I’ve had this post on my must-write list for awhile now, because I think there is this common misconception that really good looking drapery has to be custom- which typically costs quite a bit of money. Having both high-end (more expensive) custom drapery panels and readymade options throughout my home, I’m here to tell you (as a designer) that some of the budget-friendly options can definitely take on a custom feel… they just require a bit of work and you have to know how to properly “train” them. Click through for my best tips for making your window treatment budget go further, and get my simple 3-step process for training readymade curtains for a custom, designer look… minus the high price tag.
Since all of my curtains have already been trained and I don’t have a new drapery project to photograph from start to finish right now, I’m mixing & matching descriptive images throughout this post to give you a better visual… sound good? I’m going to start with my golden rule when it comes to non custom window treatments…
When buying readymade curtains, you still need to customize your selection to best fit your window and room. While you’re not buying custom, they still require customization to look their best.
It’s easy- I promise!
What do I mean by requires customization? You can buy curtains from Amazon, Target, Wayfair, Overstock, wherever… but they’re still going to require a little work on your part. When buying readymade, I almost always end up doing some key things for that functional designer look:
- Invest in Classic or Hidden Hardware (a rod, nice finials, a ceiling track, quality rings, etc)
- Add Curtain Hooks, Pleats, or Clips
- Steam & Iron (at the bare minimum)
- Hem Your Curtains (even if you don’t sew- use fusing tape, which only requires an iron)
- Add Clips & Ties to “Train” Your Curtains (keep scrolling for my process)
Some readymade panels don’t require all of these, but most do. You can save a lot of money if you’re willing to put in a little time. Today I wanted to chat about curtain training. I’ve even been tricked by Ikea curtains- I definitely thought they were custom, but one of my designer friends simply trained hers. It makes a BIG difference. So, what exactly is curtain training?
Curtain training is manipulating a panel, so it falls in the direction you’d like, creating an even, custom, tailored look. Curtains (or any fabric) will hold their shape and position if you train them!
How do we curtain train? I’ll show you my process below, but it requires the following: ironing or steaming (sometimes both), spraying the curtain with water (you can also use ironing starch), clipping or tying them, and training them into position. Sometimes it can take a few days, but it’s easy and requires minimal effort. Here is my simple 3-step process:
Step 1… Measure & Pleat or Clip
Once you’ve found a good readymade panel to install alongside your hardware, the first step is to pleat & clip the panels. You can either use rings with curtain clips or pleating hooks for a tailored look.
Next, temporarily hang them up and measure carefully. What exactly are you measuring for? We’re looking at the length because the next step is hemming! Your curtains should barely “kiss” the floor. I’m not a fan of puddling, so I prefer my curtains to float 1/4-1/2″ above the floor. Keep in mind, some materials will stretch as they hang- so make sure you account for that. The goal is to hem your curtains once, so measure twice, account for stretch, and proceed with confidence! You should be able to slide your hand between the floor and the curtain, if you’re eyeballing it.
Step 2… Hem, Iron & Hang
If you don’t sew, it’s ok- there is an additional way to hem your curtains and it only requires an iron. Buy yourself a pack of fusing tape. Fold the curtains into their hemmed position, sandwiching the fusing tape in the center of the fold, then iron to bond & set the hem… it’s easy!
Once your curtains have been hemmed, iron them while they’re down and easy to maneuver, then install & hang them.
Step 3… Steam & Train
Once they’re installed, bust out your steamer. Typically they’ll get some wrinkles or indentations during the installation process and you’ll want them to look perfect prior to training. Steaming will also help them settle and stretch as they hang.
Now for the training… I like to use hair clips to hold the pleats temporarily while I’m working and manipulating the fabric- they’re easier to adjust. Working from side-to-side and top-to-bottom, evenly fold & pleat the curtains. Make sure they’re consistent because this is how they’ll hang once they’re trained.
Once you have them fixed as you’d like, use ribbon or string to tie them into place. Tie them 3-4 times from top to bottom, give them a spritz of linen spray, starch, or water, and allow them to rest in place (tied up) for a few days. Undo them and voilà- perfect drapery panels!
If you’re looking for additional informative posts on window treatments, I’ll link a bunch for you below:
- Readymade Pleated Curtains & Drapery Panels
- Custom Window Treatments : The Process
- Designer Trick : Specifying Window Treatments
- How to Install Casual Linen Drapery Panels
- Amazon Finds : Window Treatments
- How to Hang Artwork in Front of Curtains
- Window Treatment Pairings
I’ll also link some of my favorite readymade panels for you in a slider at the bottom of the post. Please let me know if you have any questions about my process or window treatments in general. I’m always happy to help! You really don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on custom window treatments for a designer look if it’s not in your budget. It definitely requires some effort to get there though! I hope this post was helpful.
MartiApril 12, 2023 at 5:13 am
Sarah, thank you! I feel so validated. My husband thought I was nuts when I did this with new drapes several years ago. And the drapes are still hanging beautifully.
SarahApril 12, 2023 at 12:52 pm
I love hearing that, Marti! It really does make a world of difference… validation indeed!
PeggiApril 12, 2023 at 5:35 am
Good morning! First of all, thanks for thinking I’m fastidious enough to own a steamer. Ha. As I’ve leaned into my laziness over the years, I’ve all but abandoned even the use of my iron. Since one seems vital to this process, do you recommend the one you’re using? Even though the procedure seems simple, I know arranging those pleats evenly along the full length would be tricky. Your tip about using hair clips is genius! Once they’re trained, do the drapes require occasional touch-ups? (Other than post-laundering) Also, do you recommend training all window treatments? I’m wondering about more casual linen panels (like in your bedroom) or café curtains. As someone who’s unlikely to ever purchase custom drapery, I really appreciate your ready-made recommendations! One element that I’m not sure you’ve covered before is choosing rods and finials. Am I overthinking it? (probably) Should they blend with the millwork? Match other hardware in the room? Contrast with the drapes? Make a statement? This might be why I have no drapes in my home-too many decisions. If I hang around here long enough, you might convert me though. All of your window treatments are so beautiful and effortless. Thanks for another informative and helpful post! I’ve got birthday cake and drywall patching on my agenda. Lol. Have a super Wednesday, Sarah! 💜
SarahApril 12, 2023 at 12:51 pm
Hi Peggi! I can’t believe you don’t have a steamer? I use my steamer wayyy more than my iron! I love the Rowenta one I have- it’s older, but has done a great job and still works years later. Pleating the full length of the panel gets tricky, but the clips make it so much easier. You just can’t leave the clips there or they’ll make creases. Once you’ve got them pleated nicely, swap the clips for ties and let them hang like that for a few days! You don’t have to train all window treatments- it just depends on the look you’re going for and what material you’re using. I let me linen curtains in our bedroom do their own thing. They have a casual wrinkled look about them and I’m cool with it- so I didn’t train those. If I had time to train our cafe curtains in the camper (and it weren’t just for camping), I totally would… if they were inside, for sure! Maybe I’ll work on a hardware post that compiles some good tracks, rods, finials, etc. Great idea! It’s really a personal preference and what aesthetic you’re going for when it comes to hardware. I’m trying to convert you to install some drapery ;) Happy cake baking and drywall patching!! That sounds like a super productive day. xo
LaurenApril 12, 2023 at 8:07 am
Good morning! All of your window treatments are envious, and I strive to have such beautiful wi dow coverings. Alas, many of ours are simply lackluster. I have trained a few sets of drapes and our two upstairs shower curtains- but your hair clip trick is a genius maneuver and I’ll be keeping that in my back pocket! It’s funny, the only time I use my iron is for the curtains- but I far prefer my steamer. Have you seen the steamer that’s a steamer and iron in one? I may need to upgrade, ha! Peggi- if you don’t use your iron, a steamer is the perfect lazy woman’s tool. (I loathe ironing and it has rendered my iron useless). I recommend the Conair brand steamers. Have used many of theirs and they are fantastic, and dare I say, faster! A question about using pleating hooks: do you need to account more in your measurements to ensure they still look full? I’ve yet to try them. Wonderful tips on this sunny morning, and I’ll be crossing my fingers your weather reports are wrong. Have a lovely day!
SarahApril 12, 2023 at 12:42 pm
Thank you, Lauren! The hair clips are so handy because you can easily move them (unlike the ties). The only problem is… don’t leave them because they leave bad creases. They’re perfect for getting them set though. The steamer iron is so cool! My iron is OLD. I’m pretty sure my grandma gave it to me back when I graduated high school and was leaving for college, haha! Maybe I’m due for an upgrade. Another weird trick I’ve tried on the curtains- using a hair straightener…. it kind of worked, but just so so. You’ll definitely need to take pleating into account for your measurements because it changes the width. Today it’s is warm, cloudy, and windy here, and I’m hoping the snow report for tmrw is wrong. Ha! Have a great day!! xo
CherylApril 12, 2023 at 11:53 am
We all love a quick and easy project but sometimes taking extra time results in a more polished outcome. Training the pleats makes such a big difference! Love the hair clip idea to temporarily hold the pleats as you work your way down the panels.
I would recommend ironing or steaming before measuring for hems – doesn’t have to be as thorough as a final ironing before hanging & training – but wrinkles and folds can make a big difference in the length. It’s difficult enough to estimate how much drapery panels might stretch because of the weight of the fabric without having to add in how much length might be added when wrinkles and folds relax. And if you can let the drapery panels hang for a day or two before measuring then most of the stretching and relaxing will have happened before you measure for the hems.
SarahApril 12, 2023 at 12:35 pm
Most definitely, Cheryl! I typically account for the stretch by pulling the curtain taut and pinning (prior to hemming), so I don’t have to iron twice. I also try to consider the weight and type of material, because some will definitely lengthen over time. Those are great tips though if you’re trying to be super precise- especially letting them hang for a week or two to account for the lengthening! Thank you for taking the time to share. Hope you’re having a great day!
CherylApril 12, 2023 at 2:34 pm
Forgot to mention that if the drapery panels are machine washable it’s best to wash them before hemming – I made that mistake once (and as someone that sews a lot, I knew better). I usually hang them when they are almost dry and then measure for hemming at least a day later when they’re totally dry. If they aren’t terribly formal then rehanging and steaming for pleat training is sufficient but more formal panels may need ironing as well.
Luckily the panels that I didn’t wash first were mostly hidden behind a couch so the spring cleaning shrinkage wasn’t very noticeable.