When I started in business 25 years ago, it was during a window treatment heyday.  Oh, baby!  Multi-layers with swags, cascades, sheers and panels ruled the day.  For me it was a baptism of fire to get up to speed on how to design, select fabric, price and order soft window treatments.  Guess what?  It’s all coming back. . . in a slightly different way!  After 10+ years of simpler treatments, the focus has returned to dressing the windows.

There are 2 categories of window treatments and last week I covered hard products which include shutters, blinds and shades.  (See previous blog.)  Today, I will explore soft products or anything sewn of fabric that includes draperies, panels, top treatments and soft shades.  Rule number 1: All must be lined!  Lining provides sun protection for the face fabric, creates a nicer drape or hang and gives uniformity to your windows at the street view. (It is just wrong to arrive at a home and see multi-colors at the windows!)  Custom is far better because it is made just for your window size and you can choose the style, fabric, trim and correct lining.  All are critical decisions but style and fabric must be considered together for a successful treatment.  However, there are some ready-made, lined, fabric treatments that can work if you follow the suggestions below.

Here is some general info on hem lengths, fullness and hanging height.  Anything full-length should be no more than ½” off the floor and I prefer touching or breaking, like a pant leg on your shoe.  In the past, puddling (an extra 18” of length) was popular in formal rooms.  If draperies are on the floor, it is difficult to vacuum and puddling was attractive to pets as a nap spot.  Too long is better than too short!

Draperies, panels and some valance styles should use enough fabric, before pleating or fabrication, to be at least 2 ½ times the width of the rod.  This is called fullness and if you don’t use that much fabric, it will look skimpy.  For sheers, 3 times fullness is suggested.  To draw the draperies off the window for full glass exposure, make sure you have enough room for a wider rod.  You need a rod that is 1 ½ times the glass for full view.

I disagree with other professional recommendations to hang the drapery rod as high as possible, by themselves.  The rectangle of wall space formed by the rod, top of the window and draperies draws your eye.  Longer draperies do create a sense of height in the room so I use a valance on top or under the draperies to cover that nagging wall space.  (See example in right photo above.)


One of few soft treatments that can be used for privacy, draperies are designed to cover the window in fabric.  There are 2 methods for opening and closing: hanging on a decorative traversing rod or on rings that slide back and forth on a decorative fixed rod.  Both methods require top pleats to insert hooks.  If you choose rings, it is recommended to have a baton attached to the inside rings for opening without tugging on the fabric.  Note: white utility rods are not meant to be seen!  Draperies should be on decorative rods unless a top treatment will cover.  At this time, I would not suggest a tab top (attached fabric loops) or grommet top (metal covered buttonholes) drapery style for any reason but please don’t think you can slide them closed. You can’t!


Stationary draperies are called panels, which are meant to frame the sides of a window.  Side panels should appear that they could be drawn closed so it needs the same amount of fullness as traversing draperies.  I do sometimes cheat a bit on this but a single side panel should never be less that one width of fabric for a single window.  (I once saw ½ widths in a display home and they looked like ribbons!)  For wider windows please add fullness.

Sheers and Casements

Fabrics that are transparent and unlined are called sheers and come in solids, colors and patterns.  Casements are heavier in weight with a more open weave, also hung unlined, and add a lot of texture to a room.  Both types of fabrics offer minimal privacy but can be a lighter finishing touch.

Top Treatments

The number of top treatments styles are nearly endless and come in and out of fashion.  Most are casual and I would only use them in casual rooms like kitchens, bathrooms and kid’s rooms where full-length draperies do not make sense.  The classic and historical swags are more formal.  Top treatments can hang from a decorative rod or be board-mounted.  The length is determined by adding the window height plus any additional hanging space and dividing by 5.  You can visually expand the height of a window by hanging them higher than the top frame with a length that just reaches the glass to allow a full view.  Never make a top treatment less than 12” – 18” long.  The width should fit like a hat; just past the window trim or edge on either side.  (See example of soft shade top treatment in above left photo.)

Soft Shades

Not to be confused with a hard product shade, soft shades are operable, come in a variety of styles and can be made from your choice of fabric.  Currently, roman shades are very popular but I don’t suggest them for the front windows of the house because the lift cords on the back are visible to the street.

As you can see, there are many decisions to make on draperies and top treatments and it is easy to make mistakes.  It is a product category that requires ongoing learning and I recommend you seek the guidance of a design professional.  Every designer or decorator has a window treatment team that includes fabric and trim resources, a sewing workroom and installer so you can get just the look and function you want.  Soft window treatments are the finishing touch to any well-designed room!