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How to prepare for new curtains, blinds and other soft furnishings


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Soft Furnishing Associates is building a list of helpful tips and advice to help those of you who are looking for someone to do your soft furnishings. We hope you will find this information useful, and that to get further professional assistance you will check out the local firms that make curtains, blinds and other soft furnishings in New Zealand.

The aim of this page is to help you to make more sensible requests when asking for a quote, and to understand some of the basic concepts of planning, measuring, making and fitting of curtains, blinds and other soft furnishing basics. (If you have a question regarding information that may be of broad interest to home owners, please email it to us here.)

  1. Meanings of Words used in the industry by builders
  2. Meanings of Words used by soft furnishers
  3. Measuring your Windows
  4. Curtain Heading Styles
  5. Converting feet/inches to and from metric measurements
  6. Useful links to sites on how to make curtains

For general information on curtains and blinds, see also the pages for Curtains, Blinds and Soft Furnishings.

1)  Meanings of Words used in the industry by builders

Architrave: A moulding or timber frame surrounding a door or window opening.
Sill: The lowest horizontal member of a window frame.
Mullion: An intermediate vertical member of a window frame (divides up a window).
Transom: An intermediate horizontal member of a window frame (divides up a window).
Reveal: The surface at the side of a window or door opening which is at right angles to the face of the wall.
Pelmet: Valance or shielding at the head of a window or door, to hide the fittings of the curtains or blinds.
Apron: A protective moulding or strip of timber underneath the sill.
Fixed sash: A fixed frame, normally used within the main frame of a window.

2)  Meanings of Words used by soft furnishers

Austrian Blind: A gathered blind made longer than necessary. The extra fabric forms ruching at the bottom. (Photo, right)
Bed Valance: A skirt covering the divan (lower) part of a bed, usually reaching to the floor.
Blind: A single curtain with a fixed heading which pulls up from the bottom.
Box Pleats: A row of folds in alternate directions. The extra fabric in the folds can be taken either to the front or the back (inverted pleats) for the desired effect.
Buckram: Cotton or jute fabric for stiffening, usually of the curtain heading. It sometimes comes impregnated with glue.
Cleat: A two-pronged hook which is fixed to one side of the window frame to secure the cords when a blind is pulled up.
Cut Width: The complete width of fabric needed including seams or hems.
Double Fullness: When each of a pair of curtains are made to the full measured width of the whole window, enabling curtains to drape in folds.
Drapes: Another name for curtains.
Festoon Blind: Often confused with Austrian blinds, the difference being that a Festoon blind is ruched from top to bottom. (Photo, right)
Finished Width: The actual width after the treatment is finished and all allowances have been utilised.
Fullness, or Fullness Ratio: The ratio of fabric width to the width of the window it is to cover. Curtains are usually at least twice the window width.
Heading Tape: A wide woven tape built into the heading, incorporating pockets for the curtain's hooks and gathering cords.
Hold Backs: Decorative hooks fixed onto the wall beside the window to hold curtains back when open (without tie-backs).
Inverted Pleat: A flat pleat with the extra fabric to the wrong side (closest to the window).
London blind: In three section with two pull-up cords, each near the side. (Photo, right)
Nap: A one-way direction of texture on a fabric such as velvet or corduroy. When using fabric with a nap all pieces must be cut with the nap in the same direction.
Pattern Repeat: The distance one pattern is duplicated down the length of the fabric. Pattern repeat is one full pattern length, in millimetres.
Pelmet: A decorative way of concealing the top of curtains and curtain tracks. Usually a flat shaped panel which can be painted or covered with fabric such as a valance.
Puddled Curtains: Curtains made longer than necessary to allow them to puddle onto the floor.
Return: The sides of the window treatment that project from the edge of the window along the wall.
Seam: A way of stitching two pieces of fabric together. The Seam Allowance is the amount of extra fabric added to make a seam.
Stackback: The amount of space taken up by the curtains or draperies when they are open or pushed to the side.
Tie Backs: Stiffened shapes of fabric hooked onto the wall to hold curtains back by wrapping around the stackback. (Photo, right)
Valance: A gathered, and sometimes shaped, mini-curtain hung from a pelmet board to conceal the top of curtains or a curtain track.
Warp: The threads that run down the length of a woven fabric.
Weft: The threads that run across a woven fabric.

3)  Measuring your Windows

Do not underestimate the importance of this step. A wrongly measured window (or other opening) may mean the curtain or blind will not fit as intended, or worse, render it unusable.

Here are some general points that will help you and your soft furnishing firm get it right first time:

  • Swallow your pride and get a second person to double check every measurement
  • Always measure with a steel tape measure
  • Measure and record to the nearest millimetre
  • Make a rough drawing of the window or space, and on it write down each measurement as it is taken.

You will need to measure the exact area that the window treatment will cover. This could be floor to ceiling, wall to wall, or from just above the window frame to just below the sill with the width just outside the window frame. These are personal decisions determined by the look you want to achieve with your window treatment. Decide on where you want the top of the curtain to be and measure down to the desired length of the finished curtain - that's usually called the finished length.

4)  Curtain Heading Styles

This summarises the most popular styles of curtain headings used in New Zealand, and tips on when to use each one of them. Note that there are some small variations between manufacturers as to the exact meaning and manufacture of heading types and their names, so you should check with your chosen supplier to ensure your requirements are clear.

Pencil Pleat:  Pencil pleats are the most common simple pleating system using heading tape, enabling the curtain material to be easily gathered. Use it with tracks or rods, in bedrooms or living areas. It's suitable for all fabric types, and generally provides a simple, casual look and is usually inexpensive.

Pinched Pleat:  (sometimes called 'French Pleating') Knife pleats pinched in groups of three (or sometimes just two, or even single), with spaces between which spread when the curtain is extended. It reaches full potential when used on track rods. Suitable for all fabric types, and its classic look makes it best suited for formal rooms of the house.

Tab Top:  Offers a less formal, modern look. It usually goes with a decorative curtain pole. Uses matching, coordinating or contrasting fabric for the tabs. The top of the curtain should go well above the top of the window frame.

New York Heading:  (sometimes called 'wavetop' or 'flat finish') It simply introduces a fixed point at which the fabric will bend when the curtains are open. Its main advantage is that this type of drape uses less fabric, and takes up less room when stacked back.

Inverted Pleat:  As the name suggests, this is pretty much an inversion (back-to-front) of the Pinched Pleat, with the doubleknifed pleat flattened facing the window. This provides an elegant flat expanse of fabric in the heading when fully extended. Use with track rods. This is great with ample textured fabrics, and is ideal for apartments and these days gives a very contemporary look.

Eyelet-top Heading:  Metal rings are punched into the heading using a special device, usually about six to eight eyelets per drop, making it normally a more expensive option. This type of curtain doesn't need as much fullness of fabric so it stacks back to a minimal space. The rod needs to be fitted well above the architrave.

For further information, try Lahood Window Furnishings' glossary.

5)  Converting feet/inches to and from metric measurements

Imperial to Metric
1 inch = 2.54 centimetres (cm) = 25.4 millimetres (mm)
1 foot = 30.5cm = 305mm
1 yard = 0.915 metres = 91.5cm = 915mm

Metric to Imperial
1 centimetre (cm) = 0.394 inches
10cm = 3.94 inches
1 metre (m) = 39.4 inches = 3.28 feet

6)  Useful links to sites on making curtains, blinds etc

These websites offer a range of instructions and advice on how to plan, select and make curtains.


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