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How to Measure for Curtains

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In college, I once push-pinned a sheet over my apartment's bedroom window and held it open when needed with a binder clip from my economics notebook. At the time, I thought this was quite inventive. Ugly, but inventive. I'm sure my landlord adored all those tiny tack holes in the molding. Now, I prefer beautiful curtains and shades, and I make sure to measure precisely to get just the look I want.

For curtains, the measuring tool you use is crucial. You'll get the most accurate measurement with a retractable metal tape measure. The kind the carpenters use. The retractable metal tape measurer is preferable to the sewer's cloth tape because it will remain flat and tight to the surface being measured. A cloth tape measure can slip or bend and result in a bad measurement.

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Once you have your retractable metal tape measure in hand, you're ready to measure the window. Start by measuring the width of the window. Place the end of the tape measure along the outside edge of the molding of the window (not along the glass), and measure to the opposite outside molding edge of the window.

Diagram

To measure the height of your window, place the end of the tape measure along the top edge of the molding of the window, and measure to the window sill.

Diagram

This gives you the raw measurements for the actual window. You now need to decide how you want to mount your curtains. Depending on the overall look you're hoping to achieve, as well as the type of curtains you have in mind, you can choose between a Wall Mount, a Trim Mount, or an Inside Mount.

Wall Mount

When using a Wall Mount, you'll place the curtain hardware on the wall around the window. This is a great option if you're trying to make your windows look bigger. You'll mount the hardware about 3" beyond the window trim on each side, and 4"- 6" above the top window trim. You'll need to add these measurements in to the width and height of your raw window dimensions when calculating the size necessary for your curtains.

Diagram

Trim Mount

The Trim Mount is a good option if you're hoping to draw attention to the actual size of your windows, and when you want a bit of the trim to show. When using this mount, you'll place the hardware directly on the molding on either side of the window. To calculate yardage for this mount, you will just use the measurements you took for the actual window, because these original raw measurements included the trim.

Diagram

Inside Mount

You will need to use the Inside Mount if you are making Roman Shades or if you have beautiful decorative molding around your windows that you want to be completely visible. The hardware will mount just inside the edge of the window, along the inside edge of the trim. To calculate the fabric necessary for this mount, you will need to subtract the width of the trim from your original measurements. You may find it easier to measure specifically for the Inside Mount. Measure from the inside edge of the molding to the opposite inside edge of the molding.

Diagram

Depending on the thickness of the fabric you're using and how full you want your curtains, you can determine the width of fabric necessary for your curtains. For most curtains, two times the raw width of the window will be the perfect calculation. However, if you are using a very sheer fabric, you may want to multiply the window width by three. And, heavy fabrics may only require 1½ times the width of the window.

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To determine the length of the fabric necessary, you will need to decide the height at which you'd like your curtains to fall. For regular curtains, you want them to hang about 4" past the bottom window sill. For floor length curtains, measure from the window sill to about 1" above the floor. If you want your curtains to "puddle" on the floor, measure to the floor and add another 6" - 10".

Diagram

Diagram

Remember, for each type of curtain, you'll also need to add about 4" for hems and casings at the top and 2"- 4" for hems at the bottom.

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Comments (23)

Cary said:
Cary's picture

What width would you recommend for unlined burlap panels that will at times be drawn back?  1.5 or 2 times the width?

Thanks for your help!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Cary - the amount of "gathering" is really a matter of personal preference, but since burlap is a bit stiffer than many fabrics, I'd go with 1.5 over 2 times.

lyn4040 said:
lyn4040's picture

Hi great site and very helpful. However, I would like to know how to measure if there is a pattern repeat?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ lyn4040 -- the measuring is the same, but once you have the yardage calculated, you should get enough extra yardage to complete at least one additional FULL repeat.

Deep Sandhu said:
Deep Sandhu's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed your tutorial, it was very well explained. Thank you

Moca said:
Moca's picture

I am replacing the blinds in our bedroom and want to put in Gromment drapes medium weight  & lined.  The window outside frame is 49" heigth and 77" width. What size of panel should I buy?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Moca - as we mentioned below, the info you need to help figure it out is included up above. I can't give you specific information long distance as there are simply too many variables that require decisions on your end: exact fabric type, the amount of fullness you want to achieve, if purchasing pre-made drapes -- the options from which you have to choose, etc. If you read through the article and make a little sketch of what you are hoping to acheive, I'm sure you can come up with a good estimate. 

Glenda said:
Glenda 's picture

I have a window 124 wide and length of 63.  for curtain how much fabric do I need. It is med. light wieght fabric? 

Thank you so much.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Glenda - the info you need to help figure it out is included up above. I can't give you specific yardages long distance as there are simply too many variables that require decisions on your end: exact fabric type, fabric width off the bolt, the drape you are looking for, etc. If you read through the article and make a little sketch of what you are hoping to acheive, I'm sure you can come up with a good estimate. As always, buy a bit more than you think you'll need.

MayDay5822 said:
MayDay5822's picture

Is the First Number the width and the second the height so If I had 42x84  My curtains would be 42 inches wide and 84 inches tall or does it go the other way length x height?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ MayDay5822 - Do you mean on a package of curtain panels? If so, it should tell you on the package. I would guess it is 42" wide x 84" high, but there is a 100% rule regarding whether width or height is listed first. 

SueC said:
SueC's picture

If I want to make box pleats on my curtains, do I use 2-1/2 the final width (window plus extensions) to calculate the yardage? The material is a linen/twill blend.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ SueC - Confirming measurements for unique projects long-distance is tough. I would hate to guesstimate on something like that. I'd suggest looking at our tutorial on box pleats to help you with the width calculation (that's the first link). We also did a valance with box pleats, from which you might be able to extrapolate (that's the second link).

http://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/how-make-box-p...

http://www.sew4home.com/projects/curtains-panels/moda-fabics-lil-rascals...

barb c63 said:
barb c63's picture

  i just spent $14 on a book that was for the amature and found your website and in 10 min.found out how much material for my drapes. awesome

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ barb c63 - you spotted us in a book? Really? Which book was that?

Tshidi said:
Tshidi's picture

This was understandable and practical. Thank you, you really helped me.

fereshta said:
fereshta's picture

This is very helpful. I am only looking to buy curtains but I want to make sure I get the right size. Thank you for explaining the things I should consider in deciding what size to buy!

lighthouselynne said:
lighthouselynne's picture

Thank you, this really helped me.  So easy to understand.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
Hi Haws50 - We've been focusing on very simple panel curtains for most of our designs, for which the width measurements above work well. As we get into more advanced styles, we'll be sure to include measuring tips. Thanks!
Haws50 said:
Haws50's picture
Great Information, will you descuss in further articles how to determin width for various styles of curtains?

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