If you’re trying to put together a beautiful living room or bedroom, then the right set of curtains is an essential purchase. One of the hardest parts of choosing curtains, after picking the colour and pattern, is picking the right fabric. Do you want something light, bright and airy, or something thicker and heavier? How will you take care of those curtains? What room will they be in, and how important is insulation and light blocking? These are all things that you should consider before you make your purchase.
What Are Curtains Made Of?
Curtains can be made of a number of different materials – including wool, linen, cotton, silk, nylon and polyester. Synthetic fabrics – such as nylon and polyester – tend to be the most affordable, while natural fabrics are significantly more expensive.
What to Look For in Your Curtains
When you’re choosing curtains, you need to think about the weight, texture and light filtering properties of the fabric, as well as how durable it is and how easy it is to clean.
There are two things that will have a significant impact on those properties – they are thread count and weave. Fabrics with a lower thread count tend to be less durable and more likely to deteriorate when exposed to the sun. Fabrics with a higher thread count are more durable, but may need dry-cleaned. Silks are luxurious looking, but are quite likely to fade and decay in direct sunlight. Fabrics with a thick weave will block out a lot of sunlight. The most common weaves seen in curtains are plain, twill, damask and satin. Plain and twill weaves are often used for fabrics that have patterns printed on them. The damask weave is often used in single colour fabrics to provide texture.
Which Fabric is Best?
Wool curtains are popular in rooms where you’re aiming for a “period” feel. They are thick and heavy, and they tend to suit solid colours or blocky patterns such as Highland check. They are good for rooms where insulation is important, and they are effective at blocking out light. The downside of wool curtains is that they are very heavy, and they are hard to wash.
Linen and cotton are popular because they are light and breathable. They are comparatively easy to care for, but they are more susceptible to fading over time if they are exposed to direct sunlight. If you want to protect linen or cotton curtains from fading, then you will need to get a lining fitted to them – which offsets some of the benefits of the fabric – such as how lightweight it is!
Silk curtains are incredibly luxurious. They are thinner than the other materials, and they tend to let more light through, but they have an airy, vibrant appearance. You can get lined silk curtains that have a lovely, glossy look to them, but that still offer good light insulation. Silk curtains that are unlined will fade rapidly, but when lined they can be quite hardwearing. They are, however, also quite expensive and they are hard to care for because silk does not tolerate detergents well. You should not use silk in the kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere else where accidental splashes and stains are likely.
Nylon is a synthetic fabric that is quite popular because of its affordability. However, while it is lightweight and machine washable, it is very thin and flimsy looking, so is not ideal for blocking out a lot of light – for example for use in the master bedroom. Many curtains aimed at children’s bedrooms are made of polyester, however, and have cartoon characters or bright patterns on them. These curtains can work well with blackout curtains behind them.
Polyester is a good compromise between nylon and thicker natural fabrics. Polyester blends can have tight weaves, but the fabric is quite lightweight. Polyester curtains do not tend to fade the way that other natural fabrics do, and they are usually machine washable. They can be lined to make them heavier and to block out even more light, and they are generally quite stain resistant too.
Choosing the Right Curtains
Picking out the perfect curtains for a particular room is often a matter of compromise. Unless you have an unlimited budget, you’re likely going to have to consider price, as well as thickness, weight, ease of cleaning, and other practical issues.
Polyester curtains are easy to clean, but they have a tendency to absorb odours, which means that they’re not a good choice for the kitchen, or for a room in which people are likely to be smoking. The fabric is flammable, too, which again makes it a poor choice for the kitchen.
Wool, on the other hand, is a great choice for the master bedroom, but may not be a good choice for a den or for the bathroom, because of the thickness of the fabric and the way that it responds to moisture. Silk curtains will fade in the sun and are difficult to wash. Cotton and linen curtains are easier to take care of (and less likely to fade) but must be cleaned with care.
Most curtains are either dyed or woven, but you can get some rather stylish embroidered curtains too. If you’re going to buy an embroidered curtain make sure that you pick one with embroidery that uses the same kind of material as the curtain itself, or that uses silk threads. This is because some fabrics have a tendency to shrink, and this could cause unsightly wrinkles in the curtains.
For the best balance between price and luxury, consider polyester curtains that have been blended with cotton or silk. This is usually quite affordable, and has a texture and appearance that is closer to that of a more expensive fabric. The blend also increases the durability of the curtains. Many readymade curtains in standard sizes are made of a silk or cotton and polyester blend, so if you have standard sized curtains and want a common pattern, it’s easy to find great looking and affordable curtains online.