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Curtain Fabric Selection Part 15

Fabric Selection for Curtains and Drapery

In today’s lesson we will learn about how to choose fabric for curtains. I will create an overview of these topics and then send you off to read more in your own time to add more depth to each area.

It starts to feel a little daunting when you realise how many decisions are involved in selecting curtains for a room. Don’t worry, you will soon have it all organised and you will be able to do it in your sleep. Choosing fabrics is usually the most frightening part of curtain design, because the cost of fabric is high, and it is the main thing you see in the curtain. You can’t simply repaint like you can with a wall color if you don’t like it. You are stuck with them. So let’s make sure you know what you are doing, when it comes to choosing fabrics for your curtains.

Firstly ensure that the curtains are involved in your color scheme from the beginning. Even if you aren’t going to get then made straight away, make sure you select them to go with your color scheme. It is a lot more difficult to select a fabric when a room is completed and you have multiple fixed factors to work with than it is to work with the entire scheme finishes together.

Personally, I often get a lot of inspiration from fabric for color schemes, and frequently decide on the curtain fabric first, and then draw colors out of that for the remainder of my color scheme, but everyone has their favorite way of concepting color schemes, so this is just one way. Learn how to choose color schemes here.

There are a lot of influences in fabric selection, so I will briefly guide you and then send you off to learn further.

What influences fabric choice:

Color – this usually attracts us to the fabric, it makes us pick up the sample off the rack, it is one of the obvious influences. I tell beginners in curtain design, that a “safe”way to choose curtain color is to select a color one tone either side of the wall color. This way you are carrying on the wall color and keeping the space open and not drawing attention to the curtains or window treatments, you can use a textured fabric or a subtle small motif design, and you can be pretty sure that your scheme will work. It won’t make the curtains a feature, but it will make the room flow and feel harmonious. Read more about color for curtains here

Flame retardancy – does the project require a flame retardant fabric. Read more abot flame retardancy here

Pattern – Can the room carry a pattern? Do you have existing patterns that you have to work with, can you chose a curtain fabric that enhances the existing pattern or takes your attention away from an existing pattern? There are many ways that fabric creates pattern this can be the way it is woven like a jacquard or damask or it can be simply a printed pattern. Most curtain fabrics have some sort of patern, it is just a matter or working out the scale of the room and the scale of the pattern, whilst considering the color and decide whether the pattern will enhance the interior or overwhelm it. Read more about pattern and texture here

Pattern Repeat – if you are using a patterened fabric, it is important that you realise you will require quite a lot more fabric than if you have a plain colored fabric, as you will have to allow extra meterage for the pattern repeat of the fabric. This allows all joins to be made to match the pattern accross the curtain. So it falls into the budget category of selecting fabric, as you will need more meterage, which means that you will spend more on your fabric price.

Stripes – vertical striped curtains give the appearance of making a room look taller and horizontal curtains appear to make the room look wider.

Styles – already covered but does influence the fabric selection, ie chintz for an english country look, cherry blossom on silk for a Japanese theme, if you used them in the opposite way they would both be beautiful fabrics but totally inappropriate for their style or theme.

Price – Always choose fabrics with a meterage price in mind, otherwise you will waste so much time flicking through hangers of curtain fabrics that are out of your budget price range. Always go for the best quality fabric your budget can afford, remembering that the different stlye of curtains use differing amounts of fabric. We will go over this in the measuring for curtains part of the ecourse to follow.

UV or Color Fastness – Always consider where your fabric is going to be used and the characteristics of the fabric. Too much direct sunlight can really break down fabrics quickly, I suggest that you learn about the fiibers used for making fabrics and familiarise yourself with their properties. This will allow you to rule out certain types of fabric when making your curtain decisions. Learn more about color fastness here.

Weight – Choosing the correct fabric weight for the curtain, means that you have to consider the window size, the style of curtains, the heading type and the form of hanging it. For example you choose a heavy weight velvet for a tab top lined curtain. It is being drawn every night, can you see the problems that will happen? Yes, the fabric will not draw well on a rod, as it is too heavy and it will damage the tabs over time, the fabric will not drape well, it will just hang. So lighter weight curtains are better for the tab top style of curtain. These include voiles, silks, sheers, nets, lightweight cottons, linen, calico, gingham. You have the opposite when you choose a light weight fabric with a more formal heading, for example a french pleated curtain over a large width of opening french doors, using a sheer fabric. It won’t work as the fabric is light, even with using a weights in the hem, it will still flyaway when the french doors are opened, if you used a heavier fabric like the velvet, it will hang and drape better with the frenchpleat and will be much less prone to flying out the window, as the overall weight of the curtain is much greater.

Aesthetics – It has to look good. Don’t just chose a fabric because it is in your price range, or it is the same as your neighbors. Choose a fabric because it will look fantastic, otherwise what’s the point.

Headings – Curtain heading to a degree will dictate the style of curtain. There are the odd exception, but generally the more traditional curtain headings, triple pleat, french pleat, goblet pleat, smocked head and sometimes the pencil pleat, tend to be used with the more traditional fabrics, patterened, heavier weights, stronger colors, stripes whilst the more contemporary headings like the inverted pleat, tab top, tie top, grommet top, all tend to use lighter weight fabrics, printed cottons, linens, sheers and voiles

Appropriateness – Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules, which is good in a way, because design and decoration is juged inthe way the entire concept comes together to make a room or space feel. Who is to say what is right and what is wrong? It is all about making the room balanced, creating harmony and ensuring that the space has achieved what the client wanted, or in other words your client brief. You will know that you have not succeeded if your client brief was for a light and airy beach themed living room, and you have selected toile de jouy fabric with a french pleat, red walls, and charcoal carpet. You would have had a better chance if you had selected a navy and white vertical striped canvas curtain fabric with gromet top heading, chrome poles, timber floors and white walls. Can you see where I am coming from?

Label Reading – Fabrics samples usually have a label with information about the fabric, they have the collection name, the style and the color, they have the fabric composition, ie wool 80% polyester 10% Lycra 10% , they can sometimes have a flame retardancy, often they now have a green star rating, a rub test of some sort either martindale or wyzenbeck, this tells you how durable they are, the higher the amout of rubs the lnger it takes to wear out. This will also create the class of afabric, ie what it is suitable for, ie drapery, upholstery, screens etc. So make sure you start to familiarise yoursself wih this, if you don’t understand any of it, ask the store staff to explain, as every company has a different format for labeling, and sometimes they use abbreviations that aren’t clear to most of us.

Choosing Fabrics

I am not going to go over all the different types of fabric here as there are so many. We have them all listed on the website and you can go and learn about them there. A good way to reinforce your knowledge on fabric is to go to a fabric store and start reading labels. Start learning what a fabric feels like, it’s tactile properties, what properties it has and how it drapes, hangs, how the pattern is created, how the texture is created. Keep a notebook, write it all down, you might be best to take the samples out of the shop on appro and then do your research, as they might start asking you a few questions. But this is a good way to learn and use in the future when you are looking for just the right fabric.

More information on Fabrics and Textiles



That was a long lesson. There are a lot of articles to read with this lesson, so take your time and read them at your leisure. In four days time you will receive your next lesson Measuring and Ordering Curtains, if you don’t receive it in four days, then look in your spam email box, and if you just can’t wait four days then you can find part sixteen here online.

Bye for now


Lee Brown

Curtain Design Ecourse Coordinator