Here’s what surprised me most after we opened up our doors last week: How much everyone liked our curtains.

If you haven’t been by the shop, our curtains are burlap panels and were super easy to make.

Burlap is not only an awesome, natural fabric… it’s fairly affordable, which makes it ideal for yardage-hungry drapes.

Snugbug Mercantile Curtains

For those of you who’ve been following me for a while on my blog, you might remember that sewing for the home is sometimes my bugaboo. All that measuring, rectangles and straight lines.

I much prefer setting in nice curved seams, what with all their room for fudging.

Nevertheless, folks loved the burlap curtains so let’s go over the basics of working with burlap, shall we?

Tip #1 – Keep is simple, sweetpea

Burlap isn’t the easiest fabric to work with. The stuff I used for the panels in the shop was the basic burlap-off-the-bolt from Joann’s. It’s 44″ wide with a loose weave that manages to be both super-stiff AND super-flimsy (easily goes off grain.)

Since burlap is such a stiff fabric without a lot of give, I just went with simple panels with a 4″ sleeve at the top. Anything with too many ruffles, hems, tiebacks or valances probably wouldn’t work too well with burlap.

Once the shop opened and the burlap panels weren’t hiding the work-in-progress, we tied back with twine and thumb-tacks – super fancy ya’ll. If I was doing it at home I’d probably mount some pretty hooks or something like that rather than using tacks to hold the tiebacks in place!

Tip #2 – Make the fabric work for you

Like I said, burlap is NOT easy to work with. It’s hairy, messy and will unravel all over the place if you treat it like a normal piece of fabric.

Our fabric was 44″ wide, so each of my panels is 44″ wide. Burlap comes off the bolt with the long edges ‘finished’ with a line of stitching and if you leave it alone, it won’t unravel.

Snugbug selvege

For curtains, I usually like to have anywhere from 1.5 to 2 times the fabric to give the right amount of ‘poof’. I.E. for a window that’s 32″ wide I’d use anywhere from 48-64″. Since I’m not much of a poofy girl, I generally stay closer to 1.5.

With burlap (and similar annoying fabrics) stay with whatever width hits within that 1.5-2 range. If two widths of burlap isn’t enough, then use four panels. You could stitch the two panels on each side together with a simple side-by-side zigzag stitch.

In order to cut the fabric into the right length for the panels, DON’T do what I did and try using a quilters edge and rotary cutter… holy mess, batman!!

Instead use scissors to carefully cut crosswise (the shortway) BETWEEN two of the crosswise strands. I snapped a picture so you know what I’m talking about.

IMG_0024 copy
Once you make that cut, pull a few of the crosswise strands out to create a short ‘fringe.’ This will help to keep from further strands to come unraveled. Plus on the bottom edge of the panel it makes for a cool looking hem!

If you’re super precise, go ahead and stitch a line just inside the ‘fringe’ you just made to secure. I didn’t do that, though and I don’t think it’s all that necessary.

Tip #3 – Keep it tidy and clean

For stitching I use a regular size 12 universal needle and a straight stitch at 12 stitches/inch. Warning: burlap is an industrial/utility fabric. Some of it is full of chemicals and I sometimes get really rough and itchy hands after working with it. If you have sensitive skin: be forewarned.

As you work with the burlap, cutting and stitching it will create a giant mess of fibers. It looked like snow was on our floor after I finished the nine panels I needed for the shop. If you have children or pets, it’s probably best to keep them out of the work area. Also, all those fibers flying around in the air can be a bit rough on the lungs. Open windows, ya’ll!

Keep sweeping while you’re working! And if you’re doing a lot of work with burlap, stop every once in a while to clean out your machine. The fibers will get all packed in and we don’t want that for our machines, do we?

So that’s all there is, folks… keep it simple, make the fabric work for you and keep your work area clean!

{Step-by-step instructions to make simple burlap panel drapes} 

1. Measure

  • Measure the length and width of window.
    • For the height: measure from where the drapery rod is (or will be) to where you want the drapes to end. I like mine to end about 1/2″ from the floor (because, vacuuming.) For normal finals (see below) add 4″ for the top pocket.
    • For the width: think about how much you want your drapes to extend past the outside edges of the window (I usually like at least 3 inches.) And don’t forget… if you have oddly placed windows, use your drapes to ‘center’ your window by placing part of the panel over the wall! No need to add on anything for side-hems.

2. Figuring yardage needed.

  • How many panels? s I covered above… rule of thumb for drapes is to use 1.5 to 2 times the width of the space to be covered. Closer to 1.5x’s is not too poofy… go up to 2x’s and you’re approaching precious-territory. Now.. most burlap comes in widths around 44″. My advice is to use the panels as they come off your bolt. So if two panels isn’t enough ‘pouf’ go with four panels. If you need four panels, line up the two panels for each ‘side’ side by side and attach with a nice, wide zigzag stitch. I usually skip that step!
  • Total Yardage:
    1. Write down how many panels you need per window.
    2. Write down the length of each panel needed. Don’t forget to add 4″ per panel for the pocket!!
    3. Now multiply #1 by #2.
    4. Add 18″  for mistakes and the loose-weave of the fabric.
    5. Divide THAT number by 36 and round up to the closes 1/4 yard. That’s how many yards you need.
    1. FOUR panels needed for two windows
    2. Actual length of each panel is 88″ PLUS 4″ for the pocket – 92″ total
    3. 92″ times 4 =368″
    4. 368″ plus 18″ (for fudging, errors) = 386″
    5. 386/36= 10.72 yards or 10 and 3/4 yards
  • Lug home your burlap and steel yourself for the next step.

3. Trim to panel-lengths

  • Start cutting your lengths. On one of the cut/crosswise/short ends, trim by pulling loose strands until you can pull one WHOLE strand from one side to the other.

Snugbug Mercantile






Snugbug Mercantile

  • If the resulting ‘fringe’ is crooked, trim it down to about 1/4″ with scissors or a rotary cutter and straight edge (quilt ruler)
  • After you have one end ‘trued up’ then measure the length that you figured in step #2 above. Cut straight across the width of the burlap with your scissors. Remember you’ll be cutting BETWEEN two of the cross-wise strands.

IMG_0024 copy

  • To ‘finish’ the edges… pull a few strands from each of the newly cut edges to create a 1/4″ fringe.
  • Repeat with measuring and cutting until you have all of your panels. If you’re doing a bunch (more than two) for the same room, it’s a good idea to compare the lengths from the first-cut to last-cut every once in a while to make sure you aren’t getting any length-drift.

4. Sewing the pockets

  • Once everything is cut, use chalk or a pencil to make a cross-wise mark four inches from one of the cut ends on each panel. This is your fold line to create the hanging sleeve. As long as your marking tool isn’t neon green, don’t worry too much about the marks showing. You’ll hardly be able to see them. Just don’t use a Sharpie!
  • Fold along the line and secure with a couple of pins. Burlap folds nearly as well as paper, so this part is easy!
  • Now mark a stitching line 3″ in from the folded edge. I just used chalk so it was hard to see and I didn’t mind it showing. **NOTE** check out your drapery rods before the next step. If they have giant finals that can’t be removed, you may have to go with deeper pockets and/or stitching lines.
  • If you are comfortable using a sewing guide, then just mark the 3″ stitching line on your sewing machine. Use painters tape or a post it to put a stitching guide on your machine (rather than marking the sewing line on the burlap for the additional panels.)
  • Stitch using a universal size 12 needle (or larger if you have one, 14 or so) and regular 12sts/inch straight stitching. Go slow, careful and gentle. Burlap (like fleece) has the potential to mess up your machine if you force it.
  • Stitch your sleeves, kick back and admire your work. No need to hem the bottom – your ‘fringe’ that you made when pulling those crosswise strands should be enough to keep the panels stable unless you get all crazy with them!

Have fun!

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