DIY Draperies for the Living Room Windows

As of this past week, the electrical work that we so urgently needed is under way, and since that little drama is providing quite a lot of house-related blogging fodder, I figured I should catch up and post the final installment of the epic three-part saga about our living room window treatments. Before I forget about it, or get too distracted by other things.

So just as a reminder of where we left off, the first post was about how old and broken the blinds that came with our house were, and the second post was about hanging curtain rods on our plaster walls. In this post, I’ll share the end result of how everything turned out.

So first: what exactly were we looking for in curtains? The requirements were few, and fairly simple:

  1. Height – In order to cover our windows without falling onto the radiator below, they needed to be 74″ in height, which is non-standard — off-the-shelf curtain panels seem jump straight from 63″ to 84″ for some reason.
  2. Opacity – We like to close our curtains at night, and since our living room windows look right out on the street, we wanted the curtains to be completely opaque for privacy reasons — so no sheers or semi-transparent curtain materials allowed.
  3. Color – We didn’t have anything too specific in mind colorwise, although we worried that curtains too light might start to look dirty and dingy more quickly and therefore be higher-maintenance. We also wanted to avoid bright saturated colors or busy patterns.
  4. Type – To attach to the traverse curtain rod, we ideally needed some kind of pleated drapery, though these proved difficult to find — these days, the most popular kinds of curtains you see when browsing stores are the ring-top or rod pocket variety.

Ordering curtains online would make it hard to evaluate them for requirement #2, so we limited ourselves to what we could actually go look at in stores, and that seemed to make it pretty difficult to find anything that met requirement #4 at any reasonable price.

We eventually settled on Ikea’s SANELA curtains in light brown. They came in a 98″ length, but included iron-on tape for adjusting the hem yourself, and that’s what we ended up doing to meet requirement #1. To meet requirement #4, enabling them to attach via hooks to our traverse curtain rods, I took a bit of a risk and attempted to transform them myself. Here’s the product photo for the curtains to give you an idea what we started with:

A closeup of the tops of the Ikea SANELA curtains from here.

As you can see, the curtain panels have these built-in pockets that you’re supposed to just slip a narrow curtain rod through. To attach to the type of curtain rods we’d already installed, though, we needed them to have hooks instead. There are various kinds of curtain hooks — there’s a pretty good article here with a list — but the three that I experimented with are as follows:

Three different kinds of curtain hooks from here.

The first kind in the above photo, simple heading hooks, resulted in a loose, flat, droopy look when I just spaced them out evenly without making pleats. The second kind, 4-pronged pleater hooks, exist for exactly this purpose — by placing each of the four prongs slightly apart on the curtain fabric, it causes it to fold and create that pleated look.

But I didn’t end up using the four-pronged hooks because (1) the prongs seemed too long for our specific curtains, poking out the top when I tried them briefly, and (2) by the time I learned they existed, I had already started trying to use the third kind in the above photo. Which I think are technically intended for pocket pleated draperies, but I seemed to be getting decent results by wedging them into the slots in the back of the curtain panels like so:

Closeup of the two-prong drapery hooks, used in an unintended manner.

I folded the curtain fabric to make the pleats, and to hold them together, I added a few stitches to each one using a needle and thread, which I think turned out pretty well considering that I don’t know how to sew (as discussed here). The end result was curtains that fold together neatly when opened, retain a wavy drapey look when closed, and it all happens in just two seconds when you pull the cord.

The finished curtains, as seen opened (left) and closed (right).

And now for a fun “before and after” exercise to show how far the living room windows have come. First, here is the “before” photo — the panorama first posted here — showing what the living room windows looked like when we first moved in:

The wall of windows in our living room, as seen when we moved in.

And here is the “after” photo, another slightly distorted panorama showing what those windows look like now. (Confession: there are normally various baby playpens / carseats / ExerSaucers scattered around this room, but I moved them aside before taking the picture.)

The living room windows with the new curtains.

The curtains let a lot more light in than the blinds did, and when open, they clear the edges of the windows almost completely. And it’s really nice not to have anything covering the rich dark woodwork or the distinctive window panes anymore.

Overall, I’ve been really enjoying how things turned out, though as usual I have a few thoughts and ideas for improvement:

  • Between the curtains and the wallowing couch, it’s starting to look awfully beige in here, although I suppose that’s the sort of thing that can be fixed by scattering some random colorful things around the room.
  • The bright white curtain rods seem a little out of place — if we don’t end up adding a valance of some sort, I feel like they need to be either a dark brown shade to tie in with the woodwork around the windows, or the same creamy color as the walls. There’s an article here that mentions spray-painting curtain rods exactly like these ones, so maybe that’s something to try down the road.

Anyway, that’s that — one project completely finished, and posted just in time to start writing about all the massive electrical changes that have been taking place around here lately! So stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, does anyone have any window-treatment-related stories, ideas, or suggestions? Feel free to share in the comments.


  1. I love the curtains, and that was a brilliant idea with the drapery hooks! I agree about the color of the curtain rods. They really do stand out. I think matching them with the wall is a good idea, but I really like valances. They really seem to frame the windows, and I really like that effect. To add color, you could have some colorful silk flowers (out of Ms. Lily’s reach of course) or maybe even a colorful painting or two. I absolutely love your floors, by the way! :) Love to you all!

  2. If you can match the wall color with a spray paint, that’s probably the best option (I find paint never matches real woodwork very well) for the short-term, especially work and cost-wise. Colorful pillows can brighten up the look, with the added benefit of being washable and easy to change up if you get tired of them. The flowers Julie mentions could be safety pinned just below the pleats, or ribbon bows could be pinned there, to look as though they are holding the pleats closed.

  3. Great job with the curtains! For color on the walls, get some of your great travel or flower photographs blown up to poster size with inexpensive frames! Your photography is so good, show it off, and get color at the same time! Happy Easter!

    ps. Walgreen’s does photo posters very reasonably.

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