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Fabric Window Treatments

Learn how to tell the difference between different fabric window treatments and find the right ones for your space.

Fabric offers a wealth of opportunities for enhancing your home decor — especially your windows. Whether you like the simple look of straight-lined shades or the more traditional style of a swag and jabot, take a look at all of your options and decide what works best for your home.

Curtains vs. Draperies
Ready-made curtain panels are the norm in home stores. Usually hung from clip rings, tab-tops or a rod pocket casing, they’re available in different lengths and widths to fit a variety of window sizes. Unlined and lightweight, they're the alternative to formal custom-made draperies, which are usually lined, pleated and constructed to fit the exact dimensions of a window. If draperies are not attached to the rod with rings, they are usually hung on traverse rods, allowing the panels to be opened and closed with a cord that hangs behind the fabric.


  • A traditional Roman shade provides a clean, classic look for any interior design. There are many different versions of this popular shade, including the most traditional look of a flat panel that creates soft folds when raised and one with overlapping folds that are visible when lowered. Not only are these shades available in a variety of fabrics, they come in a multitude of natural materials, like bamboo, various grasses and reed.

  • Roller shades were once only found in white vinyl--today there is an endless variety of fabrics to choose from. From translucent sheers to opaque polyester, you can achieve a look anywhere from simple to sleek. By purchasing the shade kit, you can make your own shade out of any material you prefer.

  • Cellular shades are the fabric cousin to the ubiquitous mini-blind. Available in single, double and triple thickness, they filter natural light and insulate against the heat and cold, bringing a soft look to rooms that don't require 100 percent privacy.

  • Balloon shades are similar to Roman shades in that they have a pull-cord mechanism for raising or lowering the fabric, however inverted pleats create soft billows at the bottom for a more romantic effect.

  • Austrian shades are similar to balloon shades but contain shirring between the vertical rows of rings for a blousy, billowy effect. The top heading can be either flat, puffed, smocked or pleated.

  • A London shade (also known as a festoon) contains two inverted pleats at the bottom, creating a shallow scoop in the center with two small tails on either side.

  • A cafe curtain covers the bottom half of a window and is sometimes paired with a valance.

    Decorative Treatments
    These decorative pieces are used in combination with other elements to complement a formal design.

    • A scarf is a long piece of fabric, usually wrapped or arranged on a pole, thread through sconces at the corners to frame the perimeter of a window.

  • A swag is a semi-circular piece of pleated fabric attached above a window. It's usually paired with a cascade and jabot for a classic window treatment.

  • A cascade is a pleated piece of fabric used with a swag that loosely falls to the side of the window.

  • A jabot is a pleated panel used on either side of a swag or in between two swags to cover the seams.

  • A bishop's sleeve is used with either a swag or formal valance and consists of long panels on either side of a window cinched in the middle to create blousy poufs.

  • Valances
    A valance is essentially a short curtain placed at the top of a window to conceal drapery hardware. (A cornice performs the same service only it's made of wood.) If it's not needed to hide hardware, it can be used alone as a singular treatment for visual interest when privacy is not an issue. Used in combination with other shades, panels or drapes, it provides the finishing touch to a formal window dressing. Valances can be made to look like shortened versions of some shades (balloon, London) or as simple fabric rectangles with different headings. Two other traditional valances include a cloud, which looks like a shorter version of an Austrian shade, and a pouf, which utilizes a rod inserted at the bottom to create the billowy pouf.

    Depending on the style and formality of your design, you’ll want to choose a window covering with the appropriate top construction.

    • Pleated headings consist of the following:

    • A pencil pleat heading is tightly gathered at the top of the drape and resembles a row of pencils when pulled together.

  • A pinch pleat (French pleat) heading is a series of equally-spaced single, double or triple pleats.

  • A goblet pleat is the same as a pinch pleat, the only difference being that the fabric is filled out with batting or a stiff paper to resemble a wineglass silhouette.

  • A box pleat, whether used on a valance or drapery, provides the utmost in classic sophistication. It lays nearly flat against the wood piece it's attached to, creating a straightforward look appropriate for any style.

  • Tab-top panels are loops of fabric sewn onto the top of the panel. However, they can be anything that holds the fabric to the hardware, including buttons, fabric tied to doorknobs or cabinet hardware, etc. The sky's the limit.

  • A straight stitch is all it takes to create a shirred rod pocket panel; leaving inches of fabric up top for a fancy header adds a more formal look to the design.

  • Grommets are a simple way to hang a piece of fabric to a rod. Grommet pliers and supplies are available at any craft store, allowing you to create clean-lined window treatments using any piece of fabric you desire. Check out this project for making a simple grommet-topped valance.

  • Wooden rings are most commonly used in conjunction with pleated draperies, lending a comfortably contemporary look to an interior design.

  • Clip rings have to be the easiest way to get fabric in front of a window. Whether you use store-bought panels or your grandmother's lace tablecloth, all it takes is a few moments to get clips to fabric and rings to rod to create a look that is all your own.

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