Decorating & Design

January 13, 2009

Curtains 101

In this article:
Why cover your windows?
Where to hang curtains?
Light drapery styles
Pleating styles

Why cover your windows?


All window coverings have an insulating effect. The heavier the fabric, the greater the insulating factor. In cold climates, thick lined fabrics will help to keep chilly drafts out.

Light control

Window coverings let you control how much natural light is let in and at what time of day.

Noise dampening

Coverings made of fabric will help absorb noise both inside and out. High levels of absorption are possible when using soft and generous amounts of fabric.


Window coverings can frame a beautiful view or hide an unpleasant one.


Window coverings should work with the existing style of the room in which they’re applied; they can also help add colour and texture to a space.

Where to hang curtains?

You can control the visual scale of windows with these hanging techniques:

To reflect actual window size

Mount curtains or shades inside window recess.

To widen window

Mount covering outside window frame and/or use low tiebacks.

To narrow window

Use high tiebacks.

To add height to window

Mount covering above window frame.

Light drapery styles

Rod pocket

This is the most common style of drapery. A rod is inserted into a casing that has been stitched at the top of the panel. The fabric is gathered along the rod so that fabric flows gracefully downward.

Tab top

Tabs are stitched to the top of the drapery panel and fed through a rod for hanging. Tabs can be the same fabric as the drapery or made of a different material such as rope or ribbon. An affordable choice, but one drawback is the tabs don’t always open or close smoothly and can bunch up on the rod.


This style of drape covers the lower half of a window up to the sill, allowing natural light in at the top while providing privacy. Café drapes can conceal a bad view without entirely blocking out the light. They work well in rooms with a more casual look, like kitchens and bathrooms.

Casement style

This type of drape features a casing at both top and bottom and is kept taut to cover the entire window. Fabric can be gathered for a traditional look or left flat for a more modern appearance. As the window is covered, the drape’s casement should be made of sheer fabric, light cotton or linen to allow some light through. Sash style is a variation on this look, with the drapery only covering the lower half of the window and down to the sill.


A variation of the casement style. Drawn in at the centre to form an hourglass shape, this is a casual drapery that should be made from a light fabric that gathers well.

Bishop sleeve

The bishop sleeve drapery is made from ample amounts of fabric; this is a full-appearing style that is never drawn but instead always tied back on each side of the window. The extra length of fabric is then pulled up to make “poufy” bishop sleeves. Various silhouettes are possible. For a slimmer look, fine fabric like silk or polyester should be used. For a more pronounced puffiness, a medium to heavy fabric works best. The tiebacks can be visible or hidden.


Romantic, billowing sheers are great for allowing in maximum natural light while preserving privacy. They can be totally transparent or opaque. A variety of fabrics can be used for this style including silks and polyesters. Colours are typically pastels, with white and cream being the most common. To increase privacy, sheers can be used on a window in combination with a shade.

Pleating styles for heavier drapes

Formal style drapery calls for heavier, richer fabrics while panels are generally floor length. Typically lined with pleated headings, they are attached to a rod using hooks. Pleats are held in place by either stitching or by attaching a gathering or pleater tape to the wrong side of the fabric helping pleats retain their form when drapery is open or closed. Below are the most common styles of drapery pleating.

Pinch pleats

Also known as French pleats, this traditional style of pleating is created by pinching together three folds of fabric which are separated by a flat section between them. Available with single or double pleating, this decorative style of drapery should not be covered up by top coverings.

Pencil pleats

Resembling a row of pencils, small round pleats are stitched or gathered into place. This is a straightforward covering that works well on tall windows where the heading will be deep. Its simplicity makes it appropriate for contemporary interiors.

Goblet pleats

A fancy pleat for formal draperies where simple rounded pleats are fixed at the base of a heading to make a goblet shape. These are similar to single pleats and roundness can be emphasized with padding. This style of drapery should be reserved for formal settings.

Box pleats

A heading made of flat pressed pleats. The clean lines of this covering make it appropriate in modern interiors.