zippersIt isn’t easy to find curtains that are four meters long (13 feet). Lined, traditionally pleated (no grommets or tabs for hanging). Made of elegant fabric. Custom is too costly; the only option was DIY.

I HATE to sew.

It’s right up there with gardening. Something I can do but would rather not. I just had an old filling replaced; I was happier getting my tooth drilled than I was trying to line up meter upon meter of slippery satin and taffeta.

It used to be nearly obligatory for girls to learn to sew. Proof: In the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary, Ramona’s mom is always making the kids’ clothes. In the 1970s, my mom made many of my clothes, and she taught me, with grandmas and aunts offering additional tutoring. I made clothes. Some rockin’ elephant-leg corduroy bell bottoms. With a zipper and everything.

But I refused to take home economics in high school, despite heavy pressure by my adviser. I was more interested in economics than in home economics. And still am.

La bête noire. About 33% of sewing is pinning, 33% actually stitching on the machine and 33% ironing. Most despised task ever.

So, curtains. I can at least sew a more-or-less-straight line, and that’s about as much as one needs to know for curtains.

Comptoir des Tisseurs, at 25, rue de la République, in the center of Carcassonne, has beautiful fabric and excellent advice. Turns out the address has been home to fabric-makers for generations. Fabric from France is a practical souvenir–take some home for pillow shams. Unbreakable, not too heavy, something to remind you every day of your trip. Perfect souvenir!

The living room of the front apartment got satin in a dark gray like the walls. The curtains had to be slim enough not to cover the beautiful boiserie and mirror on the wall between the windows.

The living room

The bedroom got taffeta of the same color. Made in France. I bought all that was left–the maker had gone out of business. I wanted these curtains to be fuller, plus I wanted heavier, black-out lining because it’s a bedroom and the shutters don’t cover the top squares of the windows (called impostes, they are fixed; the shutters cover only the parts of the windows that open).

To make the curtains as big as possible with the available fabric, I took a page from the informative window treatments post by Cote de Texas and did like the photo she shows by Suzanne Kasler, putting a contrasting band at the bottom: bordeaux taffeta from the same company.

The transition between the two required a woven ribbon, the search for which entailed visits to all of Carcassonne’s merceries, or notions shops. Let me tell you, they are hopping. Apparently some people like to sew.

DesignSponge provided clear instructions. How hard is it to sew a rectangle? (Answer: Very hard, if the rectangle is ginormous.)

pinning-on-floorThe lining was the worst part. Just the bedroom required 22 meters (about 22 yards) of lining. Even when we managed to fold it in half (and it took all three of us to wrestle it to the ground), it was longer than our “great” room, going up the steps and into the library.

New skin.jpg
Blood was shed but stanched.

It was HEAVY–10 kilos (22 pounds) for the lining and six kilos (13 pounds) for the taffeta. So each panel weighs four kilos. Yanking all that through the sewing machine gave my left arm a workout. I’m surprised I don’t have a Popeye bicep.

What I do have is fingertips with more holes than a diabetic’s, and deep cuts from pulling thread.

And I screwed up.

Pleating tape is different here than in the DesignSponge example. It has two cords; you knot them on one side and pull on the other, then knot it. The system is similar to making ruffles.

The brownish threads get pulled…
to make pleats…
that end up like this. DO NOT LOOK CLOSELY. You will see where I ripped out stitching.

Well, I sewed the tape on inside-out. I spotted this at the apartment, having already made the pleats. I had executed this stupidity on two panels. The four-kilo bedroom panels. Of course.

wrong side.jpg
Right side. The little squares of thread allow for the hook to slip through at the height you want–rings visible, partly visible or completely hidden.

I had to take them home, undo the knots without losing the cords and retie them with most of the pleats eased out, rip off the tape, carefully push all the remaining pleats to one side so some tape was flat for sewing, sew the tape back on correctly up to the pleats, push them all to the sewn side and stitch the rest. Did you get that? Me either.

The bands actually lined up. Miracles do happen.

The curtains were so heavy we couldn’t open and shut them, even using a broomstick, which was far too short. The blackout lining worked very well–the room was plunged in darkness with the curtains hanging straight. ties.jpg


Next improvisation: find tiebacks. The effect wasn’t what I had in mind, with a straight band, but I think it is pretty anyway.



New upholstery (more sewing!) coming for the chairs, which are in good shape, just not what we want. Pale gray velvet with tone-on-tone paisley.

Another sewing adventure: a new cushion on the daybed. It’s a weird size, because everything in those days was handmade, including the mattress and box springs (francophiles can read a little about this in M.F.K. Fisher’s book “Long Ago in France” or here).

p1060373Of course, it wasn’t just a rectangle. That would be too straightforward. It has notches in the four corners. Just to ensure my hair goes gray. Like the walls.

daybedOne day, I will DIY lime the wood so it’s kind of white; the room has more dark wood than I want. Although the apartment is ready to rent, it may never be “done.” I suspect we will always find things to add, get tired of others, changes here and there. We have barely started on art for the walls. In the meantime, the daybed will make a good spot for watching TV or reading a book.

Three more sets of curtains still to go for the courtyard apartment.

Mega-puddles. Ponds, even. Because the floor isn’t level (after 400 years) and I’m not competent enough to hem for a slope.

Don’t look for the defects; their massive numbers will overwhelm you. I don’t sew as well as, say, an 8-year-old in Bangladesh. This is something I thought about a lot while sitting at my sewing machine. There are so many people–mostly women, too many too young–for whom sewing occupies much of their waking day, in a room not as nice as mine, with few breaks, no benefits, and paltry pay. They are glad for the employment, I know, and their exports have hugely reduced extreme poverty. But it does seem we and they should be able to have jobs and reasonably priced goods without having to resort to work forces that are barely a step above slave labor.

More updates about the renovation coming soon. If you’re interested in renting, let me know at or!







42 thoughts on “Sew What?

  1. Oh I went in that lovely shop last year and walked out with some fabric. Well done for getting on with the curtains, they look great. And I will keep this post to spur me on when the time comes to start mine. Like you, I despise the iron (I only ever use it when sewing)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there are some other shops, but not quite as good. Les Tissus d’Ursule had some of the same fabric but at twice the price. And Catala has beautiful stuff but nothing in stock.


  2. Emmaüs would be a non-sewing option I would investigate. Other dépôts ventes might be worth investigating, especially if you already frequent them and let the owner know what you are looking for. I’ve never seen one in France, but in the UK there is a shop that specialises in second-hand curtains. It’s an absolute godsend if you move into somewhere with big windows. You can get stuff you would never be able to otherwise afford. Check out Drouot in Paris and see if there are any curtains coming up for auction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow. I never thought about that, since the windows are so huge. With another apartment to get drapes for, I will check this out.
      You always give great advice! I am so glad you’re here!


  3. You are my idol. I am hopeless with a needle and thread. My husband is actually the ‘seamstress’ in the family and has made many curtains, covered pillows and even reupholstered a couch. I wish there were more fabric stores or even second hand stores in our part of Italy like France……. Allora, there seems to be none.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Those look beautiful, don’t undersell your skills as a seamstress!

    I concur re depot-ventes, trocs and inded vide greniers. I actually by passed some four meter crushed taffeta curtains a couple of years ago before I knew you or Poshbirdy and your tall windows!
    I have some beautiful faux silk taffeta curtain fabric with a silver sprinkle in a dusky grey/mauve that I was going to use in the terrace bedroom, but it’s too grand. Let me kow if you can use it anywhere?
    PS, even my modest ceiling/window heights in France at house and apartment are longer than the standard 96″ long drop available in most ready mades. a few years ago one could get 108″ easily but not any more. So I am doing a lot of curtain making, and some adapting of vintage curtains to suit also

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You did a fantastic job….I am impressed. That day bed is truly gorgeous also. I usually buy fabric when in France…it is the best souvenir….my neighbour has a sewing room that I can use….. will have to check out the shops you mentioned…..maybe with you???


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Heavens, this is way too complicated for me. I took Home Ec in high school and flunked it! Then I went on in my thirties to make many quilts. Of course I never could learn to follow a pattern, so I just made it up as I went along!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you quilt by hand? My grandma made me quilts from scraps from the dresses she made me (from cotton flour sacks, with floral prints). When I look at them, it’s a flood of memories–of her, the dresses. Quilts are wonderful.


  7. Oh, those ribbon bands! I am a sewer of many kinds of things, though I haven’t had the occasion to make 13 foot curtains! The fabric stores in NE Ohio are truly pathetic and can’t begin to compare with Les magasins du tissus you have in France! Have not been to Carcassone(yet), but have picked up fabrics in Amboise, Paris, and Strasbourg(an apron at a flea market which is being made into a pillow). It’s really all I look at for my own cadeaux when I visit. One can dream…your curtains are magnifique, and don’t worry about those miniscule stitch holes.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Once I made ceiling to floor curtains lined and of heavy material. Unsure of the lenght required when hung I just pinned the hems. When we sold the house, years later, I admitted the pinnings to our buyer and she said that she had just sold her curtains in the same unfinished way! However, the bright stripey blue bedroom curtains went with us and have been reduced in size for several bedroom windows in four houses since.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good for you, they look great. I am generally pretty creative and crafty, but when it comes to sewing it’s a disaster {and I did take home~ec}. Every once in awhile I get this notion that only I can create the dress of my dreams and I invest in finest fabrics and the perfect pattern and then manage to demolish it all! Well done you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I know what you mean. You get an idea for what you want, you can’t find it, or you find it but it doesn’t fit right, so you think you’ll DIY. But we aren’t couturiers, are we.


  10. Beautiful curtains!! I have tried making my own, but the last time I resorted to ready made ones from Ikea, which were actually over 3mt in length, which was great. Hemmed them by hand, sitting on the floor 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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