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Curtains 101

Martha Stewart Living Television

Curtains establish the mood of a room: Sheers seem to emit airy freshness; cafe curtains communicate stylish flair; tab-tops are ever so modern; and heavy velvet drapes connote traditional formality. With some careful measuring and a bit of patience, you can make a very attractive pleated valance to enhance simple sheers.

Cafe Curtains
French bistro designers know a thing or two about ambiance. Take the classic cafe curtain: Hung at a window's midpoint, this simple drapery allows the sunshine to fill a room while providing privacy and filtered light to the diners inside.

Cafe curtains made from a vintage tea towel achieve the same effect with little sewing. You'll need a curtain rod -- brass, for the traditional bistro look -- and matching rings, either the sew-on or clip-on kind. Cut the tea towel across the width, and turn the top half around so that the towel's ends become the bottom borders of each curtain. Measure your window from the sill to where you want the rod to hang (midway is the usual cafe length), then hem the top end of each curtain so that it hangs from the rod to the sill. Attach clip-on rings, or hand-stitch plain rings to each curtain.

Custom Tab-top Linen Curtains
Tab-top panels do not require curtain rings or drapery pins to hang them. The tabs slip easily over your choice of decorative hardware. Because tab-tops are so simple, they can easily be made at home. Martha uses two tones of contrasting linen -- chartreuse for the ground and pale blue for the borders and tabs.

Choose an attractive rod, such as bamboo, as it will show between the tabs. To determine the length of pole you will need, consider where you want the panels.

Making a Pleated Valance
1. First, take all the measurements: Determine the finished width of the valance (the measurement across the window) by installing the valance hardware and measuring the distance between the two brackets. (Our finished valance is 57 inches wide.)

2. Measure for pleats: Our valance has ten 1-inch pleats. Multiply twice the width of each pleat times the number of pleats (in our case, 2 inches times 10 pleats equals 20 inches). Add this number, plus 2 inches for the side hem allowances to the finished width measurement. For our 57-inch wide valance, the unfinished width is 79 inches.

To determine the amount of pleats for your valance (and the width of each pleat), try experimenting by pinning before you cut or sew your fabric. Fewer pleats spaced farther apart will give a more tailored appearance, while more pleats spaced closely together will make your valance look fuller and more traditional. Each pleat is formed by folding the fabric under by 1 inch (or however wide you've determined each pleat will be).

3. Determine the finished length of the valance (the measurement from top to bottom): Ours is 12 inches long, but you may want to make yours a bit shorter or longer depending on the size of your window. When you've determined your finished length measurement, add 6 1/2 inches to accommodate the top and bottom hems.

4. Sew the valance: Turn bottom hem under 1/2 inch, and press. Then turn under again 1 1/2 inches, and press. Machine stitch close to the turned edge. To cover the hem stitching, pin a 5/8-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon an inch in from the hem. Then machine-stitch trim close to each edge. (The amount of trim you will need is the same as the unfinished width measurement.)

5. Turn the top hem under 1 inch, and press. Turn under 1 inch again, and press. Stitch close to the turned edge. Then turn under 2 1/2 inches, and press. Pin in place, but do not sew.

6. Then create side hems. Working on one side at a time, turn under 1/2 inch, and press, then turn 1/2 inch again, and press. Stitch close to the turned edge.

7. Sew the pleats: Starting from the exact center of the valance's width, make an equal number of pleats to the left and to the right of the center. All pleats should face center, so half will face one direction and half will face the other. Form and pin each pleat. Then press each pleat from top to bottom. (We left 5 1/2 inches between each pleat.)

8. Secure pleats by stitching across the entire width of the valance, 1 inch down from top of valance. Sew a second row parallel to the first one, 1 1/8 inch from the top. Press the valance, insert a drapery hook behind each pleat, and hang the finished valance.

Resources
White tension rod from Calico Corners. Natural-and-white checked linen from ABC Carpet & Home. Red French grosgrain ribbon from Hyman Hendler & Sons. Brass barrel bracket mounts, brass cafe rod, brass clip rings, and brass finials from Gracious Home.