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Creative Ways to Shorten Long Curtains

Linda Erlam
Shorten the curtains and update the look

You can alter the length of your curtains and add some pizazz at the same time. Plain, classic curtains can transform into fantasy treatments that complement the decor in a new room or in a revisioned room. If you are “in transit,” you may not want to permanently shorten your curtains, or maybe you don’t have a sewing machine. Having curtains professionally altered can be an expensive undertaking, sometimes costing more than the panel itself. With a bit of sideways thinking, you can shorten your curtains, get an updated window treatment and protect your wallet all at the same time.

Sew-in Pleats

Sew horizontal pleats in the curtains. Create a tucked effect by sewing several small pleats just above the bottom hem. Add long bullion or tassel fringe to the edge of the bottom pleat, covering the curtain hem and creating the illusion of a fringed hem. Sew one or two deep pleats just below the top edge on a flat panel, creating the effect of a separate valance.

Tieback and Swag

Add a long cord tieback with a tassel end or an over-sized fabric tieback to stationary curtains and swag the fabric over the tassel or tieback, lifting the bottom hem and creating a luxurious deep swag. Typical tiebacks are 18 to 24 inches long; for this treatment, try a 36-inch long tieback and secure the wall end one-third of the way down the side of the window.


Hang the curtains on your chosen hardware and pinch the front of the curtain several inches below the top edge. Raise the pinched section to the top edge of the curtain and hand-sew it in place. Or, opt to secure it by a drapery pin to a curtain ring, if applicable, to create a “pickup” heading. The more pickups you use, the more even the bottom hem will appear. Add a small tassel, a button or a ribbon bow to each pickup location.

Bishop Sleeve

Create over-sized bishop sleeves on stationary panels. Hang the drapes on the rod and wrap a cord around the drape half of the way down the front length, leaving one free cord end equal to one-half the length of the drape plus 2 feet. How tight you tie the cord around the curtain will alter the width of the curtain. Tie the loose end of the cord around the curtain rod, pulling up the slack in the cord without lifting the hem off the floor. Pull up the excess drape through the wrapped cord and blouse it over the wrapped center cord.

Italian Stringing

Sew vertical columns of rings or insert safety pins in rows evenly spaced across the curtain. Experiment with the distance between the rows and columns until you find the arrangement that is most pleasing to you. Start with rings 12 inches apart on columns 2 to 3 feet of flat fabric width apart. Tie a cord into the bottom-most ring, closest to the hem, in each column of rings. Thread the cord up through the column of rings and through the topmost ring. Pull the cord, raising the hem off the floor, and secure the cord to the top ring. Thread all the columns. You can vary the height of the bottom hem by pulling some columns higher, creating a gentle scalloped effect, or you can vary them dramatically, creating the illusion of theater curtains rising.