New Arcadia Door Curtains: $75!

Et voilà! Now that the fine new ultra-low-E, all matching Arcadia doors were installed, I developed a craving for prettier draperies in the bedroom. The sliding doors in the dining and family doors have sheer floor-length curtains that I made shortly after moving in to the house. I ran out of steam, though, before I got to the back room. In there, a couple of layers of Pier One curtains were jury-rigged on a double rod to keep out the early-morning light…not very effectively.

While I was washing the sheers that had to be taken down for the new door installations, it occurred to me that a set of sheers laid over that cheapo peacock-colored silk curtain just might look pretty nice. They would attenuate the gaudiness of the eye-popping teal, which picks up a more subdued teal on the bedroom’s accent wall. And with windows that no longer radiate heat like a wall furnace, the blue-green things could be slid open, allowing sheers to filter the light and making the room look pretty nice.

So it was off to Fabric Depot, the one surviving fabric store within 15 miles of my house, to pick up the nicest sheer white nylon they had, in 96-inch lengths. They didn’t have the wood clip rings I wanted, but Home Depot did. Unfortunately, HD’s were too dark; however, the clips are easy to remove, and I have a shoebox full of wooden rings that lack the clips. I needed 22 with clips; I had 18 of those. So…it was just a matter of buying one package of HD’s Mediterranean-ugly rings, removing their clips, and snapping them onto my lighter-colored rings. Fabric: $68. Rings: about 8 bucks.

Making unlined draperies is a little time-consuming, but really very easy. First, get the fabric retailer to cut the cloth into the lengths you need. Wide curtain and upholstery fabric comes on rolls that fit into a machine designed to measure out the correct lengths; these have a groove along which the sales clerk can cut a pretty straight line. Once you get the stuff home, lay it out on the floor, one piece atop the other, to be sure they really are the same length.

These are folded in half—they’re actually twice as wide as they appear in the photo. As you can see, the raw edges are not exactly straight—although the saleslady did a better job than most! Straighten the edges either by running a long straightedge from selvage edge to selvage edge (usually these are straight and pretty close to parallel) or by folding the fabric up so that a selvage edge runs along the cut edge, showing where the cut edge is uneven.

Good nylon irons easily; you can press a sharp crease in it, and you also can easily press it out and press out any wrinkles. Set your iron at silk/wool, anddo not try to steam the fabric. At the lower temperatures, your iron will not steam; it will spit. Higher temps will melt nylon. Use a spray bottle to lightly dampen the fabric as you go.

Your ironing board should be well padded, and you’ll need a package of very sharp pins. Large craft pins are sometimes dull; use sharper pins designed for sewing. You’re going to use the pins to secure the hems as you press them in, and then, once a hem is properly pressed and creased, take pin it in place  preparatory to stitching it.

I started by turning the selvage over to form a narrow hem on what would be the curtain’s vertical edges. Fold it over once, pressing:

Press and pin it as you go. You can stick the pins straight down into the ironing-board cover to hold the fabric in place while you press this narrow edge, and then lift them out to secure the hem after it’s creased:

Stitch these narrow hems, and you have now finished the vertical sides of your curtains.

No, I don’t cut off or slash the selvage. And yeah, I know you’re supposed to. For one thing, nylon doesn’t shrink when it’s washed, and so you don’t risk puckering. For another, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

You can sew these curtains on a machine or by hand. Personally, I prefer to stitch each hem by  hand. Obviously, a sewing machine will go a lot faster, but with very fine fabric, you need some real skill with the machine to avoid puckering or damaging the fabric. The effect of hand-stitching is very nice—makes your curtains look like you paid a ton of money for them. If you do use a machine, set it for fairly long stitches with a light tension.

It’s very easy, however, to sew long straight hems by handpicking with a long, baste-like whipstitch. Use a single (not doubled) strand of thread. Tie a knot on the end and start by poking the needle through the folded part of the hem. Then pick up two or three stitches from the weave of the fabric, on the side that will be the front; pull the needle through that and then back into the folded section. You can make eight or ten such stitches at a time, holding as many as your needle will take, and then pull the thread through them all at once. This speeds things along mightily.

Wax the thread to keep it from tangling as you sew. Ideally, beeswax in a special holder works the best. However, these are now pretty hard to find. You can substitute a white(!), unscented(!) candle. Lay the length of thread against the side of the candle and hold it firmly with one finger. Pull it through, coating the thread with wax.

Alternatively, you can wax a piece of thread with the natural waxy oils from your skin, but you cannot be wearing makeup to use this trick. Place the length of thread against the side of your nose and hold it firmly in place, as shown above with the candle. Pull the end so that you run the entire piece of thread between your finger and your nose. This will lightly coat the thread enough to help keep it from tangling, especially if you’re fairly young and still have an oily face. ;-)

Now you’re ready to stitch the top and bottom hems. First, fold over the top and bottom edges in exactly the same way as you did the vertical hems. Because these narrow hems will not show, you can sew a simple running stitch to hold them down. Press these edge hems flat. And now you can move on to sew the actual hems.

I like a hem about four inches wide. Use a tape measure or ruler to ensure that these turn out to be the same width all the way across.

Once again: pin, press, and stitch.

You’re almost done! All that remains is to measure for the bottom hems and stitch those up.

First, clip or otherwise hang your curtains-in-progress to the rods you intend to use. I have a peculiarity with sheers, in that I like to fold the top hem over so that it lazes loosely and sensuously between the clip rings (which IMHO are about 897% easier to use than sewing on regular rings. You’ll need to do some math here: take the width of the curtain and divide it by the number of hangers you want to use. This will tell you how far apart to place the clip rings. I came up with 14 inches.

The curtain’s bottom edge will now drape on the floor.

This was the height of fashion a few years ago, and if you like that effect, well…then you’re done. But I think most of us have now figured out how big a mess and hassle it is to clean around curtains that slimpse stylishly across the flooring. So if housework is not your cup of tea or you can’t afford a cleaning lady about whose welfare you care nothing, you’ll be wanting to hem the bottom. This is very easy, much the same as hemming a woman’s skirt.

Because I wanted those peacock silk curtains in behind the sheers, I hung them before measuring the bottom hems. This was to make sure the sheers came out no shorter than the curtains behind them.

Draw the curtains together in the center. Gently pull them down—do not exert a lot of tension here—and note where you would like the bottom of the hem to fall. Place pins to mark this level in each panel. This is where the bottom of your curtain will fall.

Take the curtains down and measure the distance between the pin and the bottom of the curtain. This will be the depth of your bottom hem.

Pin up, press, and stitch your hems, and your sheers will be ready to hang. Before stitching that last seam, you might want to hang the pinned-up curtain, just to be sure you have the hems the right length and that they’re even. That extra step is a lot easier than having to rip out hems, remeasure, and restitch.

You understand, this is wild stuff, putting the sheers outside the colored drapes. But I was right: the effect is really  neat. It allows you to create several styles.

Closing the sheers over the top of the bright Pier 1 silk curtains softens the gaudiness while letting some of the teal hue be seen. It’s after dark here, so you can’t see what happens when sunlight is shining in from the other side.

You can pull the sheers open, to expose the colorful underlayment:

You can have them both opened, sort of layered so you can see both sets of curtains but also have sunlight come in. This looks a lot better in the daytime:

And, speaking of the daylight hours, pulling the underlying colored curtains open behind the closed sheers creates yet another effect, filtering the bright outdoor light and yet letting the teal shade come through. It’s hard to see with the Arizona sun backlighting the window, but to the human eye it looks pretty nice.

Here’s a view of those flipped-over hems at the top. They’re folded toward the back and clipped along the sewn part of the hem. This gives them a little more heft and causes them to drape attractively between the clip-rings.

This project took two evenings in front of my favorite videotaped TV programs plus a Sunday afternoon listening to Click and Clack and This American Life on NPR. Obviously, if you used a sewing machine you’d get through it a lot faster—you probably could put both panels together in one afternoon.

Not bad, eh, for $75!

 

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