Blackout Curtains to the rescue!

Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, we had a baby. Shortly thereafter we slept none. None. Okay, not none. But not enough, for sure. Even when the aforementioned baby *did* finally decide she was cool enough to start sleeping through the night, she would still wake up at the crack of dawn when the light started to stream in through her windows. Oh, how I loathed those stupid windows. Even the heavy vinyl blinds failed to yield any extra shut-eye for this exhausted wannabe super-momma. I mean, just another couple of hours, and I surely could make it through the day without an IV of french press coffee.

Now, we thought about buying expensive blackout curtains, but heard mixed reviews. And, if there’s one thing I am not spending a whole buncha money on it’s something that may, or may not, work. For. sure. 

Then, one glorious day, a magical thing happened. A dark, rainy, overcast morning made it’s way to St. Louis. And can you guess what happened next?! Without the sun shining in Elle’s tiny little baby eyes she slept until 10:00 in the morning. TEN O’-freaking-clock in the morning. Remember how I said this was a magical story…? Nothing has ever felt so good. 

That started a little experiment, we stapled up a sun-proof tarp, and for four days in a row she slept until 7:30, 8, even 8:30 AM! Oh, sleep. How I’ve missed your loving caress. So, I made me some black-out curtains ASAP! And, they’re wonderful. Elle now consistently sleeps until 8 or 8:30 am every morning! 

So, if you want your little early-riser to knock off the early rising, here’s the how-to for you… check em’ out! (In case you’re wondering, these are not Elle’s blackout curtains and she doesn’t have a blue room. The ones I’m working on in this post are for a friend who is having a sweet baby boy pretty much any second now.)

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See.. don’t you want super awesomely rad curtains such as these for your baby’s nursery!? 

Before I start, as a disclaimer, I’d like to say that this post seems super long. But, in my defense, it kind of has to be to ensure I’m explaining things thoroughly.. and turns out lots of words are necessary to explain this process. (I’m sure you’d prefer me slightly wordy than giving you half of the info.) Furthermore, these curtains are *not* as difficult as the length of this post would have you believe, in fact, they should only take a few hours. I did two panels for three windows (a total of 6 panels) in just a couple hours in one day. So, don’t be intimidated by my wordiness— and if you think a particular step seems obvio, please feel free to skim & skip ahead… just don’t hold me accountable if you miss some hilarious and witty commentary I made.. like Fiskar’s lady… you would *not* want to miss that one… So now that you’re forewarned, grab a snack, sit back, and read on, my friend.

OK. First thing’s first. I suggest you do what we did, and hang something heavy and light-proof over the windows in your baby’s room. I think blackout curtains sometimes don’t work wonders on every baby, (hence the mixed reviews I spoke of earlier), so before you go through the trouble, test it out. If it doesn’t work, and you’d like to still try to make some curtains to pretty-up that kiddo’s space, keep reading, you can easily follow these steps to make regular curtains.

So, grab your measuring tape, and measure your window(s). Don’t feel like your measurements have to be extremely precise. When in doubt, over measure. It’s a whole heck of a lot easier to hem curtains that are too long than it is to add to them at the end. And, you don’t want to measure just the window itself, you want to really measure where you’d want your curtains to hit on the right/left sides, and at the bottom. And, as blackout curtains, you want them to really over-lap all sides of the window so that sneaky sun can’t find it’s way in and wake up that sweet sleeping baby of yours! 

Now, hit the fabric store, and grab an adorable pattern of your choosing. Then, head over to where you find the thickest canvas you can. If black can work with the pattern you’ve chosen: it’s best, and easiest. If you don’t think it’ll match, just be aware that you may have to double your back fabric to make your curtains light proof. So, to ensure you buy enough, while you’re still hanging out in the fabric store, hold both fabrics up to the light to see how if you’ll actually have to double (or triple) your backing fabric.. (don’t feel weird about walking to the front doors and holding your fabrics back to back against the glass… like so:)

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You’d rather look slightly silly in the store, than to get home, realize you didn’t buy enough, and have to go all the way back to get more. Once you’ve picked out your fabrics, head over to the lady with the Fiskars (Gosh I hope that joke landed.. if not, Fiskars is a popular brand of scissors/rotary cutters/ etc. If you didn’t know, now you do. Re-read that last joke and enjoy it with your new knowledge. Still not funny? Read it again, let it marinade a little, a laugh may sneak up on you eventually.)

Okay, purchase that fabric & meet me back in your sewing room! (And, remember there are 36 inches in a yard.)

Okay.. back? Here are the other things you need!:image

  • That front & back fabric you purchased… (do you find yourself confused as to why you bought two different fabrics for your front & back..? Okay. Here’s why: patterned fabrics, especially super cute patterns, are usually more expensive than flat colored fabrics. You’ll probably find that the canvas is cheaper than the pattern you chose for the front. Therein lies the answer, my friend. Why buy expensive fabric to maybe even double or tripple if no one is going to see the back of your curtains?! Or, at least no one important. Because, if that passerby on the street were important enough to see your curtains, you’d have invited them in by now. Also, there’s the obvious thickness of the backing fabric, and even if you did choose a thicker canvas for the front of your curtains, that was probably even more expensive to buy canvas in a pattern. Less confused? okay, let’s continue…)
  • Scissors & or rotary cutter, if you’re so inclined. If you’re not used to a rotary cutter, don’t think this is a) necessary, or b) a double-dog-dare to use one. First of all, you won’t be able to cut through the canvas with the rotary cutter, anyway. It’s too thick and will almost instantly dull your blade. (And since the blades are upwards of $7 bucks a pop, I’d pass if I were you.) If you already have one and are new to rotary cutting, definitely practice on some scrap fabric first. Draw a straight line and try it out. It is *not* as easy as some people make it look. It took me a while to get to the ‘okay-at-it’ status I now hold. 

Also, Things-I-Wish-I-Knew-the-First-Time Tip #1: If you’re just attempting to buy a rotary cutter, get one that has a retractable shield instead of a retractable blade. One like this,

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NOT this:

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After just a few uses, you’ll realize why: after a bit even with slight pressure the retractable blade will snap back into itself, which, is VERY annoying when it happens a half a dozen times in a row. Had I had a Holly to impart that wisdom on me, I’d be $20 richer for it.

Okay.. I’m getting off topic, back to the things you need.

  • Thread, (I suggest using the cone kind that is pictured above… we’ll talk about why a little later) in a fun color, if you wish! We’re going to seam the edges with a fun stitch in our fun color after we’ve turned our curtains… it’ll be fun! you’ll see…
  • pins
  • a curtain rod
  • yard stick & ruler
  • cutting matte (if using a rotary cutter.. otherwise you really don’t need it.)
  • And as always, your sewing machine’s sister from another mister, your IRON!

Okay. Grab those measurements you took earlier. For our example, the curtains I’m making for the long & squat windows (not the same size as the one pictured above) will be 54.5 inches wide by 22.5 inches tall. First thing’s first is to add an inch to your width to account for our seam allowance, and then for the height to add 1 inch for seam allowance plus 2 inches for when we make our curtain rod loop. So, our new measurements become 55.5 inches wide, by 25.5 inches tall. For these curtains I’m doing two panels for each window, so 55.5 inches / 2 = 27.75 inches wide for each panel, by our 25.5 inches tall.

So, lay out your fabric (which I suggest you first cut to a manageable size, i.e. 1 yard instead of the full 5.5 yards I purchased… talk about unmanageable amounts of fabric!) and, accounting for how you’d like your pattern to run, line up your yard stick with the bottom straight edge of your fabric, and pop a little dot next to the width length.

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Then, do the same thing at the top straight edge of your fabric. Once you have both dots, line your yard stick to connect them, and draw a straight line between them.

Having trouble finding a straight edge? Try using your fabric’s pattern as a guide for straightening it out! In mine, if I needed to even out a really raw edge left by the Fiskars lady, (there’s that joke again,) I just lined my ruler up with the points of the chevron pattern I’m using! Easy peasey.

Do the same dot-line technique for your length. (Realize, that if you’re measuring curtains that are longer than your 36” long yard stick, you’ll want to measure for and pop an extra dot somewhere in the middle, and then connect the first and second dot to draw a half-line, and finish that line by connecting your second and third dots.) Once you’ve got these guide lines:

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go ahead and cut (rotary, or otherwise) like so:

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You’ve done the hardest part (as far as I’m concerned)! You cut your curtain to the appropriate size! YAY! Let’s make it easier for our other panels:

I am making 4 panels of the same size (2 panels for each of 2 windows) so I need three more panels of this size. But, man, was that measuring a whole lotta work. It was, wasn’t it? Well, let’s instead use our first panel as a pattern for cutting our other panels and say adios to our ruler for a while. Here’s how:

Taking into account the direction of our pattern, giving yourself several inches of excess, and using your sized panel as a guide for how long to make our folds: fold your bigger swatch of fabric back and forth several times to layer your to-be panels… like this:

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See how I’ve folded the fabric over itself several times to make 3 extra layers? Still confused? Picture you’re folding a very long table runner like a paper fan, only between each fold you want the length of fabric to be as big (or bigger leaving the ‘excess’ we talked about) as your panel-pattern is.. here’s another visual:

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You’ll count 4 layers. 3 uncut, plus my measured & cut panel laying on top as a pattern. While still holding your folded fabric, cut off the remainder of your big swatch of fabric by making a small snip with your scissors and just tearing all the way down. Your fabric will have a rough edge, but we’re going to cut that off, and this is the easiest fastest way to get that excess outta your hair while your hands are busy holding up that folded fabric… 

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Okay, now lay out the still folded layers with your cut panel on top as a pattern and pin that pattern to the rest.

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Again, our folds were over-sized so that we have more than enough fabric to work with. When you’ve pinned the entire perimeter, take your scissors and cut the excess from all four sides of the folded fabric using that top panel as your pattern. 

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You’ll be left with four perfectly sized front panels without having to bust out that yard stick & marker again! Win.

Now.. the back fabric. This just gets easier and easier. Don’t believe me? Fact: there is no reason your back fabric has to be perfectly sized (yet). You can lay your front panel on the canvas and cut around it roughly leaving several inches of excess on each of the four sides. This is because we’re going to sew our panel using our perfectly measured front panel as our presserfoot’s guide. So the black can be as raggedy and oversized as we want, and we can simply cut it down after it’s sewn and it’s a ‘fool-proof’ cut. You’ll see.. just trust me.

So.. go ahead and do what I just said, lay a panel on a doubled piece of canvas (your canvas will come already folded, don’t unfold it. Cut it as 2. This will allow you to make 2 cuts in one. If you’ve come to the realization that you need 2 or more layers of your backing to make your curtains sun-proof, keep that in mind.) and roughly cut around your pattern panel leaving an inch or two on all sides.

This should be what your product looks like:

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It’s time for your sewing machine’s BFF, your Iron! (Those two crazy kids are really attached at the hip, you know.) Go ahead and iron your fabrics, and once they’re stiff, pin the back and front together with right sides facing each other.image

Once you pin them, you’re welcome to cut some of the excess fabric if you wish.. it’s either now or after you sew… after you sew, though, it’s just a little easier since you don’t have to navigate around those pins to cut, but if you feel there is so much excess fabric that it’s distracting, by all means, cut away!:

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Ok! Believe it or not, you’re ready to sew! (I know, I know.. I swear 93% of ‘sewing’ is measuring, cutting, and ironing… it’s just how the cookie crumbles. It’s one of those things people just don’t tell you until it’s too late. This is me telling you when it’s too late.)

Fit your machine with your funky thread and let’s go! Using the straight edges of your front fabric and the end of your presserfoot as your guide, position your needle to leave a 1/2 inch seam allowance (as we previously accounted for). We’re going to be sewing this as we would a pillow, and then turning it through an opening we leave in the top of the curtain. So, you’ll want to start on the top side (i.e. one of the ‘width’ sides) and put your presserfoot down in the middle of the length side.

We start in the middle because it helps us to 1) remember to leave our opening to turn the finished product and 2) gives us enough room so that when we are getting ready to finish we’ll have enough lee-way to turn the 4th corner before backstiching our opening. Like this: 

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Why do we turn the 4th corner? Because when we get ready to close that opening we’re leaving to turn this panel right-side-out, you’ll find it’s a whole lot easier to close a straight line in the center than closing at a corner. 

Make sure to back-stich several times at both beginning and end, because when we turn this curtain, especially with the super thick back fabric, you’re going to be really wrenching on that seam and you don’t want your fabric to tear away due to a weak end.

Check out our turned curtain!

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Awesome! Now, heat back up that iron! (Remember to heat it to the appropriate temp for the fabric you’re using.. you don’t want to scorch your panel just as it’s about to realize it’s life-long dream of becoming a curtain!)

Oh, and remember to get in there and really pop out those corners with your fingers.. or your closed scissors.. or a chop stick. Your choice. We need em’ pointy! (which may be difficult considering how thick our canvas is…)

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Okay.. now for that hole we left…

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Go ahead and fold those raw edges in so that your folded ends are flush with rest of the seam.. like so:

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Then go ahead and pin it, and then iron it.. or iron it, and then pin it.. depending on how difficult your fabric is being. These are pretty interchangeable steps.

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And, with your iron, take a trip around the entire perimeter of your panel, and get the edges as flat as possible.

You may have to fuss over it to find the seam, this could take a few minutes.image

Next, head over to your sewing machine and close that hole on up… you can do this in your orange thread because we’re going to use this edge as the top of our curtain and when we turn the top edge over to make the loop for the rod to go through you won’t see this seam in the end. Trust me. Close away.

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Now. We’re going to go around the other three sides of the panel and seam a hem with a fun stich in this fun thread we’ve chosen! Since I’m using Cheveron fabric, I’m going to use a zig-zag stich. Try your stich out on a scrap piece of fabric first, to make sure it’s the right look, width, etc.

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Keep in mind that fun stitches tend to use a LOT of thread… make sure your bobbin is mighty full before starting out… 

Again.. you’re going to be sewing about an inch in from the edge for the entire way around your curtain EXCEPT the top length. (Ignore the fact that I didn’t start at the end of the fabric.. my brain wasn’t working right.. You’ll see where I fixed it two pics down.)

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{Oh, as a total side note, remember when in the list of things you need I talked about the cone thread? And how I said I would come back to that… this is me coming back to that, real quick-like. Cone thread is a hugely better value than spool thread. You get like 70 times more thread (that’s an exaggeration, but seems about right..) for the same price or less.. the only draw back is that you can’t fit it on your handy dandy little rod that’s attached at the top of your sewing machine to hold your thread. This, however isn’t a huge deal.. if you thread your machine and then just sit your cone behind it, (like the orange thread in the background of this picture), it’ll simply unravel itself and you’ll forget it’s there.. just set it close enough to your machine that the thread doesn’t catch on itself and knock itself over, but far enough away that you don’t knock it over with the fabric you’re working with. Just a helpful, economical tip for some on-a-budget sewing. I mean, who doesn’t want way more for way less?!}

Ok.. back to the instruction…

When you’re finished with that, it’s time to measure for our curtain rod’s new home. Lay your rod on the back side of your curtain close to the top un-zig-zagged side. Fold your fabric over, just until your rod fits in the fold. You want to make sure there’s enough room for your rod to be inserted & removed, but not so much that you’re taking more than the couple of inches we accounted for away from your curtain.

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Mark or pin your fabric, remove the rod, and iron that fold flat. Pin it every so often, and let’s head back to your sewing machine.

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Now, because the zig zag stitch I used is rather tall, I wanted a flatter zig zag for this seam, as not to take away valuable rod room. I was afraid if I used my tall zag I wouldn’t be able to fit the curtain rod in after the loop was secured. So, I set my stitch length to 1.6, which flattened out my zag a little.

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(Again I tested this on a piece of scrap before actually sewing.. but, if you do mess up at first, just keep in mind that even the best of us keep a seam ripper close by…)

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Go ahead and sew your flat zig zag as close to the end of your folded fabric as humanly possible: 

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When you go over the seam you made to close your hole, it may look janky on the wrong side… like this:

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but don’t worry.. you won’t be able to tell on the right side… a preview, incase you didn’t believe me…

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Ok. Done? Trim your thread & pop that baby onto your rod to see how he looks!!

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Lovely! I look angry in this picture, but I assure you, I am not. I am very pleased with myself, actually!

Okay! Now, repeat for your second panel.. Don’t worry.. it’s easier the second/third/fourth time around. Don’t forget to reset your stitch to straight/regular zig zag/ flat zig zag as necessary.. (this is what happened to me, and and where my seam ripper came in.. let me be a cautionary tale.)

Now.. when you’ve gotten your panels finished, turned, closed, and zig zagged on 3 sides let’s measure a little bit differently for our rod-fold. This time, instead of measuring with our rod, we want to measure against the length of our finished panel. This is because, 1) we’re not perfect, so we don’t make perfect things. 2) in light of #1, your length may be slightly different for each panel.. if not, way to go you.. but if so (like me) don’t worry.. nobody will ever know…

Grab finished panel #1, and an almost-finished panel as discussed above (finished, turned, closed, and zig zagged on 3 sides..) put them on top of one another in a ‘single file line.’ (aka, place finished panel front side down, and then the second panel front side down right directly on top of #1.) Line up the BOTTOMS of the panels.

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Keeping them perfectly flat next to one another, rotate your fabric so you’re looking at the tops.. turn your unfinished panel’s top side down so that the top folds are at the same length. (It doesn’t matter where the bottom to-be short zig-zaged fold ends.. the more important part is that your panels will actually be the same length!) See—

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As you can see they’re slightly different. But, you’d rather them be different here on the backside where nobody’s gonna see it, than one be slightly longer than the other. Repeat this step for as many panels as you have, always using your finished panel as your guide.

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Pin & flat zig zag stitch the rest of those rod-holes!

When you’re finished you should end up with some super sweet, super light eliminating blackout curtains!:

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Hang em’ for best results…

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(Or have your pregnant friend and her mom hold them in place because the rod mounts aren’t screwed into window frame yet…) As with our Polaroid Art project, you can delegate this last step to your hubs and his handy dandy level! You’re probably tired and famished from all that sewin’ fun you’ve been having.

Horray! Now, if you’re not too worn out (and famished, as I mentioned before), I suggest celebrating with this roasted strawberry buttermilk cake recipe from Joy the Baker!

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That’s what I did, and I feel like I really earned it. It tasted a lot like victory.

So, when your babe’s sleeping past the wee hours of the morning, into the less wee hours of still kind-of early morning, and your waitress asks if you’d like that 7th cup of coffee, you can tell her you only require 6 today, because that Holly is pretty helpful, after all!