Introduction to window drapes

Have you ever looked at illustrations of window drapes in magazines and wished you could afford them? Or visited a friend's home and admired their drapes, only to find out the cost?

Most of us can run up a simple curtain to hang from a rod or track. But draperies using those deep folds and gorgeous looking top treatments - surely you can't do those at home?

Actually, you can. Are you worried about how much there is to learn about window drapes? It's not that difficult when the various topics are looked at separately.

First off, there's all those different way of talking about curtain ideas and window draperies. Are they curtains or drapery? What exactly is a curtain, and is it any different from a drape? Is there even such a word as 'drape'? (You might be surprised at the answer to this!) The page on the difference between curtains and drapes will tell you all you need to know.

What will influence your window drape design?

One factor which will heavily influence the draperies you use is your window. Some windows lend themselves to elaborate treatments, others don't. Your best window treatment means working out which designs are most suitable for different window styles.

When it comes to draperies, there are no end of ways to drape fabrics! But don't worry. On the drapery treatments page I'll introduce you to the basic ideas. In fact, it doesn't take very long before you'll begin to think up your schemes.

But how do all these ideas fit together? There are many different types of drapery, especially as regards the sort of pleats used.. Although fashion plays its part (where doesn't it?) there are certain drapery forms which seem to stand the test of time. These are the ones you'll find it safest to use, and to adapt for yourself.

Living room curtainsLarge windows in this traditional room are ideal for floor length window drapes with valance top treatments

Make a statement with top treatments

Swag window treatments are the goal of many of us, provided we have suitable windows. The principles involved are not difficult to master. I'll show you how to deal with these, and some mistakes to avoid.

Believe it or not, one of the simplest and most effective top treatments you can use are cornice boxes (also known as pelmets). They are far easier to design and make than you might think. You can use a stiffening material for the base and simply stick on fabric. Or go like a pro, and use a wood base which is then upholstered with fabric and interlining.

Lined or unlined?

Modern bedroom with curtains and pelmets (cornice box)Contemporary furnishings with drapes and cornice box (pelmet)

For the vast majority of situations my advice is to line your draperies. Lining will absorb the damage from sunlight and protect the main fabric. If the fabric is very expensive, you can even have your drapes re-lined when the original lining is starting to fall apart.

Yes, there are a few occasions when unlined drapes will be your preferred choice. But if in doubt, have them lined.

Interlining, also known as interfacing, is another feature I'd strongly advise you to include. Interlining is a flannel-like material which is situated between the fabric and the main lining. Its primary purpose is to give draperies 'body'. It makes them look full and luxurious. This is especially important in longer drapery. Interlining is also an excellent insulator.

Some practical issues

Although the main reason for having window draperies is for great looks or a magnificent feature, there are some very practical reasons for having them.

  • Thermal lining. There are two ways you can greatly improve the thermal qualities of your drapes. One we've already covered is by using interlining. The other is to have thermal drapes. These use a special lining which has excellent insulating properties. It looks just like an ordinary cotton lining, but is usually slightly heavier. If you have big, draughty windows you'll notice a big improvement if you use thermal lining.
  • Blackout lining. You can also get blackout lining, which is great for light sleepers who get woken by the first light of dawn. Or if you work nights, and need to get your rest during the day. Or children waking up too early. This type of lining also looks exactly like ordinary lining; just because it's blackout doesn't mean it's black!
  • Cleaning. Finally, cleaning. Even drapes need to be cleaned from time to time. And here again, you may be surprised by the advice I'll give you. The best way to clean your drapes is to take them down every year and vacuum them using a delicate setting and a soft brush. Pay special attention to the back of the headings - this is where most of the dirt will accumulate. Don't send your drapery to dry cleaners all the time. Regular cleaning as described will keep them in pristine condition for many years.


The subjects described here will give you a basic but important background to window draperies. You'll be able to think about your overall scheme and get that right first. Then you can concentrate on the details.

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