25 June 2011

DIY: no-sew curtains

One of the goals on my 30 by 30 list was to learn how to use a sewing machine. And when I conceived of this project – making curtains for the single window in the office – I figured I would make it an opportunity to tackle the sewing machine, once and for all. No really! My mom passed along her old machine and I bought thread and bobbins and notions, in addition to the notion of actually learning to use the thing. I gathered it all together and opened the directions booklet that came with the machine to teach myself how to do this thing.

The first several pages consisted of diagrams outlining the eleventy billion parts of the sewing machine. The next several pages were warnings and troubleshooting tips for how not to sew your finger to your project.

“No,” I said aloud. And busted out my hem tape.

So now I would like to present a no-sew curtain tutorial!

All that above makes it sound like I planned this project meticulously, but it actually all came about rather serendipitously. I was visiting my mom a few months ago, in her tiny rural town, and we visited another slightly less tiny rural town to go to Wal-Mart. It started raining hard while we were in there, so we wandered around to kill time and wait out the storm. While we wandered I found this:

Her Wal-Mart had big stacks of 5-yard bolts of fabric for $5! I don’t know about your Wal-Mart but mine just has sticky floors and policemen out front. I was excited, as I’d been on the lookout for fabric to make curtains for the office, and this fit the bill perfectly. I’d hoped to find material without an actual pattern but with texture and interest (a high-contrast pattern would be too busy in the small room with this on the wall and this rug). This fabric is a sort of... sheer twill, if there is such a thing. And a lovely, shimmery gray. And five bucks!

Also when I measured it, it turned out to be more fabric than advertised – over six yards! Certainly more than enough for two curtain panels, especially in a low-ceilinged room like our office. I also planned to make each panel as wide as the bolt (48”; the width is folded in half in the photo below) as they only had to cover one small window, and that is easiest.

Knowing there was fabric to spare, I first evened-up the ends:

Then I folded it in half length-wise (for two panels) and checked how long that was. I knew the minimum length I wanted the panels: 88”. The room itself has only 90” ceilings, and I wanted the panels to run floor to ceiling. Even after trimming up the ends, I saw that I still had quite a bit of extra fabric:

Remember, that’s half of the whole piece, so that’s the maximum length for each panel. In other words, nearly an extra yard per panel to spare. But I wasn’t too keen on cutting it just yet, if I didn’t have to. See, I plan to take these curtains with us when we move, and the next place we live should have at least 7.5’ ceilings. At least I hope so because otherwise it will be a house more suited for hobbits. So I decided to try to hem up what I could, so I could let them out later if needed.

After I cut the panels to size, it was time to bust out my no-sew weapon of choice:

Please note that Heat & Bond tape does NOT require a twenty-page instruction booklet. I may be losing the war against the sewing machine but I totally won this battle.

Before I started heating and bonding, though, I made sure that my iron wasn’t too hot for the fabric. This Wal-Mart clearance-rack fabric didn’t state what it was made of, just “various blends”, which means it’s probably made mostly of cheapo plastic culled from foreign landfills or something like that. So I tested the heat on one of the scraps I trimmed earlier to make sure I didn’t melt or scorch the fabric. It was good to go! I’d tell you what setting my iron was on except the dial face fell off a few months back and I haven’t glued it back on. We’ll say my iron was... mediumish hot.

Back to the hem tape. I already had some on hand and then I bought what Hob to the Lizzob had on sale and in stock. For the record, I prefer the red “Ultrahold” kind to the pink “Hem” type, because the tape in the red package can be done in two steps: iron on the tape, peel off the backing, fold over, and iron to fuse. Here, I’ll show you!

Once your iron is mediumish hot, iron on the tape with the paper backing:

Peel off the backing:

Fold over (for the panel sides, I measured a simple 1” finished edge and pinned it down in sections):

By the by, that pink ruler is also my spackle knife. Multifunctional!

Anyway. Iron to fuse:

Those are the steps for the red Ultrahold package, remember. It is a tad more expensive, but the dollar-per-package is worth it to me. I would not have bought the pink Hem package except they didn’t have more 7/8” Ultrahold.

The Hem package, you see, doesn’t have paper backing, so you don’t iron down the tape separately. Instead you have to sort of finagle all the layers together and pin them and hope that they all stay lined up as you’re ironing as you can’t really see what you’re doing and at least once you will get sticky stuff all over your iron and swear that you will never purchase the pink Hem tape again. Fortunately by the time I ran out of the Ultrahold and started using the Hem tape, I was a few glasses of wine into the project and had sort of stopped caring about precision and straight lines and consistency. So use the Ultrahold, or if you can’t find it, wine works as well. Your curtains will turn out lovely either way.

All right! Time to turn these suckers into curtains.

I know the "pooled" drapes look is popular nowadays, but to me, it just looks like someone was lazy about hemming their curtains. So I decided to make the panels the planned 88". To try to hem up the great excess of fabric, I decided to do a 12” hem on the bottom, a 10” hem on the top, and then an additional 10” hem to make a rod-pocket. No, that is not what Martha would do (I think 4” is the current standard), but it worked for me. I measured and hemmed up one panel, taking advantage of the faint twill-ish lines to keep me from going all wonky on the diagonal. Then I laid the second panel on top and used the first as a guide, to make sure they matched.

At this point you might be thinking, wow! Hem tape holds well enough to make a rod pocket?

Well, no. Not always.

Whether because I became less careful on that third glass of wine, or because hem tape is not designed for making a rod-pocket but rather for hemming, duh, some of the corners were not sticking so well. No problem! I may not be able to use an automated needle but I do pretty well the old fashioned way. So I sewed an inch or so of the edges on each panel (four total):

And I even used the thread that I would have used with the sewing machine. So... not a total loss. Though I have yet to come up with a craft that requires bobbins.

After I reinforced the corners, I hung the panels on an extra curtain rod I had leftover from our kitchen remodel. It's not my favorite curtain rod, but it's free! Here’s the obligatory entryway-mirror-shot-of-success-in-my-PJs the following morning:

You can see in this photo that the fabric is actually sheer enough to see the ridiculously huge hems if daylight is coming through. But that’s ok, because I don’t hang my curtains in front of the windows. I hang them around the windows, following the mantra of Sherry from YHL: “high and wide”. That way, the window looks bigger than it actually is, and the curtains don’t block any light – which is good because our dark, one-windowed, low-ceilinged office needs all the light it can get. Most of the time these curtains won’t be drawn (there are blinds on the window as well), and you can’t see the rod-pocket or hem through the fabric when they are hanging in front of the wall.

Want to see the final product in place? All righty:

Okay, that’s not much of an after picture, I know. You’ll just have to trust me that they are grand and billowy and wonderful because I had to crop out the horrendous mess on the floor in front of and around the curtains. So they’ll get their moment when I finish cleaning out and redecorating the office!

So just how much were these curtains? Here’s the breakdown:

Time Spent:
Around four hours (non-consecutive, because I am not one to stay focused) one evening to do all the trimming and measuring and ironing, plus an hour or so the next day to reinforce the corners and hang them up

Fabric: $5
Heat & Bond tape: ~$5 (some leftover, some bought on sale)
Thread: $2
Curtain rod: already owned
Wine: already owned
Total project cost: $12

So the next time you see a bolt of $5 fabric while wandering around Wal-Mart during a storm, get it! Even IKEA extra-long curtains are more than $6 a panel, and no sewing machine is necessary for these – just an iron and some time.

As for the 30 by 30 sewing machine goal? Although Mr. P may say otherwise, we can never have too many accent pillows. So, that’s for another day.

Happy curtain-making!


Lisa said...

Enjoy your blog Sarah!