When You’re Too Cheap for Custom Curtains

I’ve gotta be honest. Curtains are one of those things that aren’t a huge priority in our house. In fact, we probably went 2 or 3 years before buying the first set for our current home. And to this day, only one of the bedrooms has them up and they happen to be cheap target ones that are a solid foot off the ground (it’s a kid’s room, cut me some slack). It’s not that I don’t like curtains. I do. And I’m well aware of how well they finish off a room. But here are some of my issues with them:

  1. I forget about them. You sit on chairs. You prop your feet on ottomans. You might have your tv on something. Blinds give you privacy. But curtains? Curtains rank up there with accessories to me. They’re just not a have-to and with my crazy life, the have-to’s are about all I can manage.
  2. Picking out curtains goes about as well for me as picking out a paint color. I have a vague idea of what I’d like the final results to be, but getting there is close to impossible. For example, I think in terms of “heavy brown” when apparently I should be looking for “double-lined, French silk, tab-pocket taupe”.
  3. I’m cheap. Don’t get me wrong, nobody (especially hubs) would ever call me a penny-pincher, but I haven’t bought into the bang-for-your-buck of curtains just yet. Hence, I tend to settle for curtains that are too short or pulled from the Tuesday Morning bargain bin because they’re closer to what I consider a reasonable price.

A few years ago, we had an interior design friend come by and help us with our living room. She picked out a set of curtains for the lone window in the room but they were about $250 a panel. A.PANEL. So I did what any modern-day bargain hunter would do and used the great Google Machine to find something similar for a fraction of the price. I ended up picking something completely different, but was satisfied because they were a lot cheaper at $80 a panel (let me remind you that my current mindset of reasonable curtains are still the Target/Walmart price point so even at $80 I was cringing). Of course when they arrived they were about 3 shades too dark (see number 2 above) but instead of sending them back we decided to use them in the dining room since we never go in there anyway.

And that’s where this story comes in. One day I got a wild hair and decided to brighten up the dungeon dining room. The lighter wall color made the dark curtains look even darker and out of place. Thus started our journey to find drapery that worked in there but was still reasonably priced.

For whatever reason, I decided to try to limit the overwhelmingness by picking one store and sticking with it. I went with JCPenney’s website, filtered to the length we needed (hubs had to tell me since I’m pretty clueless about ceiling heights), got rid of everything but drapery panels, and spent a few hours just scrolling through. Since I’m well aware of my lack of an eye for style, I went ahead and picked out two different styles thinking I’d have twice the odds of getting it right.

When they came in (within 3 – 4 days even using the free-shipping option I might add), the one Boss Man liked was a grommet-top panel but the grommets were too small for our fancy rod. And wouldn’t you know it, we could make the other ones work style-wise, but they were TOO SHORT. Maybe I’m not the only one in the house that’s not too good with ceiling heights…Should’ve measured instead of asking.

We decided to send them both back and look for something LONG ENOUGH (we needed the 95 inchers because I like curtains to pool on the ground a bit) that would work with our size rod. Since hubs showed such interest in the first set with the too small grommets (which really, how many husbands actually have a preference on curtains??) I decided I’d get them in 108 inches so that if we didn’t like any other options, I’d have enough fabric that I might could rig up a way to make them work. I also decided to get two other, completely opposite style panels (again, trying to compensate for number 2 above).


I loved the IDEA of the white floral ones, but they seemed a little cheap to me. Maybe because they were thinner and shiny? Between the other two, hubs was still leaning towards the original ones. He said the design picked up the paint color. Alrighty then. Sold. How can you argue with a hubs who has curtain opinions?

So my next challenge was making these bad boys work with our monster curtain rod. True, we could’ve bought a smaller rod, but that’s an additional expense and then I’d have to pick one out and the style/fail cycle would continue. Below I’ll walk through how I turned our grommet-top curtain panels into rod-pocket panels with only a wee bit of dirty words.

Step 1: Measure

IMG_6308[1]I re-measured the curtain (just to make sure the packaging was accurate…you never know!) as well as the wall from floor to rod. Measure twice, cut once, right? Once I backed out the 4 inches of grommet, I was left with 104 and only needed about 95. The video I watched on this process used a double fold pocket (fold over and then fold over again) but I didn’t want to risk ruining them by making them too short so I decided to go with a single fold. The rule of thumb is that your fold needs to be twice the diameter of the curtain rod. Our rod was close to 2.5 inches thick, so I needed 5 inches of fold. However, I decided to go with a 7 inch fold so that I could do a fancy little ruffle thing at the top (super glad I did by the way!).

Step 2: Cut Off Grommets

IMG_6313[1]Once you’ve measured, it’s time to cut off the grommets. This was a pretty scary step for me because I’m basically ruining a $100 curtain panel in the HOPES that I’ll be able to pull something together that works in the end. No pressure…. I kept my scissors as close to the seam as I could.

Step 3: Fold Down and Iron

IMG_6314[1]Use whatever measurement you came up with in Step 1 above and fold your curtain down. I confiscated hubs’ industrial measuring tape (I have no idea where my dainty pink one is) and verified that I had 7 inches at several different points along the way. Then a took the iron and flattened the crease to keep it in place better while I sewed. Since I’m not on friendly terms with the sewing machine (it’s my mom’s old Singer Fashion Mate from the 60’s and it HATES me), I went ahead and threw some straight pins along the edge to lock it down while the actual stitching was happening.

Step 4: Stitch Away

IMG_6318[1]This should have been then easiest part. One, straight seam from side to side of the curtain, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the edge. I will not go into details because nobody has time for that, but let’s just say that this is where those wee bit of dirty words mentioned above happened. This step also included a few texts to my mom like the one here…IMG_6337[1] Word of advice for anyone like me whose entire sewing knowledge consists of that one project back in highschool? Use the grommet fabric you cut off in Step 2 to practice on. You need to check that the color of your thread will work, that your tension is set appropriately for the heaviness of the fabric you’re working with, and that your bobbin thing is working right (never quite figured that one out). I basically sewed a few inches, fixed the bobbin, sewed a little more, pulled some stitches out, re-sewed that section, fixed the bobbin again, tried not to break the antique sewing machine in mini fits of rage, etc.

Step 5: Top Stitch

IMG_6326[1]To fancy things up just a tiny bit, I decided to do a top pleat/ruffle thing (remember the extra 2 inches I added to my fold?). This step was almost too easy for the results it gave. All I did was come a couple inches down from the top and do a straight(-ish) seam from side to side.

Step 6: Hang Your Masterpiece

Two straight lines per curtain. That’s all we’re talking about here. It shouldn’t have taken me all morning, but I don’t sew and therefore am blaming it on The Singer. IMG_6325[1]The curtain rods we use have these fancy little brackets that have always made rod-pocket curtains pucker in that particular spot. I decided to make a little 2 inch opening about 12 inches from the inside edge of both curtains so that the bracket could slide in the pocket and around the rod without the fabric getting in the way. You can still tell where they are, but in my mind it’s better. Also, I apparently can’t sew straight lines and once I got the panels hung, they were looser on the rod in some areas than others. It really only mattered on the ends where they were too loose to stay bunched together like I wanted. Being the lazy person I am, I just used a few straight pins on the back to tighten the fabric up.

So that’s it. I got the custom curtain look I wanted, for a third of the price, with minimal foul language (hubs jokingly called me Susie Homemaker when he saw me behind the sewing machine this morning but changed it to Sailor Susie by the end of the project…I blame the bobbin, y’all.).IMG_6331[1]

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to improvise! Starting from fully made curtains that were already hemmed with pretty edges was much easier for me than trying to buy fabric and start from scratch (and cheaper too for some unknown and ridiculous reason).

Until next time,


3 thoughts on “When You’re Too Cheap for Custom Curtains

  1. You are awesome!! And you make me laugh!! I haven’t tackled curtains for the new house for the very same reasons, hopefully you have given me courage!


    1. Thank you!! If I knew how to use a sewing machine this would have been the easiest and most satisfying project yet. Cut off, fold down, two straight seams. Even I could do it!


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