How to Select Fabric for Curtains

Item # X-HT-300005
Roman shades in a bay of windows.

Before you sit down to sew up new shades, curtains or drapes for your home, you need to pick the right fabric. There is a lot to consider when selecting a fabric for window treatments. You want to think about the style of curtain, the décor of the room, and the function of the window treatment. Since the color, pattern and style of your fabric is a personal choice, we’re going to focus on the more objective side of selecting fabric—the function of the window treatment. We hope this guide will help you think through the selection process and feel confident in your decision.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the considerations you’ll want to think through when selecting curtain fabric.

Natural Light: In or Out?

Sheer drapery fabric, Softline Penrose Burnout Champagne

Lightweight sheer fabric: Softline Penrose Burnout Champagne/White

One of the first considerations for curtain fabric should be the amount of light the room gets and whether you want to let the light in or block it out? If you want to block out light, try a heavy fabric with a tight weave or a blackout curtain fabric, like the Softline Suite Collection. You can even back a lighter fabric with a blackout fabric if light blocking is your top priority. See an example of how to use blackout fabric as a liner in our "How to Make a Roman Shade Video" (200595XHT). If you enjoy natural light in your room and want to filter it, try an open weave or a sheer fabric. Fabrics with metallic elements are also great for bouncing the light around a room.

Keep Out the Cold

Insulating Blackout Fabric, Softline Suite Silver fabric.

Softline Suite Silver Blackout Drapery Fabric

It’s also common to want your window treatments to provide some insulation against the cold. A heavier weight fabric with a tighter weave will be better at keeping the cold out than a sheer or open weave fabric. Blackout fabrics often feature insulating properties as well. You can up the insulation factor of any fabric by adding a flannel interlining to the back of the curtains. The interlining will also protect the fabric from UV rays of the sun and add more body.

UV Rays & Colorfastness

UV rated fabric, Sunbrella Sheer Mist Snow.

For great UV resistance try Sunbrella Sheer Mist Snow fabric

The sun’s rays can be really harsh on fabric. You don’t generally think about interior fabrics needing to be UV resistant, but curtains can see a lot of sunlight streaming through the windows. That’s why we recommend thinking about the colorfastness of the fabric you choose for curtains.

This isn’t an issue in every window, so you’ll want to think about your home, which direction the windows face and how much natural light they let in, and decide if this is a concern for you. In general, south-facing windows will see the most sunlight during the day.

If UV exposure is a concern, look for curtain fabrics with UV protective qualities. Solution-dyed and vat dyed fabrics will be the most colorfast and printed fabrics the least. However, you can always add a drapery lining to the back of the fabric to protect the decorative fabric itself from UV rays. Curtain lining is also great for making fabrics a little more opaque and for adding more body for fuller looking drapes.

Fabric Width & Repeat

Large-scale fabric pattern, Jennifer Adams Henley Henna Red

Large-scale pattern Jennifer Adams Home Henley Henna Red

Especially when on a budget, it’s important to consider how many yards of a given fabric your curtain project will require. Fabrics with a thinner width or large repeats could mean you’ll need to do more seaming in drapery panels and order extra fabric to pattern match.

Typically, you want to use the length of the fabric as the length of the curtain so you might need to seam two or more panels together to get the appropriate width for your window. If your fabric has a pattern, note the pattern repeat. For the best looking shades you’ll want the patterns to match at the seam point, and a large pattern repeat can mean you’ll need to order extra fabric to get a good pattern match.

Now that you have a good idea of the functionality you want out of your window treatments you can focus on the design! Browse through thousands of great home décor fabric options.

When you’re ready to order your fabric, check out our post, "How to Measure for Window Treatments" (200593XHT), to help determine the fabric yardage you’ll need.