Love the look of linen curtains but not the eyewatering price? If you’ve never learned to use a sewing machine I promise you’ll be able to make these classic cafe curtains made from dust sheets.
Why Cafe Style Curtains?
One of the things I love about our attic bedroom is the feeling of being in the treetops. Our bedroom has two Victorian dormer windows that frame the view of several large trees. Initially, we didn’t hang curtains straight away as we needed to buy new ones.
Then we both just loved lying on the bed and watching the seasons shift through the trees. Clouds of cherry blossom in time for Finley’s birthday. A canopy of lush green that flames ochre and russet in late September, and sinewy branches stark against the snow.
I thought linen cafe style curtains would provide privacy without stealing away our view of the trees. I started looking online and found quite a few contenders, but all were around £60-80 per panel, which was more than I wanted to spend as I had two windows to dress.
I have to point out here that before taking on this project, I had never used a sewing machine in my life and I can’t even rule a straight line, let alone sew straight seams!
If you’ve never learned to use a sewing machine before or your sewing skills are strictly beginner, I promise you’ll be able to make these curtains successfully.
The Drop Cloth
When we were doing renovations earlier last year, we bought these cheap dust sheets from B&Q. At the time, the fabric struck me as being a good value alternative to linen and you get loads of fabric for your money.
If you’re a child of the 80s like me, you’ll likely remember Changing Rooms (the OG, not the reboot) and there’s a chance you’ll remember the talented Linda Barker. She had an obsession with copper piping shelves and making things out of dust sheets.
I decided to unleash my inner Linda and use the leftover dust sheets as fabric for the curtains.
I obviously needed to wash my dusty sheets before using them, but if you’re buying dust sheets especially for this project, it’s a good idea to wash them anyway to pre-shrink the fabric before cutting it.
You can buy drop cloth in lots of different sizes, so it should be easy to find some that will suit the dimensions you need for your windows - more on how to measure a bit further on.
The Curtain Pole
I decided to use these pressure fit curtain poles (tension rods) from Dunelm to keep the curtains in place as they’re cheap and no fixings are needed.
Before buying your pole, measure the width of the window opening as tension rods come in a variety of widths. You’ll also need to consider the diameter of the pole you use, as this will influence whether it’s too flimsy to carry the weight of the curtains or whether it looks too heavy and clumsy for the window.
Our house has sash windows so the natural place for the pole to sit is across the horizontal sash bar. I would buy and test out where the pole will sit on your window first, as where the pole sits will govern the drop for your curtains.
Measuring the Windows
For any sort of curtains, you need to measure the width of your window opening and the distance from the pole to where you want the curtains to finish - the ‘drop’.
I used this YouTube video to help me calculate the dimensions I needed and for following instructions on creating the pocket for the curtain rod to sit in.
Keep these dimensions handy - I strongly advise saving them on your phone or writing on a piece of paper as you’ll need to refer to them several times throughout the project.
Measuring the Fabric
Before measuring and cutting, I ironed the dust sheets to ensure they were as flat and straight as possible for accurate measuring.
You’ll need to create a 1cm seam on the top and bottom of the curtains.
If you look closely, you’ll notice most dust sheets are already hemmed, so with a bit of strategic cutting, you can minimise the amount of sewing you need to do - for example, I didn’t need to create seams for the side edges of the curtains as the material had already been hemmed.
I just needed to create seams for the top and bottom edges of the curtains and create a channel for the rod to sit inside.
Cutting the Fabric
I laid the fabric out on the floor then used tailor’s chalk to mark everything out, double checking my measurements before cutting with fabric scissors.
I created my seams using a seam gauge, then pressed and pinned into place ready for sewing.
A brief word about sewing machines
As a beginner, the only thing I know for sure is that the most difficult and time consuming part of using a sewing machine is learning how to thread it properly! Master this bit and the rest will be a doddle. If you have a modern machine, there’s usually a threading diagram on the actual machine to help.
Vintage machines often don’t come with manuals or threading guides, but you can look up your machine model number and then look up threading tutorials on YouTube for help.
In fact, if you’ve never used a sewing machine before, then regardless of your machine, YouTube tutorials are your friend. This video will help with the basics, then practise sewing lines of straight stitches on a scrap piece of fabric.
Sewing Your Curtains
- The best advice I can give if you’re like me and new to using a sewing machine is GO VERY SLOWLY and buy a seam ripper for undoing seams, just in case.
- Try to match your thread as closely to the fabric as you can, so mistakes are easily covered.
- Make sure you’re starting off with a full bobbin of thread to minimise the risk of it running out mid-seam.
- Check that the presser foot is down to keep your fabric in place and that you lift the presser foot up to turn the fabric or to remove it.
- If your machine doesn’t have a sewing lamp, position your sewing machine in good light, with a little table lamp - you need good light to help you sew straight stitches.
- If you can drive a car, you have a head start, as you’ll have some prior knowledge of pedal control. I can only speak for my machine, but I only need to feather the pedal as it’s very sensitive.
- Have a little pot nearby for putting your pins in and just focus on one little stretch of material at a time.
- When I was making the channel for the curtain rod, I pinned the channel in place first, then carefully put the curtain pole inside and tested it out on the window, before sewing into place.
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Vintage Peek and Frean biscuit tin - perfect to use as a sewing tin!