Journal Insight #8: Hanging and Dressing Curtains


As ever, if you are an experienced designer you may have this information stored away in your head and what will follow won’t be anything new. But, for those of you with less experience or perhaps those who have never needed to know about hanging and dressing curtains, this journal insight may prove helpful – we hope!

It’s amazing how often a customer comments on how we hang and dress curtains. Many say they have never seen this and with previous packet curtains, they just hang them up and hope, not realising there is an essential process to undertake in order to finish off those handmade, and probably expensive curtains.

Let’s start with hanging curtains, which goes back to the initial specification you will have provided to your curtain maker. Where do you hang them in relation to the pole or track? What are the pluses and minuses of those choices? I’m not talking here about the aesthetics of where you hang them, I’ve seen beautiful curtains hung in every conceivable way, but there are often compromises between methods that are useful to be aware of.

Curtains under the track or pole

With hand-headed curtains my ‘go-to’ position for hanging them is so the top of the curtain sits just beneath the bottom of the pole. If you look at the curtain headings there will be a pleat of some kind and then a gap before the next pleat. By hanging beneath the pole we are able to push the fabric in the gap backwards behind the pole. The pleat then comes forward. The benefits are 3-fold:

  1. The stack back is reduced as about half the fabric quantity is going backwards and half forwards, vastly reducing the bulk when fully open.
  2. The pleats align neatly next to one another and present a great and united front when open.
  3. The fabric won’t rub against the track or pole, meaning they are easier to open and close – this is particularly helpful with a bay window where the rubbing (friction) is increased much more due to the curves. On a corded pole this means more force needs to be applied to the cord to move the curtains.

A Wave curtain has to be hung under the pole in order to form the wave effect as it moves back and forth.

Curtains in front of the pole

Some people like to bring the fabric up high to cover the track or pole (when the curtains are closed of course) which is quite popular with basic looking tracks that are more function over form. You will need to bring the heading gaps forward, which increases the stack back.

This setup helps improve blackout as more of the light gaps are covered by the curtains.

A pole with a large diameter presents a challenge when hanging either in front of or above the pole as the hooks will be sitting directly underneath, meaning the heading will have to kink forwards as it gets level with the pole. For thick interlined curtains this can start to look awkward.

Curtains above the pole

Occasionally, clients want the curtains to come right up and above the pole. This may be purely aesthetic, or to help further with blackout. Its pretty much the same issues as with setting them in front of the pole, just a little more exaggerated.

A good alternative when wanting to control the light coming in above a pole, is to switch to Eyelet headings as these are designed to go above by about 1-3 inches, without impeding the opening and closing of the curtains. Not everyone is a fan, but in the right place and for the right solution they are great.

There are various tracks on the market with gliders in them that sit forwards under the track to assist with curtains that rise up in front and above tracks and I’d recommend using these when looking to hang in this way. The Silent Gliss 1280 is a good example of this kind of track.

Curtain returns and leading edges

When measuring for curtains we take two important measurements, often forgotten by home-owners.

The leading edge is the vertical section on the inside edge of the curtain, which overlaps in the middle when the curtains are closed. We will allow for about 8cm+ for this, and it is affected by the fabric choice. If the fabric is too floppy then a smaller overlap stops it falling downwards and misaligning with its opposite curtain. If the leading edge is too slim, then you could get light bleed. You may have noticed hotel rooms often have 2 tracks with one sitting behind the other by a good 12”, allowing the overlap to be greatly exaggerated and ensuring extra effective blackout. This is rarely seen in homes, but the example emphasises the role a wider leading edge can play.

Return edges are the side that sit on the outside of a window and as standard we measure the distance from the gliders to the wall. It varies by pole and track type, as a well as the brackets that have been used. If there are radiators behind the curtains you will often see extended brackets to clear this, meaning the return needs to be a little longer. When hanging the curtains we fit a screw eye into the wall on the outside to hook the edge of the curtain to. This return creates a super neat finish, hides the lining and reduces light bleed around the outside.

Dressing curtains


This is where we sometimes get funny looks as we may steam and tie them up. No, it’s not Christmas and we don’t think they are Turkeys.

Do we steam all curtains? Definitely not. We only steam curtains if we need to, as the steam will often affect the length and for some fabrics, such as velvet, it can damage the face fabric. It is also time consuming and hot work, so if not necessary, why do it.

We do steam some curtains to remove creases and help them settle into their pleats, but even then we often find some creases remain, particularly with linens, and in these cases time is your best friend and eventually most will drop away over the following weeks. However, if you’ve chosen 100% linen don’t expect crease free curtains.

Tying the curtains up serves two purposes. The first is to set the curtains neatly into corrugated pleats down their entire length so that they look fabulous and draw back

neatly when opened. The second is to help the various layers of fabrics sit together. When hanging curtains the lining and interlining will have a tendency to try to work apart. Experienced curtain makers will have added a daisy chain stitch to the bottom hems and added in locking stitches at regular points across the widths, both of which serve to keep the layers together. Even with these some coaching is still required. You will often see a fitter gently stroking the curtains as they smooth each layer together and into their pleating.

Usually a single tie towards the bottom of the curtains is enough to keep them together overnight or a few days to settle. On longer curtains or fabrics that really don’t want to play ball, you may see extra ties. The ties are not tight but loosely encouraging good behaviour.

Once the curtain maker or fitter leaves its so tempting to untie them to have a closer look, but I caution you to have a little patience as this process and the time it takes to settle pays back big time. Without this dressing process you are likely to end up with ballooning curtains that never look the money.

If you’ve found this helpful, please share.

Next time… Eco Solutions

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Journal Insight #7: Embellishments
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Journal Insight #9: Eco Solutions for curtains and blinds

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