Making Your Own Home Furnishing

Home furnishings, such as curtains, cushions and bedspreads are often simpler to make than clothes because they are usually made from rectangles cut to measure and then seamed and hemmed. The two most critical factors are the choice of fabric and the accuracy of the measurements for the item being made.

For the best, long-lasting results, always use soft furnishing — not dressmaking — fabric of a type specified for the item (curtains, bedspreads, loose covers, upholstery, etc). A good quality curtain fabric should not fade, rot or shrink and it should give several years’ wear as curtains, but if you use it for loose covers the result may not be as good.

British-made furnishing fabrics are mostly 120 cm (48 inches) wide (net curtains are the main exception), but the width of imported fabrics may vary considerably. Patterned fabrics have a specified repeat size for their design, so that a particular motif, for example, is repeated at regular intervals down the length. They are also carefully designed so that the pattern along one edge will match the edge of another piece when seamed together.

Before you can buy your fabric, you must know both its width (preferably less the borders which form the selvedges) and the size of the pattern repeat, in order to be able to calculate how much to buy.

Start by taking the overall measurements and note them down. In many cases you may have to join the fabric to make it wide enough, which may also involve careful pattern matching at seams. Or you may be making cushion covers and need to know how many you can cut from a width of fabric.

If possible, make two visits to the fabric shop. On the first visit, choose the fabric, learn its measurements, and try to take a sample home to check the colour before you calculate quantities. Buy the fabric on the second visit. If only one visit is possible, allow as much time as you can and take with you all the measurements you need, plus the formulae here for calculating quantities. Choose your fabric and then go away and quietly work things out before buying.

Never rely on the shop to do it for you because if they make a mistake it will be at your expense.

CALCULATING FABRIC QUANTITIES

Wide items Measure the fabric width, less the borders. Divide this figure into the width of the item, rounding up the answer to a whole figure. This gives the number of fabric widths required.

If using patterned fabric, divide the repeat (motif) length into the length of the item, rounding up to a whole figure. Multiply this figure by the pattern repeat to give the total length of fabric you must allow for each width to match the pattern at seams. You will be trimming off the excess length.

Multiply the total length by the number of widths required to give the amount of fabric to buy.

Narrow items Divide the fabric width by the item width. If this gives the number you require, then simply buy a length of fabric equal to the length of the item.

Otherwise, divide the number given into the required number; multiply the answer by the length of the item to give the amount of fabric to buy.

LAYOUTS

If you are dealing with several rectangles of different sizes, the only sure way to calculate the total amount is by making a chart. If it helps you could even do it to scale, using graph paper. Keep your layout for reference when cutting out.

Draw and then cut out a shape to the same scale for each section of the item. Label the shapes and mark their dimensions.

On another piece of paper, draw two parallel lines to represent the fabric width. Arrange the shapes closely on this layout with their length measurements parallel to the lines.

Measure the length of the layout used, and convert back in scale to give the total amount of fabric required.

CUTTING OUT

If you are cutting out rectangles, whether for cushions or curtains, they must be on the straight grain. All lengthwise edges should be cut parallel to the selvedges and widthwise edges at 90° to the selvedges.

Check that the first cut edge is straight, either by snipping the selvedge and tearing the fabric across to the other edge, or by pulling out a weft thread completely to the opposite edge. Or you could align a set square along the selvedge, place a long ruler against it across the width and draw along the line with chalk. Cut along this line.

Measure the length of your first rectangle from this line, using the selvedge as a guide, and cut across the width using the same method as for the top edge.

To match the pattern for the next rectangle, lay the first piece out flat and fold under the selvedge on one side. Place the folded edge over the selvedge of the uncut fabric, adjusting it until the pattern matches from one piece to the next. Cut off any excess fabric at the top edge of the second piece. Then measure your length for the second piece and cut the bottom edge. Cut subsequent pieces in the same way.

JOINING THE PIECES

Have the edges in the same position as for pattern matching when cutting out. Tack them together from the right side by alternately inserting the needle along the fold on one piece and then making an ordinary stitch alongside the fold on the other piece. You can then stitch them on the wrong side in the usual way.

AVOIDING A CENTRE SEAM

On flat items, such as a roller blind, bedspread or tablecloth, a centre seam can be very ugly. To avoid it, when using two fabric widths, cut one piece in half lengthwise. Join the selvedges of the halved piece to the selvedges of the other piece, then trim off any excess width equally from each cut edge.

On patterned fabrics, if you match the design one hundred per cent accurately, the seamlines will hardly be noticeable. On plain fabrics you can disguise the lines made by the seams by covering them with coloured braid or ric-rac binding.

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