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Full-Length, Tab-Top Panel Curtains
To be perfectly honest, I hate to cover up my windows. Staring out into the world is one of my favorite pastimes. But, I also realize you need a little privacy and some protection from the sun. And, the softness of curtains and drapes adds a distinct coziness to a room. Okay — window coverings win! In true S4H fashion, these pretty tab-top curtains are very easy to make. Clever seaming gives you fully lined, finished panels with no visible stitching on the sides. And, we go through all the equations needed to figure out the correct width and height for your windows.
Open or closed, our curtains are lovely to look at and enhance the room. The instructions below are for one panel; you can make as many as needed for your window area. We made six panels to cover our set of three large windows: two 41″ wide panels per 40″ window. The general rule of thumb for panel width is about two to two-and-a-half times the width of the window to maintain a nice, soft gather when open. Most people prefer this look over a flat panel.
Fully lined, the panels do a good job of blocking the sun when needed, yet because they’re all quilting weight cotton, they aren’t super bulky. This allows them to be pulled to either side for a full open view or grouped in three sets of two (as shown above) for a little decorative variety.
Our curtains were originally made, using Patty Young’s Flora & Fauna collection by Michael Miller Fabrics. This is an older collection that is no longer readily available. Because we did this entire project with quilting cottons, the options for designer fabric are endless and beautiful, with colors and patterns to match any décor.
Sewing Tools You Need
- Sewing Machine and standard presser foot
Fabric and Other Supplies
The fabric yardage is based on ONE curtain panel and ONE tie back. Depending on the size and number of your windows and the height of your curtain rod, you will need to adjust your measurements accordingly. Below, we explain how we determined the sizes of our cut pieces.
- Fabric for top of panel: ½ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton
- Fabric for bottom of panel and tieback: 2¼ yards of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton
- For the tab top, tieback, and flange: ½ yard of 44″+ wide quilting weight cotton
- 2½ yards 44″+ wide drapery lining: we used a standard white cotton; you could also use a drapery lining
- ⅛ yard of mid-weight fusible interfacing for the tie back; we used Pellon Décor Bond
- 1¼ yards of 3″ wide drapery header tape
- Eight decorative buttons (6 for the tabs, 2 for the tie back); we used ½” metal buttons
- TWO 2″ D-rings (in a finish to coordinate with your fabric)
- All purpose thread to match fabric
- See-through ruler
- Seam gauge
- Seam ripper
- Fabric pen or pencil
- Iron and ironing board
- Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
- Straight pins
- Hand sewing needle
The first step in creating this curtain panel is to do some math. Yay! Below, we explain how we determined our cut and finished measurements. But, you’re likely to have a different size window and/or your hardware (or rod) will be set at a different height. So, you can follow our example and adjust it accordingly to meet your curtain needs. We all have certain curtain needs, don’t we?
FINISHED LENGTH measurements
The height from the top of our rod to the floor is 84½”. But, we did not want the curtains brushing on the floor and getting dirty, so we subtracted ½” from the total height. Our finished height will be 84½” – ½” = 84″.
Our top tabs are 2½” in height from the top of the pole to the top of the curtain. This is a standard measurement for tab top curtains.
Panel body height
The finished length of the panel body (without the tabs) will simply be the finished height minus the height of the tabs. 84″ – 2½” = 81½”.
Top fabric height
We decided to make our panel out of TWO fabrics, because that’s just how we roll. The top fabric is a 16″ finished length (just a little less than 1/5 of the total finished length, which is a division that is pleasing to the eye). 81½” ÷ 5 = 16.3″ We rounded down to 16″.
You’ll notice we have what’s called a “flange” in between our top and bottom fabrics. This is a decorative finish you see quite a bit in home décor. It’s basically piping without the cord inside. This measurement is ¾” where it sticks out from the seam. Just remember that for later; because it is sewn into the seam and overlaps, it doesn’t affect the overall height.
Bottom fabric height
Our bottom fabric is easy to figure out, just subtract the finished length of the top fabric from the total finished length of the panel body. 81½” – 16″ = 65½”.
CUT LENGTH measurements
Now we need to add for hem allowances at the top and bottoms, as well as for the seam allowance where the top fabric is sewn to the bottom fabric.
As you may remember, if you were paying attention, our top tabs are 2½” in height from the top of the pole to the top of the curtain. These loop over the rod, so you need double that height. Then, one end overlaps the top seam by 2″ on the front (that’s where the accent button is sewn). Therefore, the total finished length will be 2½ x 2 = 5″ + 2″ = 7″. Finally, we need to add to the length for seam allowances. Our cut length for the tabs will be 7″ + ½” seam allowance on one end to create the finished end of the tab that lays over the front panel + a ½” seam allowance on the other end where it will insert into the top seam. So, that’s 7″ + 1″ = 8″.
We only need a ½” hem allowance at the top, since the overlapping tabs do the actual hanging. And, we know we only need a ½” seam allowance at the bottom to sew the top fabric to the bottom fabric. Our cut length for the top fabric will be 16″ + ½” seam allowance top + ½” seam allowance bottom = 17″.
The flange is a little tricky because you have to account for the fact it’s folded in half, with raw edges together, before it’s sewn into the seam. So, we need to double the finished height we figured above, then add for the seam allowance. ¾” x 2 = 1½” + a ½” seam allowance on EACH side (1″) = 2½”.
We need a total of 7½” for a nice deep hem on the bottom (also standard) and a ½” seam allowance at the top to sew the bottom panel to the top panel. Using our finished measurement of 65½”, we add 7½” hem + a ½” seam allowance = 73½”.
CUT WIDTH measurements
Well, this part is fairly easy. We decided the finished width of our panel curtain would be 41″; so, all our pieces just use the full width of the fabric, including the selvedge. This gives us the extra we’ll need for the sides.
The only exception is the tabs. These need to finish at 2″ wide and we need a ½” seam allowance. Instead of cutting two strips to sew together, we can cut just one 5″ strip and fold it in half (2½ x 2). So, our cut width is 5″.
Our final cuts
Finally, we’re ready to cut! Referring to the cut length and width measurements we figured out above, we cut as follows:
- ONE 8″ x width of fabric strip from the tab fabric. Then, sub-cut the strip into six 5″ x 8″ rectangles for the six tabs.
- ONE 17″ x width of fabric piece from the top fabric.
- ONE 2½” x width of fabric piece from the flange fabric.
- ONE 73½” x width of fabric piece from the bottom fabric.
Let’s not forget we still need to cut a lining. It’s important to use the proper lining for your panel because it helps with light control, protects the fabric from fading in the sun, and gives the curtain body. The lighter-weight cotton just isn’t enough on its own. However, if you choose a heavy decorator weight fabric, you might be able to get away without a lining. All-in-all, with full length curtains, we’re going to strongly recommend a lining.
Before we cut the lining, we need to do some math again! It’s standard practice to make the lining shorter than the actual panel so the lining doesn’t hang below the hemline (much like the lining in a skirt). That measurement is usually 3″ less than your finished total length. So, we need to subtract this from our total length before hemming.
Our total finished length is 84″. Our hem allowance at the bottom was 7½” and at the top ½”. 84″ + 7½” + ½” = 92″
The cut length of the lining will be 92″ – 3 = 89″
For the width, we cut the lining 5″ less than the cut width of the panel. This is also a standard measurement.
The cut width of the lining will be 44″ (width of fabric) – 5″ = 39″
- We cut our lining piece at 89″ x 39″.
Just when you were ready to put away your cutting tools. The tie-back!
Our tie backs are 2″ x 24″. To figure out how to cut each section, follow these steps:
We approached the width the same way as the tabs above, because the finished width is the same 2″. We will cut our strips 5″ wide: 2″ finished width + ½” seam allowance = 2½” x 2 = 5″.
We wanted an accent fabric on each end. So, we decided the main fabric of the tie back would be 20″ and the accent fabric would be 2″ at each end. 20″ + 2″ + 2″ = 24″ finished length. But … we also need to account for the overlap to hold the D-rings on either end, so we need another 2″ on either end. Therefore, our accent piece needs to actually be 4″ finished.
And, finally, we need a ½” seam allowances on both ends of our pieces. So, our tie back sections will be cut as follows:
- Tie back main fabric, cut ONE at 5″ x 21″.
- Accent fabric, cut ONE at 5″ x 5″.
- The tie back needs to be strengthened with interfacing but that interfacing needs to be only on one side and should be kept out of the seam allowance: cut ONE 2″ x 20″ strip of mid-weight fusible interfacing.
One final note on all the cutting (and the eventual pinning together): Pay attention to the direction of your fabric! We chose two fabrics, both of which have a distinct directional motif. Be mindful of direction when figuring out all your cuts, and pinning all the sections together. There’s nothing more tragic than an upside-down humming bird or a dandelion plunging into the earth instead of reaching for the sky.
At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board
Pre-make the six tabs
- Fold and pin the six tab pieces in half, wrong sides together.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, sew along one short side, pivot at the corner, and sew to the next corner. Clip the corners. Turn right side out, poking out the corners so they are nice and sharp. Press flat.
NOTE: The open end you used for turning will later be sewn between the panel and the lining, hiding its raw edges.
- Top stitch around the two long sides and the one finished end of each tab. Set aside.
Make and insert the flange and attach the top panel to the bottom panel
- Fold and press the flange piece in half, wrong sides together.
- Place the flange along the top raw edge of the bottom panel, aligning the raw edges of the flange with the top raw edge of the panel. Pin in place.
- Machine baste the flange in place.
- Place the top fabric right sides together with the bottom fabric, sandwiching the flange between the layers. Remember to pay attention to the direction of your fabric.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, sew the top fabric to the bottom fabric. Press the flange down and the seam allowance up.
- Topstitch through all layers (you are stitching through the pressed-up seam allowance), within the top panel, just above the seam line.
NOTE: Depending on the actual widths of your selected fabrics, you may need to slightly trim the width on each side of each sewn panel piece. In order to make a straight seam later, the side edges must be flush from top to bottom.
- Create a double-fold hem along the bottom. To do this, fold up and press 3½”, then fold up an additional 4″ and press again. Stitch close to the inner fold to finish the hem. Set aside. If you’re new to hemming, check out: How to Make a Simple Hem.
- Repeat the same hem on the lining piece. Remember, this piece is shorter than the panel piece so it will finish shorter.
Sew the front panel to the lining along each side
- Lay the panel on a table, right side up. Place the lining piece right side down (the hem allows you to tell right from wrong) on top of the panel. So …. right sides together.
- The hem of the lining should fall within the hem of the front panel, and the whole lining should be 5″ narrower than the face panel.
- Align the lining and the front panel along one side, pin and stitch with a ½” seam allowance. Stitch from the top of the panel to the bottom.
NOTE: We’ve used some vibrant colors and patterns in our illustrations so you can tell right side from wrong side, etc. In case you were wonderin’ where those fish came from!!
- Remove from the machine and lay everything out flat again. Pull the lining so it aligns with the opposite side of the front panel. This will cause the sewn side to roll in a bit. Pin and stitch this side with a ½” seam allowance.
- Remove from the machine and lay it out flat once more. Now, in order to lay flat, both sides of the front panel will curve around to the back. Match the raw edges of the front panel and the lining along the top edge, making sure the center point of the lining matches the center point of the front panel. To find your center point, you can either measure from each side or fold the entire unit in half and mark.
- Press the side seam allowances towards the outside edges.
Insert tabs and sew top seam
- Place the six tabs in between the lining and panel along the top raw edge. Line up the raw edges of the tabs and the raw edges of the curtain/lining. The two outside tabs should sit up against the fold of the side hem. The other tabs are spaced 5½” apart.
NOTE: 5½” apart was what worked for our panel; depending on the finished width of your curtain, you’ll need to divide the width evenly to determine the spacing of the tabs.
- Using a ½” seam allowance, sew through all layers along the top of the panel. You DO stitch ALL the way across, including across each folded edge.
- Clip the two top corners of the panel at a diagonal. This makes it easier to turn the corners.
Attach header strip
- The drapery tape header strip adds strength and body to the top of the panel so it doesn’t droop between the hanging tabs. We cut our header strip at 40″ (1″ less than our finished width). Place the header strip on the bed of your sewing machine (facing the opposite direction of your panel). Lay the sewn top of the panel over the header tape. The bottom of the header strip should line up with your sewn seam as shown in the photo below. The top will simply extend about 2½” beyond the seam allowance.
- Stitch through all layers within the top seam allowance all the way across.
Turn right side out and complete tabs
- Turn panel right side out through the open hemmed bottom. Press the sides smooth. You will have a fully lined, finished curtain panel with no visible stitching on the sides.
- Pull the tabs out firmly and loop each to the front. As you remember from the notes above, the finished end of the tab should overlap 2″ onto the front side of the panel. Pin in place.
- Topstitch all the way across the top of the panel, approximately ¼” – ½” from the top edge, to help keep the taps in position. You can see this stitching in the photos above.
- Further secure each tab with a decorative button hand stitched through all layers.
- At the very bottom corner of the panel, fold under the remaining raw edge of the side hem.
- Make a short vertical stitching line, in thread to match your fabric, to secure the side hem to your bottom hem.
- The tie back needs to be strengthened with interfacing. Find your 2″ x 20″ strip of mid-weight fusible interfacing.
- Pin and sew a 5″ x 5″ accent square to each end of the tie back strip, right sides together, using a ½” seam allowance. Press the seam allowances toward the accent squares.
- Fold the entire strip in half and LIGHTLY press to create a center fold line.
- Unfold the strip and, following manufacturer’s instructions, press the fusible interfacing to the wrong side of one half of the tie back strip. Align the top of the interfacing strip with the center fold line.
- Fold the tie back in half, right sides together. Pin.
- Sew from one short end, down the long side, leave a 5-6″ opening for turning, and continue sewing to the opposite short end. Trim corners diagonally.
- Turn right side out. Press. Poke out all the corners so they are nice and sharp, and turn in raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn seam. Topstitch around the entire tie back.
- Fold each accent square in half and slip a D-ring into the fold. Stitch in place, matching the previous line of top stitching.
- Hand stitch a decorative button on either end.
- For our ‘three-sets-of-two’ configuration shown in the photo above, we simply made a non-interfaced version of the tie-backs from of our leftover scraps and used that as a ribbon to bunch and hold the center two panels in place.
Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Kathy Andrews, What Sew Ever
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