How to measure for drapes

If you learn how to measure for drapes correctly, you're on the way to making even a simple window treatment look great. Here are some reasons to take your time on this important task, and some guidelines to get the best results.

The importance of correct measurements

They will help you to select the best window treatment.

Proportions are an important aspect of window treatments. Some drapery designs look best if there is room around them. Other simply won't work unless the window situation allows for the fittings needed.

By taking all the necessary measurement you'll be better able to judge which treatment is appropriate for your window.

They will enable you to work out quantities of materials

There are two types of quantities.

  1. Fabrics - main fabric, linings, interlinings, trims, etc.
  2. Hardware - length of poles, tracks, cornice boards, etc.

Once you've worked out these quantities, you can calculate the total cost.

Because it's so important, if you can, get someone else to check your measurements. If you have to do it on your own and you won't be able to easily take the measurements again (you're measuring up a new home and you won't be moving for a while), then take photos. You can then use these to check the measurements relate correctly to one another.

Here's some advice gained from my experience on how to measure for drapes:

Measure everything - the window and the space around it.

There are two situations you'll be dealing with

Fittings already in place

Either you're replacing existing curtains, you've already installed the fitting, or you've moved to a new home and you're going to use the fitting which have been left. (It's a good idea just to check the proportions before you go ahead with using these.)

There are two types of fittings.

1. Track or Pole

measure existing poleMeasure an existing track or pole

Measure these dimensions:

  • (A) Length of track or pole (between the finials).
  • (B & C) Hook position (eyelet at the bottom of the rings) to the sill or the floor.
  • Distance the track or pole is from the wall (known as the 'return').
  • For a pole, from the hook position to the bottom of the pole. (This is if you want your heading to extend up so it hides the gap which would otherwise show between the top of the drapes and the bottom of the pole.)
  • For a track, from the hook position to the top of the track. (This is if you want your heading to extend up so it covers the track.)

2. Cornice board (pelmet board) and track

measure cornice boardMeasuring an existing cornice board (pelmet)

Measure these dimensions:

  • (A)Length of board.
  • (B) Top of board to top of window frame (to check for depth of cornice or valance).
  • Return of board (distance from front of board to the wall).
  • (C & D) Hook position to the sill or the floor.

How to measure for drapes when new fittings are needed

This is where you need to take lots of drapery measurements.

measuring window for curtainsMeasuring when there are no fittings in place.
  • (A) Floor to ceiling.
  • (B) Ceiling to top of window. You'll fit your hardware here. If you want to use a top treatment, this will determine if there's enough room for the one you want.
  • (C) Top of window to sill. If you plan to have sill length drapes, my preference is to have the drapes about 4" (10cms) below the sill.
  • (D) Sill to floor.
  • (E) Width of window.
  • (F) Free space on either side of the window. The usual allowance for stack back is about 15% of the window width. If your space is less than this, you'll need to take more care with how your drapes draw back off the window. Or accept that you'll lose some daylight.
  • Projection into the room of window frame and/or radiators. Your drapes need to hang clear of the frame, and any radiators which may be placed under the window (if you're having floor length drapes). Pole and track brackets should extend far enough to allow for this, as should cornice boards.
  • A lot of advice on how to measure for curtains doesn't mention the following: find out as much as you can about the structure around the window. Is there a wood beam, a concrete beam, brick or hollow wall? This is important, because it may determine how you fix your hardware.

Take your time - and keep the information safe!

There's nothing more annoying than having to re-measure if you lose your original notes.

Learning how to measure for drapes is another important step to making fine drapery. Spend as much time on this as you need. Doing so will certainly save you time and effort later on.


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