Common Drapery Terminology: Basic Window Treatments Explained
A friend's daughter whose wedding I sewed and organized a few years ago, came over last night with her 'Hubby' saying that the deal on the house they had bid on had been accepted. The young couple was in seventh heaven. Their first house was a beautiful older home with lots of large windows overlooking Erie Lake etc.
Then came the reason for this unexpected visit. Would I be able to make the window treatments for their new home? Obviously, I said sure. What type of curtains did they have in mind? Both of them hummed and hawed—then admitted they had no idea what they wanted. Neither did they have any idea about the difference between a sheer, a semi-sheer drape, curtain, swags, etc. We agreed to meet next month after the closing date of the house.
Looking to find my old binder (the one I used to use at my sewing shop that explained with pictures the many different styles of window treatments) gave me the idea for this article.
The following list of styles and types of window treatments and their terms most commonly used are by no means all-inclusive. But (there is that little three letter word again), reading through the following will at least give a good base to anyone delving into the looooong list window treatment options.
Let's Start at the Beginning
Every home is different, every taste in style, colour and texture etc reflects the individuals personal likes and dislikes. To be honest, no-where does a personality come out and show-up more than in the interior deco of their living space.
The window treatments of a home have to perform many more functions than just simply look pretty and match the styles and colourings of the home, including the furniture.
- can create privacy
- can frame a beautiful view or close out (hide) an unsightly one
- can provide either an elegant, casual, subtle or dramatic background to the rest of the interior décor
- can pull together the room with its furnishings
- can be the focal point of any room
- can either diffuse or augment outdoor lighting
- can insulate against the cold of the winter, the heat of the summer
- can protect the floor coverings and furnishings from the sun
- can influence a home as much as any piece of furniture, therefore window coverings should be considered as "home furnishings"
Traditionally, windows were covered with three types of curtains:
- a sash curtain to filter light
- a draw curtain to block out light
- an over-drapery which was purely decorative.
In today's world curtains, drapes, blinds, shades etc. all come under the 'window treatments' umbrella. Honestly, if it fits in with the décor, mood and style of the home everything and anything can work and is being used as window coverings and accessories, i.e. a fishnet draped over a boat oar in the window of a nautical themed room.
Terms or Lingo of Window Treatment
- Curtain header, heading: The top of the curtain from where it is hung onto a curtain rod ... (i.e. pleated, pocket, grommet top, etc)
- Drapery or curtain fullness: The fullness of the draperies is really depending on a persons likes or dislikes and naturally the wallet too. The fullness is usually referred to as double, two and a half times or triple the width. This means the drapery is 2x, 2.5x or 3x the widths of the window. The standard for a lace, sheer and lightweight fabric is 2.5x to 3x and for medium to heavy weight fabrics 2x to 2.5x. Obviously, the 3x / 2.5x the width will give a mightier, nicer and fuller look.
- Tie-backs: Are used to hold the curtain or drape panels in place. The height the tie backs are positioned at will determine the amount of glass or window that is exposed or framed. It's good to know that the overall look of a window can also be changed by the use of tie-backs. i.e. Holding the curtain panels back from a high position will expose more glass which will give the window a longer look and obviously also let in more light. And vice versa holding the drapery panels back from a lower position will show off less window and thus give the illusion of a wider window but will let in less light into the room.
- Railroading: The width of the fabric becomes the length. Using fabric width-wise eliminates seams especially great for sheers, or when the pattern in a fabric is not easily matched when creating valances etc.
- Casing: Also called rod-pocket, is a fabric pocket with open ends which encases a curtain rod.
- Curtain or drapery drop also called drop length: This is the length of a curtain or drape from the top or hanging system to the bottom hem edge.
- Tailored curtains: These are named for their clean lines. These curtains can be found plain or with trimmed edges. Used alone or with a coordinating valance, they can hang straight or be tied back.
- Layering: Adding multiple treatments onto the same window; the first layer is usually the functional one, (i.e. a blind or shade) and the rest are decorative (i.e. one layer of plain sheers and one layers of heavy French lace)
- Double fold hem: The name says it all, on most curtains or drapes the hem is folded double. Reason 1: The double fold is the extra weight of the fabric which will let the window coverings hang better and evenly. Reason 2: The double fold can mainly become cosmetic on an opaque fabric the double fold eliminates the cut line or folded-over raw edge to show through. On full length drapes it is customary to have a double hem anywhere from 6-8"/15-20cm hem and on short drapes 4-5"/10-12.5cm is enough.
- Seam allowance: This is the extra amount of fabric used for joining two pieces of fabric.
- Selvage: Is the finished edge that runs along both sides of fabric lengthwise.
- Facing: Is the extra layer of fabric used to strengthen a drape or curtain. (commonly used on tab-top curtains or under grommets)
- Flat fell seam: A seam that gives extra strength to a seam.
- French seam: A type of flat seam which encases the raw edges of fabric. Used on sheer or very loosely woven fabrics.
- Cut length: Is the length needed for the curtain or drape plus hem and header allowances.
- Cut width: Is the width plus the side seam allowances.
- Finished length: The curtain or drape length after the header and the hem are sewn.
These next terms are related and needed when measuring:
- Stacking space: Is usually referred to as the distance needed for drapes in a drawn open state on a traverse rod. With other words drapery made from a heavy velvet will need more space than the batiste sheers when open. This is important to know when you're determining the width of your drapes. If you don't want the drapes to obstruct any of the light let in by your windows then you would give the full amount of stacking space outside the window frame.
- Overlap: Is the area where the drapery panels over-lap at the center again on a traverse curtain rod. The standard is to have a 3.5-4"/8.75-10cm overlap.
- Center draw: Drapes which draw open or close from the window’s center point, without an overlap.
- One-way draw: One panel of drapery designed to draw one way only, most commonly used if the window is not centered on the wall, closer to the corner.
- Projection: Is the distance the bracket holds the curtain rod out from the wall.
- Return: Is the amount of extra drapery needed to cover the drapery hardware also called 'Going around the corner ease' i.e. If your mounting bracket has a 4"/10cm projection and you want to cover the distance from the front center of the rod to the wall. (having drapes encasing a window can help hold out some of the cold in the winter) you will need to add another 4"/10cm to 4.5"/11.25cm to the width of your measurements.
- Leading edge: Is the spot where the curtain panels overlap in the center of a two-way traverse rod.
Curtain or Drapery Header Terms (Tops)
- Rod pocket: A space or pocket sewn at the top of a curtain into which the curtain pole rod is inserted. In turn a rod pocket drape is simply a flat length of fabric with a stitched 'pocket' at the top that will give the shirred look along a curtain pole with the extra width of fabric.
- Pinch pleat: A traditional drapery header and comes in many different styles such as Double pinched pleats, Pencil pleats, Goblet pleats, Box pleats, Butterfly pleats, Cartridge pleats ... etc. These pleats are what give the fullness to drapery and where they are attached to either a traverse rod or pole rod with rings by using drapery hooks or clips. Depending on the price tag of the drapes these pleats are either tailor made (each pleat is individually measured and sewn) or by using self-styling pleater-tape.
- Self-styling pleater-tape toppers: A header created by using a tape that is sewn to the full width of the drape panel. These self-styling tapes are fitted with multiple lines of string which when pulled create different pleats or decorative gathers. Pleater-tape is most commonly available in white or ecru and comes in different weight or thicknesses. (i.e. light weight—used for sheers or heavy weight—used in drapes) and also comes in different widths starting at 2"/5cm going up to 5"/12.5cm.
- Tab top curtains and tie top curtains: A casual way of hanging drapes onto the curtain rod. In both cases the rods used with tab and tie top are usually ornate and decorative.
Window Treatments: Names and Types
Here is a list of the most common types or names and explanations:
Curtain or Drapery Panel
A curtain or drapery panel is one section of a window covering, usually unlined. A panel can be simply a piece of hemmed fabric that is hung on a rod from the top of the window. It can be floor length or end at or below windowsill. Some department stores such as Walmart, etc. and catalogues stores such as Sears, Ikea, etc. sell pre-made curtains by the panel, which in most cases is the widths of the fabric, edged and finished off with a header (top) and a hem (bottom).
Buying drapes by the panel is probably the most inexpensive way for window coverings as you can buy as many widths as your wallet allows.
The cafe curtain is a window treatment that covers the bottom half of a window. Most commonly cafe curtains are used in the kitchen on a cafe rod hung at the halfway point of a window. This allows for privacy but does not restrict light into the room. At times the cafe curtain is accompanied by a valance which can either be a shorter version of itself or a swag.
The fabric used for the cafe curtains really influences the feel of the room. Light to medium weight fabrics are best suited for this style of window treatment. From colourful solid sheeting to intricate lace, to cotton tea towels, to gingham plaid, to country eyelet or to the lightest of batiste all work great.
A valance is a short curtain and comes in many many shapes and styles. Valances can be used on their own to cover the tops of windows, doors or along with sheers and drapes. They come in numerous types and styles with names like balloon, stagecoach, buttoned-up, tailored, scarf, ascot, ruffled, gathered blouson, banner, awning, etc. Each style can give a different feel to a room from elegant to formal or casual.
Swags are long left and right panels (sidepieces) that hang from the top of the window framing the top half of the window. Hung on a rod or attached to a mounting board they are used alone or in combination with small center attached valances or tiers.
In the world of window treatment, window jabots can also be called cascades. They are decorative, narrow side-panels which are either tailored, pleated or ruffled arrangements of lace or cloth. (Of old 'the jabot' was the frill or ruffle attached to the neck of a man's shirt or a woman's blouse) The drapery jabot is mainly used to finish off the sides of drapes or valances. There are numerous styles of jabots and commonly coupled with valance inserts or placed beneath a festoon.
Window scarf is a long rectangular panel of flowy fabric that is draped over a decorative curtain rod, swag holders, suspended from other specialty hardware or threaded through deco sconces. Most often used as a frame for a beautiful window and view.
A Bishop sleeve curtain is an elegantly pouffed side drapery panel that in most cases is allowed to puddle on the floor. One or two 'pouff'/s can easily be added to either a long swag or to a finished drapery panel. Depending on the height of the ceiling and the dramatics wanted, two pouffs can add that mighty look. The bishop sleeve drape looks really elegant on a floor to ceiling window especially if the room has 9-10'/108-120cm high ceilings. As an average an extra 18-20"/45-50cm needs to be added to the length of the drape to achieve that nice full rounded look of the bishop sleeve and another 18-20"/45-50cm for the puddling on the floor.
Priscillas, also called cape cods, are a tier curtain with a rod pocket header which has been embellished with attached ruffles, embroidery, smocking along the bottom and inside edges and which are held open with tiebacks. Commonly made using a sheer, semi-sheer or opaque fabric. They can also come with a ruffled valance topper. They can crisscross or center-meet. Priscillas with their various types of top treatments create a pretty layered effect at the window.
Sheers—a drapery panel made of a thin, translucent, diaphanous fabric, such as chiffon or voile. Sheers let in sunlight, they can be used alone or used underneath solid drapery panels. Sheer curtains can give windows a romantic, classy vintage look.
Thinking back, our Grandmas would never have considered creating window treatments without using the 'double layer'—the thin and transparent sheers that stay closed at all times with a solid drape that was opened or closed for privacy or for the black-out effect.
Using sheers as decorative accents are second to none as they can provide a unique and stunning look and are available in many styles and designs, embroidered or elegantly plain, in every colour possible from pastels to deeper, darker shades.
Shades or Blinds
Shades, also referred to as blinds cover a long list of window coverings. (Some will disagree with me when I lump both shades and blinds into one compartment but.....) The reason I put them together is that both shades and blinds are created in the sewing world of materials that roll, gather, or fold up and down. Both can be raised for light & view and lowered for privacy by either spring action or via pull cord. Both come in many types made from fabric to bamboo to narrow slats of wood, faux wood or vinyl. Made from the right type of material both shades and blinds can also be solar-protective (UV ray blockers) and heat-loss-preventives.
- Roman blinds: A window treatment style that consists of a fabric panel onto which horizontal channels have been sewn at intervals down its entire length into which wooden dowels or slats are inserted. The blind or shade is raised and lowered via pull cord which in turn gathers soft folds. Variations of the Roman Shade or Blind are made from soft light fabrics, even sheer. Minus the wooden dowels these have a dramatic effect when raised. Some called them Balloon drapes in the past.
Another 'lingo or term' commonly used with regards to window shades:
- Lath: The Lath refers to the top of a shade that is most often attached to a 2"x1"/5x2.5cm piece of wood, which then is solidly mounted to either the window frame, the wall or the ceiling.
- Roll-up shade: A roll-up shade is actually a roll of material on a spring-wound tube that hangs on your window. Although most of us remember them from the "old days" as being made of a vinyl, they now come in a variety of colors and fabrics. These are available ready-made or can be customized.
- Cellular shade or pleated shade: A fabric or sometimes made of a stiff paper window covering that has an accordion design to it. these too are available ready-made but can be carefully covered with a fine material to customize the look.
Shutters are hinged solid or louvered panels that fold across a window. They're used to diffuse light while giving privacy. Shutters are also suitable for interior use and can add architectural interest to any room. Same as their exterior brothers they are attached to the window frames.
Today's versions are built from the traditional wood, faux wood or out of some very durable vinyl and look super either painted or stained. Most often the interior shutters come with horizontal, tiltable slats within the panels which allow control over how much light is let in or blocked. Also great to use as air flow control when the window is open in good weather but also offers some super heat loss prevention in the winter months. Typically two shutter panels are used over a window unless the windows are tall and narrow in which case four panels work best. However, on a small window just one panel works well too.
Drapery hardware is available in two types:
- Basic utilitarian (usually a white painted metal), non-intrusive hardware that is used to hold drapery in place, easy functions, usually at great prices.
- Decorative (used a lot in today’s home styling), the many varieties available make it easy to match the rod to the style of the drapery, to the type of windows and the general décor of the room. Elegant, simple, ornate all made to show off each and everyone's unique taste in style.
The list of names, styles and uses of curtain rods is quite extensive. To confuse matters a bit more, what goes under one name here in Canada can have a totally different name in other countries. Most are self-explanatory such as: Conventional traverse drapery rods, Traverse pole set, Flexible wood traverse rods, Wooden pole rods, Tension rods, Sash rods, Cafe curtain rods, Continental rods, Swag holders, Sconces etc.
Then there are:
- End brackets: Grips that hold the drapery rod to the wall, window frame or ceiling.
- Center support: A grip mounted from above used to support drapery rods to prevent the rod from sagging in the middle.
- Finials: Decorative end pieces on pole rods also called "pole ends."
- Holdbacks or tiebacks: Used to hold curtain window treatments to each side off the window when open.
- Cleat: Metal or plastic hook mounted at the side of the window to hold the cords of window shades or blinds.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
What are curtains that have both a top rod and a bottom rod? They're often seen in a door's sidelights, a door, etc.
They're simply called "top and bottom rod pocket curtains". Those are by far, my favorite sheers for french doors or top window doors.Helpful 3
I want to hang a huge velvet curtain over one pole. I think the shape of the curtain will fall like the picture of the ''window scarf'. But, I can't find the name of the type of single pole i want. It's L shaped (with a curve away from the wall) and looks to be floating, as its only attached to one side of the window. What is the name of the rod i am looking for?
There are a lot of different rods out there, but I think you are looking for Swag holders or sconces. Remember velvet is a very heavy material, so you have to make sure you anchor the holders into the wall or window framework. The sconces usually have a center hole, and you feed the material through it once you have folded it in an accordion style. The sconce type would hold your velvet better than just the open style of swag holders, but your folded velvet might be too thick to feed through the center. (make sure you buy them large enough to accommodate the folded material) This is a very nice looking window decor but takes a lot of fiddling to get just right, especially if your velvet is thick and heavy.Helpful 3
What are the best curtains to use on thick curtain rods? I want curtains that can be opened and closed easily.
It's hard to give an accurate answer of what type of drapes would work, but if you already have thick curtain rods installed, you could use any drapery fabric from heavy to medium lined or unlined. You also could do a double layer, a heavy drape and a sheer that is attached to it hanging from the same hooks. In that case, you would leave the tops stationary and only use tie-backs on the drape and let the sheers hang straight down.