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Tips for Choosing Curtain Fabrics

You have tons to think about when deciding on fabric for window treatments. Choosing the correct weight, texture, light-blocking or light-exposing qualities, and the fabric’s durability are just the beginning. If you spend some time considering your options now, when it comes time to look at dozens of fabrics at the store, you’ll have a clearer idea of what will work best for your specific needs.

  • Durability: Over time, the sun can damage all fabrics, but silks are especially prone to sun rot. Some of the window fabrics least prone to sun rot are chintzes, brocades, and cotton canvas.

  • Thread count: Generally speaking, decorator fabrics have a higher thread count than fabrics used for making clothes, so decorator fabrics last a bit longer. Some of these fabrics need to be dry-cleaned; check the fabric bolt tag or cylinder tag.

  • Weave: Plain, twill, satin, or damask weaves are common ones for decorator fabrics. Most printed cottons are plain or twill weave. For example, satin weaves are used to create stripes in some fabrics, and a damask weave is a single-color, patterned weave.

  • Width: Fabric generally comes in two basic widths: 42 to 45 inches and 54 to 60 inches. Always check out the fabric bolt label or tag to determine its width. Home-decorating fabrics compared to fabrics used for clothing are in the wider width. You can also find some decorating fabrics that are 72 to 75 inches wide, 90 inches wide, and even some that measure 105 or 110 inches or wider.

Still not sure what kind of fabric to choose? Here are a few familiar window treatment situations and recommendations for picking the right fabric:

  • A bank of wide, long windows that need plenty of coverage: Fabrics with some heft to them will meet your coverage needs. Make simple floor-to-ceiling panel draperies in a heavier-weight fabric, such as velvet, velveteen, corduroy, or a wool-blend fabric that limit the light. An alternative is to line your draperies with cotton duck.

  • A bank of wide, long windows where not much coverage is needed: A swag and cascade (made out of a nonsheer fabric with great drapability, such as a silk or blended charmeuse) that frames the top and sides of a bank of windows is a perfect treatment to provide some dress-up without much coverage. If you want to use a sheer fabric to diffuse the light, choose panels in gauze, batiste, organza, chiffon, or even lace.

  • A small room with drafty windows: Think about adding a drapery that covers the window entirely. Measure your drapery so that it extends well past the window’s trim molding. Then choose a heavier fabric, such as damask, in a color that matches (or closely matches) the room’s paint color. The window treatment helps block cold air. Matching the fabric with the room’s walls gives the room-enlarging illusion of unbroken wall space.

  • A very low-ceilinged room: Measure your draperies so they extend from the floor to the ceiling and match their color to the wall color. Be sure to install the curtain rod nearly flush with the ceiling. If you want to let in light, choose a fabric whose texture is very light yet crisp, such as voile. If you like coverage, choose a tightly woven cotton. Using a fabric that features vertical stripes is another nice way you can create a feeling of length and height in a low-ceilinged room.

  • A small window, the only source of light in a small kitchen: If you have a small kitchen with only a tiny window, you want to maximize the window as much as possible. Consider adding a simple valance, or if you have the ceiling height, an arched valance in the mediumweight fabric of your choice. For privacy in the evenings, you can add a simple roll-down shade, mounted out of sight under the valance for daytime.

  • Blah-looking windows in a formal dining room that doubles as a study: Balloon valances look great over sheers in dining rooms, and this treatment lets in adequate light for dining, working, or studying while adding a bit of design pizzazz. Choose a fabric with a tight weave and even a bit of stiffness when creating balloon valances (like chintz or taffeta), so they’ll keep their shape.

  • A bathroom window that needs privacy but still needs natural light: Try a heavier voile or plissé, which both give a bit of coverage, yet let in some light. Plissé fabric comes in solids or patterns. Create a simple curtain panel with this fabric, and your problems are solved. When considering plissé, test a sample before pretreating; some plissés lose their texture when washed.

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