We put the finishing touches on F’s new curtains on Sunday afternoon – the day we moved the clocks ahead an hour in anticipation of spring. It was a gray day, damp and misty, and several times during the afternoon I attempted to take pictures of the room. It reminded me of a piece I wrote ages and ages ago – on another daylight savings day in the fall of 2011. That was when I first started thinking about installing some sort of curtains in the box bay of F’s room.
To be honest, we had thought about it even earlier than that – I made some initial inquiries about custom curtains on a sliding track soon after she was born and we had turned our sunny attic studio into a nursery. But the quotes I received were thousands of dollars, and we weren’t anxious to spend that kind of money on something that would remain open 95% of the time anyway. On a trip through Atlanta we purchased the IKEA Kvartal track system (a much less expensive, non-custom option), which sat in a box for another year or more.
At some point I started looking at fabric options, and tossed around lots of ideas on the blog. I ordered samples and contemplated them for awhile. They were all very pretty, but none really spoke to me. I didn’t want something that was too trendy or too bold. F grew into her space, and it remains one of my favorite rooms in the house. The colors are warm and crisp and the sunlight changes the look of the room throughout the day. It’s a showpiece of a room when it’s neat and tidy, but it’s an even better space when she’s been up there playing for several hours. Then it’s a quiet background to all her energy and imagination and color – I knew that the curtains shouldn’t detract from this at all. So I kept looking.
I received a postcard in the mail with a promotional discount from a fabric store in town. I decided to stop in one weekend and check out their selection. That’s where I found this fabric. Full stop. It was perfect, exactly what I was looking for, even though I couldn’t have described it before laying eyes on it. It’s the most perfect shade of blue with a texture like a really fine linen. It has a large pattern of leaves, not really palm fronds, but with the same sort of curve and movement to them. They are stitched on the fabric with a charcoal thread that exactly matches the daybed that is in F’s room. It looks like something I would draw, or maybe E would. We’re doodlers like that.
It’s elegant and whimsical at the same time. It has a lovely, hefty drape to it, and I knew it would look beautiful with a crisp white lining. It was perfect. And it was incredibly expensive. Of course.
I hemmed and hawed over it a bit, because, even with a 40% discount, it was still outrageously expensive once I multiplied it by the yardage I would need for a box bay that is both tall and wide. Luckily my friend Brooke set me straight and told me to purchase it. So I did, and it looked lovely wrapped around a tube and stored under the bed for another few years.
Friends and family would often encourage me to hire out the curtain making to someone somewhat knowledgeable on the subject, but I resisted. Partly because I really wanted to tackle it on my own, but also, to be quite honest, because I doubted that I could really communicate what I wanted these to look like. All the professionals I talked to encouraged me to purchase twice or three times the material based on the width of the opening. And they weren’t incorrect. But I knew how we were going to use these curtains, and I knew that I was just going to have to puzzle through the process on my own.
Because here’s the weird thing – I didn’t really want curtains at all. I’m not a curtain kind of girl. I love, and crave simplicity, everywhere. And we didn’t absolutely need anything at these windows – they are on the third floor, where they overlook the rooftops of the neighborhood, and the trees. My girls can sleep through any light level. We had dimmed the windows a bit with foam core pieces when F was younger, but we eventually repurposed those in various school poster projects along the way, and their absence wasn’t missed. But we do use this room as a guest room, and even if no one can directly look into the space (unless they are hanging out on the neighbor’s roof), it can feel a little bit weird at night with the lights on when it’s dark outside. Plus the early morning sun can be a piercing wake up call right in your face on that guest bed. A little softening would be nice, and probably appreciated.
So it took a lot of study, and thought, and test runs to figure it out – how to work with the hardware I had, how to space the pinch pleats in a way that looked good but didn’t create too much bulk, how to create four panels that would stack simply and beautifully when open most days, but would also spread out to cover six windows (or even just a few of them) when required. I scratched and scribbled for months and months.
I clipped the fabric to the track and stared at it for days. It was really beautiful in the space, but I still felt like it was missing something. I wondered about doing a white border at the bottom – sort of mimicking the tall, white baseboards in the room. I mocked it up and loved it. It’s a simple detail, but I love the way it looks next to the floor. It also gave me a little more leeway on cutting the panels so that the patterns aligned from panel to panel – the pattern seems random, but there is most certainly a very large repeat.
I researched dozens of different online tutorials for lined curtains, and studied the basics in a Martha Stewart sewing manual a friend gave me from her library. I finally settled on this tutorial from Sew Many Ways, and, with sweaty palms, I got to work on the calculations and made those first few cuts.
They aren’t perfect by any measure, but they aren’t too shabby. I’m pretty proud of the way they turned out. I searched high and low for large enough holdbacks to gently pull back two heavy panels on each side, purchasing several along the way before finding some long enough to work. When they are open, I don’t want them to block the windows at all. I took some photos, but the light wasn’t great, so I used the flash a bit.
Late Sunday, the sun started to peek through the cloud cover a bit, and I ran back upstairs to take a few more shots without the flash. The owl had been replaced by the robot, and F was puttering around her bed with lego contraptions and the contents of one piggy bank. She thanked me for making her curtains, asked me why I like things so “spick and span” when I’m taking photographs, and then went back to her playing. I doubt she noticed all the years that had gone by between first idea to completion.
The years are flying by for me too.