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Panel Curtains Combine Form and Function

Tips on changing the look of a room with these simple window treatments.

By Shari Hiller

Whether casual or formal, window treatments can easily change the look and feel of a room. And, depending on the style and complexity, they can become quite costly.

That wasn't the case in the teen bedroom my decorating partner, Matt Fox, and I recently redecorated. Our teen wanted a sleek, modern look. Her parents wanted a low-cost, functional treatment. We met both conditions with a simple combination of curtains and window shades.

The room had an unusual layout, with two windows flanking a corner. We wanted something sleek to satisfy our teen, but needed something fairly substantial for light and privacy control. We thought about using simple mini-blinds, but our teen was not at all happy with that idea. So we decided to try a panel curtain.

A panel curtain is made of two layers of fabric placed over a curtain rod. They are raised during the day to provide a decorative window treatment, and lowered at night to provide privacy.

You won't believe how easy it is to make a panel curtain.

First, you need to measure your window. Measure the width, and subtract 1/2 inch. This measurement will be the finished width of your panel. Next, measure the length of the window opening and add 18 inches. This will be the finished length of your panel.

Add one inch to both the finished width and length of the panel. This will be the cutting size and will allow for 1/2-inch seams.

Choice of fabric is important when creating panel curtains. Two fabrics are needed. The fabrics should coordinate through color and/or pattern.

Using the measurements for your cutting size, you need to cut two panels. You can save yourself a bit of work by laying your two fabrics right sides together and then cutting the panels. This way you'll be sure your cut panels are exactly the same size _ and, unless you're like me and decide to add trim, they are in the correct position to be pinned and sewn together.

We trimmed our panels by adding a wide ribbon along their lengths. We then measured 3-1/2 inches in from each side, pinned on our trim and sewed it in place. We decided to add trim to both the front and back of our panels so that the trim would seem to be continuous no matter what the position of the curtain.

Once your pieces are trimmed, place them right sides together. Using a 1/2-inch seam allowance, start in the middle of a side and sew around the perimeter of the panel, stopping 4 inches from where you began. Clip the corners of the curtain and turn the panels right-sides out. Press the panels so that the seams lay flat. Hand-stitch the remaining openings closed. And, there _ your new curtains are finished.

Sometimes hanging curtains can be as difficult as making them. But panel curtains are as easy to hang as they are to make. Just fold the panel in half and drape it over a tension rod. By pulling down the back portion of the panel, you can adjust the curtain to partially reveal the contrasting fabric during the day, or pull it completely to the windowsill for privacy at night. Either way, it will look great.

Our completed panels had a very linear look, perfect for a contemporary teen retreat. But panel curtains are versatile, and by changing the fabric and the shape of the panel, they can be used with almost any style.

For a traditional room, try combining a subtle stripe with a floral pattern. Instead of adding 18 inches to the length of the window opening, add 22 inches and create a shallow "V" shape on each end of the panel. Adding a tassel to the top portion will make your finished curtain even more interesting.

Want to use a panel curtain with country decor? No problem. Just use two coordinating prints and make your panels with a scalloped edge.

No matter what style you choose, panel curtains are a great addition to a room. Though simple and inexpensive to make, they are the perfect combination of beauty and function.

(Matt Fox and Shari Hiller alternate writing this column. They also co-host the Home & Garden Television show Room By Room.)

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