Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tutorial - Drapes or Curtains from Vintage Hankies

Can you sew on a button?  Then you can make these curtains.  Don't let my wordiness or the pinning and steaming deter you from trying this.  It is much easier than it looks, especially since old hankies are so soft and easy to gather.  It was hard to photograph these drapes installed because I put them inside a glass sided lantern display and had to shoot through the glass (you can see my phone in the reflection).

Supplies:  For the pinning board: Ceiling tile from Home Depot or Lowes (the acoustical type made of some sort of pressed cardboard, ask to buy a single tile), graph paper with 1/4 inch squares (here is a link to print if you don't have it on hand:, wax paper and masking or duct tape.

For the curtain panels: antique hanky with lace trim, twist jump rings about 1/4 inch or 8mm diameter, needle, matching thread, steam iron or clothing steamer (or spray bottle of clean water, no soap!), silk pins or bug pins AND T-pins or heavy sewing pins, a bamboo skewer or section of coat hanger (rod) that will go through the rings, 5 or 6 large plastic beads (double the ring size), Deft spray sealer or unscented hair spray.

Make the pinning board:
First, if you don't have one already, make a pinning board.  Don't use the tiles with a impressed pattern or frame pressed on it - you need a flat surface.  The textured type (with lots of irregular holes) should be OK.  Cut the tile if necessary to 1 or 2 feet square.  Place a piece of graph paper on the tile lining it up with two edges.  Cover the graph paper with wax paper wrapping it to the back and secure with tape.  Here is what mine looks like after years of use (the white shapes under the wax paper are left over pattern pieces from some past drapery project).

Prepare your Hanky:
For the drapes in the photo I used two very old hankies.  Both had wide lace around all four sides. 

If they are really discolored you can try to wash them.  I suggest you try it first on one hanky that you don’t care about – just to make sure it doesn’t ruin the lace.  I washed several hankies in Oxy Clean powder.  Just run hot water into a bowl and sprinkle the oxy-clean (about ½ scoop) into the bowl so it dissolves.  Then I just soaked the hankies overnight.  It might not get rid of all the discoloration but it will brighten them somewhat.  I found it to be very gentle on the old lace.  When done soaking, rinse them in cold water and squeeze them gently (don’t twist or ring!).  Then roll them up in a clean towel and squeeze the towel to absorb most of the water. 

Make sure your iron is clean.  Even if you THINK it is clean, use a presscloth (I use an old pillowcase).  It's OK to iron them when they are damp as long as you're using a press cloth.  Iron the hankies and the lace on low to medium heat.  Choose the direction you want them to hang (or cut them down to avoid stains, holes, etc).  

For one of my panels I removed the lace from two opposite sides leaving lace only on the top and bottom.  On the other I removed only one edge of lace leaving it on three sides, including the swagged side.  You can see the difference in the photos.  I just cut very close to the hem where the lace was attached keeping the original folded hem intact.  The lace you cut off can be reused for tons of projects (towels, pillow edging, photo albums, etc).  DON'T THROW IT AWAY! (That would be a sin!).

Sewing the Rings
For the top of my panels I folded the lace over to the front of the panel (since my hankies were much too long for where I wanted my curtains to go).  I just tacked on rings  with 3 or 4 stitches each, spaced about 3/4 of an inch apart along the top fold.  I knotted between each ring but didn't cut the thread, I just put the needle through the top hem to the next ring location. I ended up sewing on 11 rings per panel.  My rings sometimes had a gap where it didn't come together (see in photo by my thumb) so on these I rotated the ring so the gap was at top and put some glue on the stitches to keep the ring from rotating back down and coming apart from the stitches.

Pinning the Drapes into gathers:
Next, put the rod through all the rings of one panel.  Put the large plastic beads on the skewer (rod) at the outer edge of the panel to hold the rod away from the pin board so the rings won't smash against the board. Using T-pins or heavy sewing pins, pin the rod to the board along the grid lines so that the panel is lined up close to the edge of the pin board and far enough up from the bottom to allow the panel to stretch in length when pulled down.  Pins should be angled up so the rod doesn't pull off when pulling down on the lace.  You need the heavier pins to hold the rod up since you will be pulling on the bottom of the drapes while pinning. (Sorry I didn't take a photo when the bottom hem was pinned in place - below is after steaming and some pins still in place)

Slide the rings and the beads to one side until the panel is the width you want for your finished curtain.  Pin the outer rings so they won't slide apart. Keep the beads near the T-pins to hold the rod away from the board.  Now gently GENTLY pull on the bottom lace and pin it in place using thin silk or bug pins.  Don't worry about the swag or curved side yet!  Just try to get both sides to look natural as if hanging straight.  Pull pins out and re-adjust them as needed easing the fabric so it looks evenly gathered.  Put pins top, middle or bottom as needed but at least at the bottom.  This is trial and error and I usually remove and repin a lot.

Now if you wanted both sides to be straight move on to the next step.  If you want one side to be swagged -- as if held up by a tie back follow these steps:  Remove the pins from the outer 4 or 5 pleats while keeping all the others intact. (If you think you need more 'swag' then you can remove more pins).  Pick a place, a little higher than 1/2 way down and put a pin in the fabric on the side you are pulling back.  Pull that pin, still poked through the panel, slowly up and angled away from the outer swagged edge.  Stick it in the board.  Now using fingers or a tweezer, pull on the fabric above where the pin is and shape the folds into gentle curves. Keep arranging and re-pinning as necessary until all folds in the curve are smooth and follow the line of the swag. 

Now for the area UNDER that pin (the one that will be the tieback).  These pleats should hang STRAIGHT DOWN from the tieback (photo below, RIGHT side), not bounce away from the panel (like the photo below LEFT side - it needs to be re-pinned and re-steamed).  Re-pin the bottom hem where you removed the pins to swag it.  They should look something like the photos.

RIGHT side looks more natural; LEFT is too wide
 Steaming and Spraying:
When you have your panels how you like them us a steam iron or clothes steamer to steam the folds in place.  If you don't have either of these you can wet the panels with a spray bottle (clean water) and let them dry totally.  When dry spray with Deft (brand) Matte varnish or UNSCENTED hair spray (Aquanet works).  This is a tip I learned from Judee Williamson.  Thanks, Judee!!

Below is a photo of the finished curtains inside the lantern display. One panel is longer because that hanky was a little bigger so I just let it 'puddle' on the floor.  You can see the difference between the one with lace on the swagged side (right) and the one with lace only on the top and bottom (left).