evenly spaced pleats. This means that you cannot always gather the fabric to exactly the right width, so you must err on the generous side when calculating the fabric required or the curtains won’t meet in the middle. Pronged hooks, which are more expensive than standard hooks, hold the pleats in place. Allow twice the width of the pole or track.
- Goblet Pleats. An eye-catching heading, especially if each goblet is finished with a fabric-covered button. Like pinch pleats, they are evenly spaced. Allow two and a half times the width of the pole or track.
Benefits of Linings
Lining your curtains is usually a good idea, and offers the following benefits:
- curtains hang better,
- gives you more privacy,
- blocks out more light,
- keeps in more heat,
- gives better insulation against noise,
- makes curtains last longer – the lining protects them from fading and dirt,
- gives a uniform appearance to windows from outside (if the linings match).
In addition to standard lining fabrics, there are flame-retardant linings and fabrics that block out the light.
A thermal interlining (an additional layer of fabric between the curtain and lining) improves both heat and sound insulation and makes the fabric look much fuller.
Gathering the Heading Tape
This involves pulling the cords of the heading tape to draw up the fabric so that it fits the width of the pole or track.
- Heading tapes have two or three gathering cords, and these cords should be knotted together at each end of the tape before you start pulling them.
- Pull the cords from a point 10-15 cm (4-6 inch) from the edge, so the bunched excess cord will be hidden behind the curtain. If you pull the cords from the ends, they hang at the side of the curtain. With wide curtains, pull the cords from both ends.
- Don’t cut off the excess cord, you will have to flatten out the curtains for cleaning in the future. Tie a knot you can pull out easily.
- Don’t iron curtains before you hang them – the creases will soon drop out.
- Take the weight of the fabric on your right shoulder (if you’re right-handed), draping the curtain so that the heading tape is to the front. This makes hooking the curtains onto the track far less tiring.
- To encourage your curtains to hang evenly, open them and arrange the hemmed edges into neat folds, 15-20 cm (6-8 inch) deep.
- Tie a ribbon or string loosely around each curtain to hold the folds in place, then run your thumb and forefinger up and down each fold to make a sharp crease. Leave the ribbons in position for two or three days before removing them and closing the curtains.
Check also this Video below
Choosing Curtain Poles & Tracks
Curtain poles are sold in lengths of up to 3 m (10 ft), often with a wide choice of finials – decorative ends that prevent the curtains sliding off. Most poles are supplied as kits with wall fixings.
The brackets should be fitted about 10 cm (4 in) in from either end of the pole.
- To decide what length to cut the curtain pole, hold it above the window with one curtain attached, and position it with enough pole protruding beyond the frame to allow the curtain to overlap the wall. Allow at least 20 cm (8 in), depending on the thickness of the cloth. Pull the curtain into the open position to make sure it draws right back from the window and lets in the maximum light.
- Telescopic poles save the need for cutting to size, but they are not as strong as solid poles. Check that the pole will take the weight of the curtain fabric you’ve chosen, including the linings.
- Poles allow you to hang curtains with rings or tabs of material. Tabs are available in kits that include decorative buttons, clips, pins, and iron-on tab templates. Cut leftovers of your curtain material to size and simply iron on the templates to make the tabs.
- Choose slim, lightweight rods for hanging muslin, lace, or voile curtains. Make cafe blinds by fitting a brass rod across the window, and fixing the fabric in place with pincer clips.
Curtain tracks are sold in lengths of up to 3 m (10 ft) and come with fixing brackets, slip-on hooks, end stops, and instructions for hanging the curtains.
- Some tracks have integral cords to allow you to draw the curtains without handling the fabric.
- Some are fitted with motorized accessories that allow you to open and close the curtains automatically with a remote-controlled unit.
- If you want a valance to hide the top of the curtains and the track, opt for a combined track and valance rail kit. Check the track packaging to make sure it will support the weight of your curtains, including linings.
- As with a pole, the track should extend beyond the window frame by at least 20 cm (8 in), depending on the thickness of the curtains, to allow in as much light as possible when the curtains are open.
Fixing the Supports
You will need a hammer drill fitted with a masonry bit to make holes in the wall above the window. Masonry bits have hardened metal points that can bore through concrete, blocks, and bricks.
Buy a small pack of assorted diameter bits as they are useful for other fixing jobs.
Solid Brick or Block Walls
Track kits normally include wall plugs for fixing into solid walls. If not, use plugs at least 50 mm (2 in) long to give a strong grip for the combined track and curtain weight.
Use a drill bit the same diameter as the wall plugs. For a stronger fixing, use the drill bit size that is stamped on the plastic ‘tree’ that connects the wall plugs.
Concrete is difficult to drill. Instead of drilling lots of holes for the fixing brackets, fix a 25 x 50 mm (1 x 2 in) timber batten to the wall with a screw at either end, beyond the lintel ends, and attach the brackets to this.
You can sometimes attach track (but usually not poles) to the architrave of the window, for instance, if the window is in a recess with ceiling straight above. You need to drill holes for the brackets with a wood bit.
Screw the brackets into the highest parts of a decorative architrave where it is flat so that the track doesn’t buckle. If the window is in a recess, the track can’t be extended beyond the sides of the window, and open curtains will bunch up at the edges, excluding light.
Where the architrave of the window is flush with the wall, you can fix the track directly to the edges of the window reveal. But the track can be extended only about 50 mm (2 in) beyond the window frame, or it will sag, and this is not enough to draw most curtains back fully.
To extend the track on to the walls at either side of the window, thus giving more light when the curtains are open, fix a timber batten over the top of the architrave – see Concrete lintel, above.
Buy cavity wall fixings with flanges that open out on the inside face of the plasterboard to give a strong grip in plasterboard ceilings or walls.
Avoid heavyweight curtains unless you can fix the track or pole to the timber battens behind the plasterboard.
Fitting track to a ceiling can be difficult if the joists behind the ceiling run parallel to the window wall, as the nearest joist may be in the wrong position.
In this case, you will need to fix cross battens between the joists so that you have something to screw into which involves gaining access from above, either by going up into the loft or by taking up the flooring above.
Once you have access, drill through the ceiling from below at the correct fixing positions, then nail 25 x 50 mm (1 x 2 in) battens at right angles to the joists. You will need a special ceiling fixing kit to attach to the brackets.
How to Fix Poles & Tracks
- Decide on the height of the pole or track by holding the curtains up to the window. It should be at least 75 mm (3 in) above the window frame. The curtain should be around 12 mm (1/2 in) above the floor to reduce wear on the hem. For shorter curtains, allow at least 50 mm (2 in) to drop below the bottom of the window frame, but make sure the fabric does not touch a radiator.
- Draw a line above the window where the pole or track brackets are to be fixed. Use a spirit level to ensure the line is horizontal. Continue the line beyond each side of the window frame.
- Fit your drill with a masonry bit the same diameter as wall plugs. Wrap tape around the bit to mark the length of the plug. Drill bracket fixing holes along the pencil line spaced according to the kit instructions. The end brackets should be around 10 cm (4 in) in from the ends of the pole or track to prevent sagging.
- Tap wall plugs or cavity fixings into the drilled holes. If plugs protrude, take them out and make the holes deeper.
- For poles, screw the pair of end brackets to the wall. You may need a central bracket to support a long pole or very heavy curtains. Attach the curtains to the pole and slot it through the brackets. The end ring or tab should sit between the bracket and the end of the pole to hold the curtains in place as you draw them. Check that the pole ends overhang the window frame equally at either side. Screw the pole securely to the brackets with the screws in the kit. Fit the finials at both ends.
- For tracks, screw the fixing brackets in place, making sure the track clips are all vertical. Clip on the curtain track. Stand back and check that the track ends overhang the window frame equally at either side. Fit the curtains to the track and add any cord fittings or valance rails. If the curtains are hard to pull, apply a light spray of silicone wax polish to the track.
Types of Blinds
Blinds can either be used on their own as a simple treatment or in combination with curtains.
They are useful for small windows or for windows where there is no space at the side for a curtain and be fitted either inside or outside the window recess.
This is the simplest form of blind, made out of a flat piece of stiffened fabric which is wound around a wooden or metal roller.
A wooden lath is inserted in the hem at the lower edge to keep the blind flat and straight. For added design detail the lower edge, below the lath, can be shaped and trimmed with braid or fringe.
Roller blinds are a good solution for kitchen and bathroom windows and can be fitted neatly into the recess of a window. They can be bought ready-made in a standard range of fabrics or custom-made in laminated fabrics.
These blinds provide an elegant, tailored window dressing, which draws up into even horizontal folds.
To keep the folds straight and even, metal rods or wooden laths are inserted in pockets in the lining at regular intervals.
The top of the blind is fixed onto a narrow wooden batten. The blind is drawn up by cords which are then wrapped around a hook.
Vertical blinds are ideal for controlling the amount of light coming into a room. They provide privacy when closed, a clear view of the outside world when pulled back, and can be used to filter the light when tilted at an angle.
They are perhaps less visually pleasing than the other blinds and are usually used in office environments or with large full-height windows or patio doors.
Available in some materials and finishes including plastic, aluminium, and wood, Venetian blinds are suitable for any room.
They’re versatile too: you can expose virtually the entire window, or adjust the blind to let in light but also provide privacy.
They can be used in both contemporary and more traditional settings.
Measuring for Blinds
First of all, decide where you want to position your blind, either within the window recess or outside it.
Make sure you always use a steel measuring tape as cloth tapes are not accurate.
Within the Recess
- Measure the width of the window, at the top, middle and bottom of the recess. Note down the smallest of these measurements.
- Measure the height of the window, at the left, middle and right of the recess. Use the largest of these measurements (except for vertical blinds, where you should use the smallest).
Outside the Recess
- Measure the width of the window, at the top, middle and bottom. Take the largest of these measurements, and add approximately 120mm (5 in), so that the blind will overlap the window and prevent any light leaking in.
- Measure the height of the window, at the left, middle and right. Take the largest of these measurements, making sure you have measured to where you would like the blind to extend to. You will also need to add the amount needed to mount the blind, which will be at least 50mm (2 in).