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Curtains 101 – Positioning the curtain hooks

Cathy came in today to test-hang our curtains (very exciting – they look great!), and I learnt a bit more about curtains which I’ll share with you.

The backing tape at the top of the curtain which gives the depth of gather has a number of loops where the hooks can be positioned. The position of the hook dictates how far above or below the curtain rail the curtain is positioned – and it turns out this has quite a visual impact on how the curtains look. If the hook is at the very top you see all of the rail, whereas if it is at the bottom, the curtain is lifted closer to the ceiling, and the rail is completely hidden.  Cathy kindly tested a number of scenarios with me so we could see what looked best. In the excitement I annoyingly forgot to take photos of the difference in how it looked in our room, but my last post on Curtains 101 shows some of the differences.

The curtain rail installation manual recommendations suggested that the hook should be placed at the very top of the curtain so that it would smoothly slide over the passing hooks, so we tested that first, but I didn’t like what it looked like with the curtain rail fully visible. There was just too much going on with the cornice, a gap, the curtain rail, and the pencil pleat.  Then we tried with the hook farther down, and it actually made no difference to the curtain maneuverability – so we ended up opting for the very bottom hook. This way the curtain hid the rail and was as close to the ceiling as possible without touching it. The room suddenly looked SO much taller with the curtains flowing from ceiling to floor.

The curtains will now hang for 1-2 weeks before they are hemmed so that if the weight of them causes them to stretch out a bit, this can be accommodated. (Did I mention Cathy is a perfectionist?!)

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Curtains 101 – Bay Window Curtain Poles

When we started to arrange our new curtains, I had assumed that we could use our existing wood curtain rail and life would be simple (silly me!).  Cathy suggested that we would need to make sure it was super sturdy as the new wool, thermally lined curtains would be significantly heavier than what we had up previously. A bit of a jiggle revealed that they wouldn’t likely be up to the task without some additional support brackets.

But as we all know, nothing is ever simple! Its been a long journey to find a suitable curtain rail, but I will summarise what I learnt in a series of helpful bullet points to avoid this post turning into a (rather dull) novella…

  • So that a heavy curtain can go around the corner bend in a Bay window, you need what are called ‘passing brackets‘  (a bottom supported bracket) and ‘passing hooks‘ (‘C’ shaped hooks with a cut out that can slide over the bracket). So far so good – very clever.
  • You cannot, however, simply buy passing brackets and add them to your existing wood curtain rail (my initial ‘easy fix’ thought). Every passing bracket has a slightly different projection from the wall, and you need all brackets to be the same.
  • Unfortunately (according to John Lewis) they don’t make wood curtain rails with passing bracket systems as they just aren’t strong enough – they only make metal ones.
  • A custom made metal bay window curtain rail will set you back about £900. This is because they come out to measure and install, and also bend the metal corners to suit your bay window exactly.
  • A bay window kit on the other hand, costs about £100-£150 depending on what features you go for. The corners aren’t as nice (there are various styles as shown above), but given they are usually covered with a curtain, it’s probably not such a big deal.
  • You cannot mix and match passing brackets with passing hooks from a different manufacturer (or any component for that matter). The cut out in the hook, and the position of the ring on this hook which holds the curtain is designed to work precisely with that bracket design.
  • You must check the weight of your curtains to ensure the rod is strong enough as curtain rod systems are rated to take a certain weight. (The system I liked the look of best, just wasn’t strong enough unfortunately, so in the end the decision was made for me).  Luckily the company I bought the fabric from (Kvadrat) had the weight available as 840 g/lin.m. Cathy  had calculated that I needed 11.4 m, so it was easy to calculate
  • Don’t forget to add the weight of the lining!  Turns out that the thermal lining Cathy was using was about 800g/lin.m.  As the information was not available from the supplier or on line, we figured that out by first weighing the A5 sized sample of Kvadrat fabric on a kitchen scale.  We then weighed the same sized A5 rectangle of lining. Turns out they weighted the same number of grams, so the maths was easy.
  • Just because you order a thick 35mm diameter rod doesn’t automatically mean that the weight all 35mm rod curtain rails can take is the same. This is also related to the brackets.

After a lot of searching, we ended up going with the Swish Design Studio Bay Window kit from Poles & Blinds (available in brass, polished chrome, anthracite, and stainless steel). We opted for the anthracite so it would match our gunmetal grey radiators in the hallway near by.

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Curtains 101 – Pinch Pleats vs Pencil Pleats

I was kindly put in touch with a local seamstress who makes curtains and who is the friend of a friend.   I was relieved, I had landed not only a seamstress contact, but a guide to help me through this new uncharted territory.  I’d love to be able to sew, and plenty of people have told me making curtains is easy, but part of being good at DIY, is knowing when you can’t DIY! I decided making curtains was well beyond my skill set, and boy am I glad that I did.

Cathy (helpful seamstress friend of a friend) visited my house and measured up the window so I could order the right amount of fabric. There were a lot of decisions to be made…

First up – what amount of gather did I want?  The general guide is between 1.5-2 x the actual window length. She suggested for a good full gather when closed to order 2x the actual length. I deferred to her expertise.

Next up – what sort of curtain head detail did I want? A standard pencil pleat? A pinch pleat? Or what about a double or triple pinch pleat? Crikey. I didn’t think I would have opinions on these sorts of things but it turns out that I do. All of the pinch pleats somehow looked fussy and old fashioned to me.  Cathy explained that pinch pleats can look really crisp and sharp, but agreed that a standard pencil pleat would work best with the thick wool fabric I had chosen, and for the more contemporary look I was after. I settled on a simple pencil pleat (shown in the floral option).

Lastly (for now) – what depth did I want the pleats? Pleat tape is fixed to the back of the curtain and comes in a variety of depths. You can see a shorter depth pleat with the dark grey double pinch pleat image and a longer depth in the light grey double pleat curtain on the wooden pole. Cathy advised that for such thick fabric, and for full height curtains in a tall room like mine I’d want a good depth pleat at the top. Once again, I agreed and opted for the 5 hook depth tape (about 8″).

So fabric ordered, and key decisions made – it was over to Cathy to work her magic over the next few weeks.

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Living Room Curtains – Another (longer than anticipated) side diversion

For three and a half years we have been ‘making do’ in our living room with our previous owner’s too short but delightfully Christmas themed red and gold ‘Winter Curtains‘, and their equally too short white and green pattered ‘Summer Curtains‘. (I think you’ve probably really ‘made it’ when you have both summer and winter curtains… see the ones our previous owner’s kindly left us here).

I have endured countless (friendly) sarcastic comments from my dearest friends, about the state of our curtains, so when the opportunity came to get a trade discount on some fabric, I decided it was time to address the matter head on.

But first a bit of the back story about why it has taken so long…

In the first few years of living here, I wavered back and forth on the idea of solid shutters.  (I’m sure I have mentioned how much I loved the built-in Georgian shutters in my old flat).  However,  after much research and finally some firm consultation with the shutter professionals at the amazingly named ‘Shutterly Fabulous‘ when we got our guest room shutters installed – I came to accept that retrofitted solid shutters just don’t really work in a bay window.  The issue is that unlike louvered plantation style shutters that stay closed all the time – you need to open and close solid shutters on a daily basis. (Regular daylight is generally quite a nice thing after all). Retrofitted shutters alas typically have no where to stack, and so although shutters for the two side windows can fold back neatly onto the adjacent wall (if there is enough space, in our case there wasn’t) – the central window pane shutters would need to stick out perpendicular to the wall when open – not exactly the look we were after.

The only other alternative that I have seen to overcome this frustrating issue is demonstrated in the cafe of the South London Gallery nearby. Instead of fixed hinged shutters, they have a series of solid panels that every day one manually slides onto little ‘shelves’ in front of each window. (They are stopped from falling from the top by a timber angle fixed to the top of the windows).  When I ran the idea by Alex he just laughed.  (I rely on him to bring me back to the practicality of daily living when I get these hair-brained ideas!) In fairness, the idea of in essence boarding up a window with 6 panels of wood every evening is ok if you are paying a waitress to do it at the end of her shift,  but not ideal if its your own house. That would get boring pretty quickly!

So, I parked the shutter idea, and kept my eyes open for curtains and bay window treatments wherever I went, keeping the problem rolling around in my subconscious.

Well,  I was at a friend’s home (with a bay window) for our book club dinner last December and lo and behold – a solution presented itself.  My friend had fantastic dark grey felt curtains that looked not only warm and cosy, but also very contemporary and stylish.  My bay window problem was solved.

But I was supposed to be in the middle of our master bedroom refurbishment! So I put the curtain solution on hold… for a little while.

In January, the opportunity arose to get a trade discount on some lovely grey wool felt from Kvadrat. I needed to act.  In a somewhat spontaneous decision, I ordered the same light grey fabric I got my Hay About a Lounge Chair upholstered in.   Generally I don’t like to be so matchy-matchy – but once I got the idea of light grey wool curtains into my head, nothing else seemed right. The light grey isn’t so overbearing, looks good with the dark blue walls, and if I ever change colour scheme, light grey goes with pretty much anything.

The fabric was ordered… but that is just the beginning of the story…