Secrets to inexpensive but good drapery.

Here’s my guide to the best ready-made inexpensive drapes or how to customize your own on a budget and still have them look unique and beautiful.      

 hollywood regency living room

I have a personal theory about design that if you don’t get something unique (custom or vintage) then it should be inexpensive.  Of course i shop for a living so thats easy for me to say, but the idea of buying a $900 coffee table that many other people have isn’t terribly appealing to me.  I’d rather have a $300 one from West Elm until that amazing vintage find comes along.  Sometimes a big big store has a really great piece of furniture (like the Dakota Dining table from Crate and Barrel that i just bought for a client), don’t get me wrong, but if i’m going to spend a chunk of money i want it to be on something i don’t see that often.  

So here are the good and inexpensive drapery options out there right now:

A lot of drapery can be $100 a panel and multiply that by at least 4-8 panels in a room and you’ve just spent  a lot of money on something that is ‘Meh’ and Mr. and Mrs. boring down the street also have.  So i say take that $400-$800 and splurge on a really amazing vintage piece of furniture, then buy inexpensive (but really good) drapes.  (stay tuned, i’ll tell you at the bottom how to get custom for cheap). 

 

So here are my favorite readymade drapes that aren’t expensive and worth every penny:

1. Ikea.  Obvi.

AINA Pair of curtains IKEA Linen gives the fabric a natural, irregular texture and makes it feel firm to the touch.

‘Aina’ Grey linen, 2 panels for $49; that, my friends is a cheap drapery option. They can be hung with clips and rings, threaded like a pocket or hung with drapery hooks or hospital tracks.  I have them in my living room and they are soft and organic, but don’t look cheap at all.  They let some light through while still providing privacy. You can hem them (with provided hemming tape) to any length.  They are just very good.

‘Sanela’ Navy blue (and dark green) velvet curtains.  These are $60 for a pair of panels and are thick enough to be blackout curtains. I don’t like them threaded on the rod (shown above) and they’ll look way more expensive and high end if you buy rings and clip them on.  But they look luxurious for not very much money. I used them here:

See the rest of the images from this Spanish Mod house, photos by Laure Joliet. 

2. Potterybarn Kids or Teens.  It’s not like these sites are secrets yet people think that PBkids and PBteens are for kids and teens but they are actually WAY better than the grown up Pottery barn in my opinion. More saturated colors and less suburban.   

These blackout curtains are a very good price at $69 each. I know that’s not terribly cheap but blackouts can be strangely expensive and this is a good price for a pretty color. 

Sailcloth Panel.  

And in white:

White

I don’t like crazy patterned drapes UNLESS they are so amazing that they are worthy of the attention that they command, but i do love a simple stripe like this that adds to the tailored look without being too busy. From PBkids for $89 for 84″.  HERE.   

Girls' Harper Panel 44 x 63" Navy

And from PBTeen i love this tassel fringed mother: Tassel Sheer for $69.99 for 84″

 

Tassel Sheer, 63

Ridiculously cute.  Still not super cheap, but not $100 a panel. 

3. West Elm

I love these simple linen panels for $44 a panel.  Be mindful that these really don’t have any light control or privacy, but they are very pretty.  

Sheer Linen Window Panel

Blackout Window Panel $49 for 92″, which is a great price, BUT they only come in this color. They should do white, for sure…..

Blackout Window Panel

4. CB2

I LOVE these french/belgiun Linen panels:

FrenchBelgCrtnPnlSwoonS12

They are $59.99 which isn’t a steal, but they look really high end and beautiful for that price tag. 

I’ve ordered from other places, but these above are always good ones that I’ve consistently bought. 

Now, what if you want to do custom? How much will you spend? Possibly a ton, but I’ve figured out how to keep the cost down after doing it so many times.  

 

1. What kind of fabric do you buy:.  You don’t need expensive linen for drapery, truly.  There isn’t much wear and tear on it (like there might be a sofa) so you don’t need anything too thick or high quality.  I order a lot from Gray Lines linen or go to your local fabric store and buy some $7-$10 a yard linen or cotton fabric.  I love linen a lot because the weave looks organic and soft, but there are a lot of cottons out there that are under $12 a yard that have fun patterns that will be more ‘you’, less ‘everybody and their dog’.  Skip any ultra suede, anything with stretch, anything too dark unless you line it (because it will fade) or anything too shiny – no satins, polyesters or silks unless you really know what you are doing.  Linen and cotton velvet are my go-to’s (yes just like reupholstering).  

Only choose custom drapes if you are getting a color/pattern that you can’t get ready-made.  In other words don’t buy white linen, there are a ton of white linen drapery options out there.  Buy a pattern or buy a crazy hot pink linen – something that you can’t find readymade. That is the only reason to spend money on customization – it has to actually look 100% unique to be worth it.

 

img_1155_large.jpg

For instance this pattern came from the fashion side of Michael Levine’s for $8/yard. It was totally unique and fun so we had it lined so it looks totally customized yet they cost just a couple hundred dollars.  They were worth the splurge because they are one of a kind.  

img_1201_original.jpg

 

2. How to calculate yardage:  I usually assume that each panel is around 3 yards (108″) for a standard height window 80″ or so.   That gives you extra to have proper 4″-6″ hems on the top and bottom.  If you want pleating to add more volume and more of a traditional look you’ll need WAY more fabric, double in fact, so skip it if you are on a budget.  I very rarely get it done because it just adds so much cost, but they can be VERY pretty.  But to cut cost? Skip the pleating.  

Just go for flat panels:

 

img_1086_large.jpg

It’s just a simple seam at the top and it looks more modern.  Plus pleating obviously costs a lot more in labor as well.  

2.  Where to have them made: again, just like reupholstering, don’t be scared to go to the less fancy places for cheaper prices.  In general they have as much experience and will do a decent job for a lot less money. Drapery is really easy to sew, so i’m much less worried about getting something shoddy than i am with rreupholstering.  

In L.A. I go down to the fashion district into one of the drapery hardware places and they normally have a vendor they use for $40 a panel.  We used to have a place that did them for $15 a panel, i’m not kidding, which is crazy cheap. Then sadly for them (and us) they went out of business so now we spend more, but its still way cheaper than the high end places (which end up sourcing out to the cheap places anyway).  

MY BIGGEST SECRET EVER:

If you aren’t picky, or if you don’t need something that looks super high end and you just want some pretty fabric panels sewn, then your new best friend is your drycleaner/tailor.  

Drapery is sooo easy to sew, its having the space that is difficult which is why i don’t do it very often. But its just two double hems on the sides and 4-6″ hems on the top and bottom.  Straight seams. SOOOO easy. So normally your local dry-cleaner will do it for $20 a panel (maybe even less). 

We recently did this for the lake house because our budget was getting so tight and the fabric we used was 15$/yard sheer white linen that was 100″ wide (which is double width).  It was for wall to wall windows (above) so i didn’t want to buy readymade that was only 44″ wide or we would have had 6 or even 8 panels which look too busy and amateur, so instead we bought really wide fabric and had them sew two of those 100″ panels together, meaning that we had two 200″ panels.  The tailor (i think it was actually a shoe place/tailor) charged us $40 a panel = $80 to sew drapery for 16 feet of windows.  The fabric itself was $15 a yard and we needed 12 yards (four panels at 3 yards per panel) = $180.  The whole thing cost $260 total for those drapes.  Yes, they are sheer and i didn’t have them sew the edges – i just left them raw which you can do with think hankerchief linen.  We didn’t line them because they didn’t need light control.

The point is, if someone can sew then they can sew drapes. Not fancy ones. Not ones with a lot of pleating, but they can sew four seams so therefore they can sew drapes.  Don’t think you have to go somewhere fancy. Just go to your dry cleaner and get quotes.  If you want them lined then you can provide the with the lining (which you can get at your fabric store for 2$ a yard) and then yes, they’ll charge more, but not that much more.  

Drapery sources are often like wedding dress stores: they charge a price that is much beyond what the service actually should cost because its the expected price.  Very rarely is a wedding dress actually worth $4,000. It’s that price because its for a wedding, and because they know that its what you expect to pay.  

Although….

Recently for a client i hired my first drapery company to actually come to the house with samples of fabrics and take measurements and give quotes.  i have to say that it was a total luxury.  They do all the work, from measuring to sewing to installation and yes, you get a higher price tag but if its a complicated job and you have a decent budget (and you are a very busy person) then its a very good option for you.  

We did this because we wanted custom roman shades, which are WAY too complicated for just anyone to do.

So far I’ve been very happy with this service and if my clients can afford it, i will continue to use it because it does take a lot of time and stress away from me.   We used the www.shadeshoppe.com and they have been really great so far;  informative, friendly, with lots of options.  And the fact that i don’t have to hire someone to install is worth every penny.  I install my own, but i’m not good enough to install clients’ drapery hardware, so i always hire someone else.  

I’ll do another post on hardware soon and roman shades, too.  Am i forgetting anything?

  1. Michele

    I just got gorgeous custom drapes from etsy.com There are TONS of options there at a pretty reasonable price. I heart my new drapes – they ended up being $300 but they are 96" long (really big picture window) and they are lined so I think they were totally worth it.

  2. jenn

    Can you give some tips on customizing the store bought drapes? I find that the lengths are usually just long enough (84") to hang the curtains right at the top of the window instead of closer to the ceiling. I've thought about adding a banding to the bottom, but I was wondering if you had any other fun creative ideas. gracias!

  3. Jana

    Do you have any tips for making a fab but pricey fabric go further? E.g., I'm wondering about pairing a dummy panel or a wide border of a fabric I love with a white linen functioning panel.

    Also, I love making drapes go to the ceiling even when the windows don't, but we just bought a house where some of the wider windows are set into a shallow alcove — 8" deep, maybe — whose top is about a foot lower than the ceiling. Should I set the drapes on the outer wall and go to the ceiling? Or would that look weird?

    Thanks!

    P.S. I love your style!

  4. Kim

    Thanks for this Emily. I was actually just thinking about having roman shades made, so I look forward to the other posts in this series

  5. Thank you!! I'm about to move into a new house with lots of tall windows (in Texas with lots of sun and heat) so inexpensive drapery is at the top of my list right now! Love your blog! xo

  6. Cathy

    Thanks for sharing…great tips!

  7. thanks for this! I just hung ikea curtains last week (and blogged about it this morning) they look much better than I imagined. And I love that they are a custom length.

  8. Drew

    Thank you for this! I have to now ask about custom rods. I tried your tip on using unfinished dowels from the hardware store but we couldn't get them wide enough. I found the widest I could from PB but they still buckle in the middle. Any tips for this part of the drapes?

    Drew

  9. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  10. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  11. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  12. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  13. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  14. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  15. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  16. This is so ridiculously helpful! As a fellow designer I knew little bits and tips but drapery always scares me slightly, and to have all this information in one place is invaluable! Thanks Emily!

  17. I echo everyone else . . . thanks so much for this super helpful primer on drapery. I've always been a bit intimidated by the the expensive workrooms, but feel somewhat at a loss when offering up other suggestions to decorating clients. Oh, and I just bought the PB Kids sailcloth blackout panels for my son's room.

  18. Thanks for the tips. I'd also like to know about how to take a store bought drape or roman shade and make it look more custom. I also have the question of the recessed window like Jana above. I'm planning to make and hang roman shades on the wall above the window (not the recess). But when the shades are closed they will float in the bay area and be about 8"-10" away from the windows but in a straight line of the walls (if that makes any sense). I hope it looks OK.

  19. You are awesome! but you know that….thanks for all these awesome tips….they are very, very appreciated!

  20. Monika

    Hi Emily, I would love it if you would discuss how high to hang the drapery. I often hear that you must hang it as high as possible yet I often see examples of it hung right at the height of the window/doors and it looks good to me (example above in the Lake House). My ceilings are similar to the Lake House, but angle up sharply, in a "^" shape so the windows on one side of the house are closer to the ceiling than the ones perpendicular to them, which have the ceiling angling up… Not sure if that makes any sense. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on where to hang them or if it's just a gut thing that you go with. Thanks in advance, Monika

  21. I know this was a post about readymade drapes, but I had to add that I got all my drapes from JCPenney. They are custom, lined, and gathered at the top with hooks for rings and ridiculously long. JCPenney routinely has huge sales on their custom drapery for 60-70% off. The other great thing at my JCPenney's is that you can have someone come over and measure all your windows so you get the correct width and length for about $50 and I told the person who came over how high I wanted the drapes hung on a rod over my windows and how I wanted my blinds hung inside the window with the wooden valence outside (they are hoping you then hire this person to install your draperies/blinds which I did). The lined drapes were cheaper than most anything readymade I've seen (and my ceilings were way too high to buy readymade).

  22. Jenny M.

    This is a very helpful post. I have lately been staring at my bare windows with annoyance. Due to my cheapness nothing has been done to them since we moved in.

  23. WOW! Such a great detailed post. I recently went fabric shopping for our nursery. The entire room is very subtle with soft peaches and whites but I felt like I needed the curtains to be nice and bold so I went with a crazy peach peacock fabric with some very bright yellow background. I'm thinking it may be too bright but I'm still going for it. Worst case; I'll throw some white sheer panels over it :)

  24. Tori

    Thanks so much for this. When you do your Roman Shades post, would you mind pointing out situations/styles where a Roman Shade is more appropriate vs drapes or when you should avoid using one or the other. It may just be a matter of personal preference, and if so, that's cool. But I'm wondering if either connotes a different look or feel that may not be readily apparent to me (but of course, SUPER obvi to everyone else who visits and silently wonders what the heck I was thinking). Wanting to avoid that. Thanks!!

  25. chilp

    LOVE the tips! Would love to get info re: hardware and hanging….thought I had found a good fabric (and greatly appreciate the tip about my drycleaner, went right over and they were more than happy to help), but I have no idea about clips, rings, etc.

  26. Erica

    Thanks for a terrific post! SO helpful! I looked up the 'Sanela' curtains on the Ikea website and couldn't find them. The closest thing I could find were the 'werna' curtains in dark blue that say they block out light as well. Maybe it's a new version…Thoughts?
    http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20206043/?query=WERNA#/00206044

    I'd also love to read a second blog post on hardware and hanging too.

  27. Erin

    Awesome post. I love all the "secrets" and "how to" posts you've been doing lately :D
    You should do a post on inexpensive rugs soon! Rugs scare me.

  28. jackie

    Hi Emily,

    I read this a few weeks ago and went to implement. First, they don't sell the navy or green Sanela curtains in canada's ikeas, but when i looked at the american site, I didn't see ANY Sanela velvet curtains. When did you source these? I LOVE them and we're broke, so any more sources you can offer, I appreciate in advance.
    Cheers!

  29. Helen

    Hi. I have a webstore specializing in IKEA items, including curtains, rugs, duvet sets, and slipcovers. I have the SANELA GREEN and BLUE curtains in stock, as well as many other options. Please take a look.
    Kind regards.
    Helen http://rock-paper-scissors.ecrater.com/

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