Your Complete Guide to Hanging Curtains Like A Pro

May 9, 2022

Window treatments aren't just pretty. If hung properly, they can make your room and window appear bigger and more spacious. Learn exactly how to measure for the right length and width of curtains, where to install your rod for maximum visual appeal, and even work around problems like arched windows or heating elements.


DESIGN + STYLE   |   Published May 9, 2022



Beige curtain panel puddle on floor




Curtains serve a crucial role in the design and function of your home.


They offer privacy, block harsh sunlight, and keep out drafts on cold winter days. From a design perspective, drapes also add style, texture, color, and warmth while completing the look of your space.


But if the curtains aren’t the right size or are hung improperly, they will visually have a negative effect on your overall room design making your ceilings appear shorter and your windows seem smaller.


With so many options and things to consider, choosing the right curtains can feel overwhelming. But here are a few rules of thumb to guide you about what size curtains to buy and the proper location to hang them around your window frame.










HOW TO MEASURE FOR THE CORRECT SIZE WINDOW TREATMENTS FOR YOUR HOME






Why Should You Care How You Hang Your Curtains?


  • Properly hung drapes can trick the eye into thinking windows are larger and ceilings are taller than they actually are.

  • More light streams into your space when the curtains are pushed back away from the glass.

  • Long stretches of empty wall on the sides of your window can be broken up with curtains.

  • Small, ordinary windows can become impressive focal points.

  • Your space looks more polished and professional.




Studio McGee Bedroom with Curtains on Windows

Studio McGee @studiomcgee

In the bedroom where you need privacy and light control, consider pairing blinds along with curtains like Shea did here. Opening and closing drapes over a long window can be a pain, but shades can be pulled down easily when you need to block out the light and view inside.




Measuring to Find the Right Size Curtain Panels


Before shopping for actual window treatments, you must figure out the length and width of the curtains panels you’ll need for your window and what size curtain rod to buy.


No. 1: HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR CURTAIN ROD BE?


For maximum effect, curtain rods should be installed 4 to 10 inches beyond the edge of the window frame on both sides. This allows extra rod space for the curtains to cover the walls and not the window when pushed open giving the illusion of a bigger window with as much light streaming in as possible. Your drapes should only cover the very edge of the window when they are fully open.


A good rule of thumb to help you determine the best rod length is to know that a curtain rod should be no more than 1/3 wider than the width for the window. For example, if your window is 48 inches wide, you’ll want a rod that is 16" longer (48” x 1/3 = 16”, meaning 8 inches on each side.) The total length of rod for this window should be no more than 64" (48" + 16" = 64").


If your windows are right next to a wall, hang the rod as wide as you can with even spacing on both sides of the window.



When the rod is mounted, add one curtain clip to the outside of the hardware with the remaining clips on inside to prevent your curtain from being pulled all the way to the middle of window.




No. 2: HOW WIDE SHOULD YOUR CURTAIN PANELS BE?


For an elevated look, the total width of your panels should be about two times the width of the window you are trying to cover. You want your curtains to feel full and luxurious. Even if you aren’t going to be closing the window treatments, they should be wide enough to theoretically cover the windows with fabric to spare if you did.


For most windows, you’ll be choosing one panel for each side of the window and each panel should equal the width of your window.


If your windows are extra-large, you may need to buy two panels for each side to ensure that the window treatments don’t look disproportionate next to the grand window. You can either have a tailor or dry cleaner sew them together (or do it yourself) or just hang the individual panels as they are. Since they are so full, you likely won’t see the separation.




This rule applies to drapery that you’ll be hanging with curtain hooks, tab tops, rod pockets or grommets. Here are a few more specifics:

  • If you are hanging sheer curtains, buy triple (rather than double) the width of your window for luxe appearance and better light control.


  • For lace curtains, add just 12”-24” to the width of your window. You want less fabric with these curtains so the lace pattern will show clearly.


  • Pinch pleated drapes do not need the drapery fullness that other drapery requires. Add 12 inches to your window’s width to find the curtain size you need.




No. 3: HOW HIGH DO YOU WANT YOUR ROD TO HANG?


The eye naturally stops at the highest element in the room ignoring the space above it. By installing a curtain rod too low or right around your window frame, you essentially make the height of your ceilings appear lower than it really is.


To give the appearance of taller ceilings and a more spacious room overall, aim to hang your curtain rod at least 4 to 6 inches above your window frame or even 8 to 12 inches if you have very high ceilings.


If your ceilings are extremely low (like 8-foot), hang the rod just under the ceiling to draw your eye up as far as it can go giving the illusion of more height.



No. 4: HOW DO YOU WANT YOUR CURTAINS TO HANG?


The length of your curtain panels is determined by how far you want them to be from the floor or puddle. Before measuring, you’ll first need to determine how you want your curtains to hang.


For today’s modern home, you likely want your curtains to reach or almost reach the floor rather than ending just under your window frame.


KISS THE FLOOR: For the ideal length, your curtains should just brush the floor, hovering 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch away. This is the most custom and professional looking method, but is the hardest length to pull off. You need to be incredibly accurate in your measurements to get it right. The best way to hang at this length is to order curtains longer than you need, install your rod and hang them, then pin the curtains while they are hanging to find an exact length that they’ll need tailored to.


FLOATING: If you don’t like the idea of your curtains touching the floor or you don’t think you can be accurate enough when measuring, opt for hanging them about 1/2 inch from the floor instead. The look is still extremely clean and slightly less formal. Try not to go any more than 1/2 inch from the floor or your drapes will start looking like it was a mistake in measuring. This is the best option if you are opening and closing the drapes regularly.




PUDDLE: You may like the more dramatic look of your drapes gathered on the floor. The amount of puddling you want will determine how long your drapes need to be. Keep in mind that the more you have resting on the ground, the more dust they will collect and often can become a tripping hazard.


  • Break Puddle: In this option, add 1/2” to 1” to the length from your rod to the floor. This length casually adds just a slight break when the panel hits the floor so that the panel doesn’t hang straight and adds a bit of interest. You need enough extra length so that it looks intentional and doesn’t just cut off when it hits the floor. This hanging method gives a more lived-in, laid-back vibe to your drapery.


  • Medium Puddle: A medium puddle adds drama, dimension, and personality and is a happy medium between the Break Puddle and a True Puddle. By adding an extra 2” to 4” to your curtain panel, the fabric will collect underneath itself rather than fanning out over the floor.


  • True Puddle: Add between 6” to 16” of extra fabric to the bottom of your drapes for an elegant, sophisticated train that fans out onto the floor like a wedding dress would.




WASH AND DRY CURTAINS BEFORE HANGING THEM IN CASE THERE IS ANY SHRINKAGE

You don’t want to spend all the time hanging your curtain rod and panels (and possibly tailoring them) only to have the curtains shrink in the wash and then not be long enough!




No. 5: DECIDE ON YOUR CURTAIN’S LENGTH


Finally, now that you know how you want your curtains to fall from the rod, you can figure out the length of panels you’ll need to buy.


Measure from the floor to the rod where the panels will hang. Then subtract the distance you want them to be away from the floor (anywhere from 1/8” to 1/2”) or add how much of a puddle you want them to have.


  • If you are using drapery clips, remember the curtains will hang a short distance away from the rod. You’ll need to measure the space between the bottom of your rod and where the clip will attach to the curtain to see how much longer the panel will hang.


  • Grommets are likely set 1” away from the top of a curtain, so they’ll hang about 1 1/4” shorter than the curtain length.





Premade window treatments come in common lengths like 84”, 96”, and 108”. The standard 84” is normally too short, even in a low-ceiling home. Choose the length closest to your measurement erring on the side of a few inches longer rather than shorter, then have them hemmed to the right length.


If it is in your budget, custom drapery is an option where they can be made to fit the exact dimensions you need.



If you are planning on hemming your curtains to the right length yourself, fold and sew the bottom end without cutting the fabric off. If you find the panels are too short after you alter them, you can always grab a seam ripper and start over. But if you cut the panels and hem them too short, you’ll have to buy new panels.




Haley Weidenbaum Bedroom with curtains

Haley Weidenbaum @haleyweidenbaum

If you are placing a bed or other piece of furniture right next to the window, you may not have space to adequately hang drapery on both sides. In Haley’s bedroom, she hung a single wide panel pushed to one side. This still provides the same texture and light control, while keeping the curtains from behind the bedframe and giving wall space to hang artwork.



Troubleshooting


HOW TO HANG CURTAINS OVER HEATING ELEMENTS


If you have electric baseboard heating, it is likely installed right underneath your windows making it difficult to have curtains hang to the floor. Putting the panels too close to the top of the heaters can cause a fire risk.

Some possible solutions to this problem are:

  • Purchase adjustable curtain brackets that allow you to extend the curtain rod further from the wall, keeping the back of the drapes at least 2” to 3” away from the heater. Make sure that you keep a 1” clearance between the bottom of the panel and the floor to allow for adequate air circulation and to prevent it from getting too hot.


  • If the baseboard heater doesn’t extend past the window frame, use a double rod system for curtains you need to open and close. You can hang your decorative curtains at an appropriate length on the front rod and shorter blackout curtains on the back rod. They will be hidden until you need to pull them closed and won’t interfere with your heating element.


  • Another option is to hang curtains on the sides of your window frame and install a blind to pull down for privacy.







HOW TO FIX SAGGING RODS


Curtain rods tend to sag if they are extended to their limits. There are two solutions to this problem:

  • For large windows, install a third bracket in the middle so that the rod has extra support ensuring it doesn’t bow.







HOW TO FIX A ROD THAT APPEARS CROOKED



If you live in an older home with uneven ceilings, it is possible your rod may appear crooked even if you use a level. In this case, skip the level and use the ceiling as your straight edge. This way, the rod will appear straight next to the crooked ceiling. Depending on the difference in slope, you may need to alter the hem of the curtains at slightly different lengths to ensure that both panels hang the same distance from the floor.


HOW TO HANG CURTAINS OVER ARCHED WINDOWS



Treat the window as if it is a typical rectangular window and hang the curtains here at a height similar to the rest of the windows in your home measuring from the top of the arch.

If you have a set of arched windows at different heights, treat the area as one large window and hang the rod 8” to 12” above the tallest arch.


Jenna Sue Design Blog Living Room Window Treatments

Jenna Sue Design Co. @jennasuedesign

To break up a long expanse of windows, consider hanging individual panels between them on a single long rod like Jenna did in her living room, instead of just one section of drapery on each side.



Hanging your curtains a little higher and wider has a dramatic effect on the overall feel and style of your space. Following these tips will help you achieve that professionally designed look all on your own!




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