July 8, 2012

Making Curtains for the New Classroom

Lots of people share really helpful and useful information on line, some via their blogs. I decided to write a post describing a simple way to make curtains.

I am switichg grades and will teach 1st next year. This move necessitated a move to a different floor and into a new room. In order to make the room inviting and home-like, I decided, for the first time in 14 years, to put curtains over the bottom halves of the windows. In my new room, there are grates over the windows, reducing the light that comes in slightly, and giving the space a bit of a 'prison-like' feel. I'm hoping that the curtains will soften the look and blow gently in the breeze.

Recently I bought a bolt of suitable fabric at a yard sale for $10. I wasn't sure if the chartreuse color would work for the room until I realized that it is nearly the same color as the tennis balls I will place on the bottoms of each chair leg to reduce noise in the room. I thought the curtains might be some kind of color symmetry that will be pleasing. Also, our curriculum is 'green spaces,' so we'll have a lot of green going on in the room. (I also painted the inside of the closet and the blackboard green to create uniformity in the walls and enlarge the look of the space.)

The fabric is a sheer nylon, and being a former quilter, I have only had experience with cottons. But this fabric cut and sewed fairly easily.

To make curtains, one needs:
an iron
a sewing machine
a ruler
some way to measure the size of the window and the fabric-I used yard sticks

My windows are 44" by 59.5" each, and there are four of them. My fabric is about 45" wide, so I knew that I would need two panels to be gathered across each window, and I needed to make 8 in all. To this measurement, I added the hem at the bottom, 2", plus 1/2" to tuck, to prevent unraveling. At the top, I added 3", 2 1/2" for the curtain rod and ruffle, and 1/2" to tuck. So I figured 59.5 + 3 + 2.5 = 65, which I rounded to 66" because I was cutting along the halfway point of a floor tile. I cut 8 pieces of fabric, 66" long each.

The difficulty for me was cutting the fabric without a measuring board-mine got old and moldy and I threw it out. However, I realized my living room floor tiles are 12 x 12, so I was able to lay the fabric out over the tiles, and using the yard stick, I was able to figure out the size I needed to cut. The trickiest part is cutting the fabric straight. It takes practice, a good eye and a steady hand. If yours comes out unevenly, fold it up and cut along a ruler to even it out. Note: unlike other sewers, I do not hem the selvaged (finished) edge on the sides of the fabric. I like the sturdiness of the selvage so I leave it in tact, even if there is writing on it. I just hem and finish the cut sides.

Once I had the fabric cut, I began the tedious process of ironing and hemming. To do this, I sat on the floor watching TV,  and used a cotton rug as my ironing board. You can use a towel as well. Cottons iron easily with a hot iron, but nylon is more resistant to creasing and cannot take a high heat setting. The fabric will stick to the iron and make a huge mess, so using a lower setting is important.

First I ironed down the 1/2" tuck, just eyeballing and estimating the distance. I did not pin. Then I folded and then ironed down the 2" at the bottoms or the 2.5" at the tops, periodically checking the size of the hem with a ruler. After each hem was pressed, I pinned the fabric, placing pins about 6" apart. The pins should point north (up) next to the seam on the east (right.)

Sewing a rod pocket simply entails sewing an additional seam parallel to the hem seam across the top of the curtain. For normal, cheap adjustable rods, usually 1" is sufficient. You can make your rod pocket a little bigger to be safe. Just make sure to leave at least 1" for a ruffle at the top. (This will happen naturally when the fabric is gathered on the rod.) The second seam should be closer to the fold. The edges remain open for inserting the rod.

Note: I made a mistake here in that I had not purchased my curtain rods before I sewed. I knew that I would be using a thin tension rod to hang my curtains, so I made a pocket in the top hem of about 3/4". This turned out to be too narrow and the rods did not fit into the pockets. I will be hanging my curtains upside down, on the bottom hem. Be sure to buy and measure your rods first, and then sew your pocket accordingly.

I use a straight stitch, approximately 12 stiches to the inch. At each end of the seam I reverse stitch about 1/4" after I start to hold the stiches in place. I cut my threads close to the seams.

I hope this article helps someone who has previously not had the courage to try to make curtains. Mine are not perfect, but at a distance, they will look fine. Enjoy!

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