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How-to Choose Curtains and Drapes

There are so many choices when you start to shop for curtains and drapes. Here’s an easy to understand buying guide!

Curtains and drapes are SO important when designing a room.

They soften the hard edges of a room and windows for a cozy feel.

However, the selection of curtains online is endless and all of the hanging types can be really confusing!

I’m here to help you understand the different types of curtains and drapes to help decide which one is right for you.

The Difference Between Drapes and Curtains

Luckily, this is an easy distinction. Both typically hang on either side of a window from a rod, but there is one important difference:

  • Curtains are just the panel of fabric hemmed.
  • Drapes are a panel with an additional lining of thin inexpensive fabric to add weight and block a little more light.

The truth is everyone interchanges the words, so another way to distinguish is un-lined and lined.

Unlined curtains will typically be less expensive which is great for the decorating budget.

When buying white curtains, save yourself some money and go with the unlined options.

ORC REVEAL: Modern French Country Dining Room


If you are buying a color or patterned drape, lined is the BEST OPTION because the lining will block light to enhance the color and/or pattern of the fabric. 

Plus, as someone looks through your windows there will be a cohesive look of white from the street…this is important!  

When I made over the dining room, I had custom drapes made in a satin that matched the wall color.

To make the satin fabric hang and drape beautifully and so they looked good when sitting on my front porch, they are lined in a white lightweight fabric. 

When to buy lined or unlined window treatments:

  1. Save money on white curtains by buying the unlined options.
  2. Sheer curtains are never lined.
  3. Pattern drapes should be lined.
  4. Solid colored drapes should be lined.
  5. Lightweight fabrics that don’t have enough weight to hang straight should be lined.
  6. When drapes need to block light or be closed for privacy, they should be lined.

More on the types of lining later in this post!

Pin It for Later!


Post contains hand selected products, with some affiliate marketing links {full disclosure here} 

How-to Choose Curtains and Drapes

Now let’s talk about what is important as you go shopping for curtains.

You need to read the specifications for each item you are searching for online to find out these three things:

  1. Type of Material
  2. Light Control
  3. Hanging Method

Common Window Treatment Material Options

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Polyester
  • Blend (Flax-Linen)
  • Silk

Most of the time people prefer white cotton curtains. They have a heavy feel and hang really nicely.

The white curtains in my home are all un-lined and 100% cotton: master bedroom, guest bedroom, man cave, and back porch.

I LOVE the way they look!

Here are unlined cotton curtains on my back porch.

They are “grommet” curtains and I’ll explain hanging types later too.

They don’t control much light, which is the look I wanted.

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If you want more shine or if you want them sheer a polyester is the best option.

Linen looks gorgeous because it adds a new texture, but they do wrinkle easily. 

Planning to open and close the curtains? 

Cotton is a good option that will not wrinkle as easily.

Or find a blend of Flax-Linen or Linen-Cotton for a little heavier texture.

Pottery Barn Flax-Linen White Drape

On a personal note, I am completely obsessed with the look of this little office!

It looks like I could drop it right into my home 😉

Window Treatments and Light Control

This is where you need to think beyond curtains and look at drapes.

If you just want a white curtain to frame your window, then you really don’t need to worry about how much light it blocks.

BUT if you are adding white drapes to a baby’s nursery and want to close them while they are napping during the day, then light control becomes REALLY important.

Sheers of course block the least amount of light.

Levels of Light Control:

  1. Sheer – low light filter
  2. Unlined – medium light filtering
  3. Lined – higher light filtering
  4. Blackout – filters all light (like in hotels)

white curtains-how-much-light-do-they-filter

So really consider the intent of the drapes or curtains.

Are they going to just soften the window, are you trying to block some sunlight, or do you want to block light completely.

All of these things need to be considered when you choose the light filtering level.

How Drapes and Curtains are Hung

What kind of look do you want? Oh Tracey, that is a loaded question…OK, I will help!

Most curtains/drapes come with a rod pocket, but it gets more complicated from that point forward.

READ the description to see how they are to be hung.

Here are the common window treatment hanging methods:

  • Rod pocket
  • Grommets
  • Hidden Tabs / Back Tabs
  • Tabbed to Tie 
  • Rings with clips
  • Ring with pins

Literally all of these options I have in my own home!

The easiest way to hang a curtain is sliding the rod through the pocket or slide it through grommets.  

white curtains-hanging-types-defined

Each type offers different looks and drape to the window treatment.

For instance, a grommeted or tabbed drape is more casual and used most often on outdoor curtains.

My son’s room, which is more casual, has grommeted drapes.

In more formal rooms, rings and hidden tabbed window treatments provided a more finished look.

General Curtain Hanging Tips 

The way you hang the curtain will greatly affect the LENGTH you need to buy and at what HEIGHT you hang the rod!

  • When hanging on rings (like I did in my dining room) I typically add 1 inch to the length of the curtain to determine the height of the curtain rod. Same with the hidden tabs.
  • For curtains with grommets, I’ll subtract an inch from the total length to determine the rod height.
  • If they are tabbed curtains, measure from the top of the tab.
  • Rod pockets the rod is the same height as the length of the curtains.
  • Pre-drill a small pilot hole to see if you hit wood or it is drywall.
  • Use self-drilling drywall anchors for drywall installations.

Here are the drapes in my master bedroom hung on the inside hidden tabs, so I subtracted 1 inch from the total length of the curtain when hanging. 

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Here is an example of curtains with a rod pocket found in the master bathroom.

To determine the rod hanging height, I used the exact measurement of the curtain panel.

They literally slide right onto the rod.

Master Bathroom Remodel Luxury Hotel: REVEAL


You can see the hem is just slightly above the floor, so they hang straight.

Puddling curtains is an option, where they are longer than the floor and “puddle” in place.

After trying this ONCE in a former dining room, I don’t opt for this look because they tend to get dusty and caught up in a vacuum cleaner!

How-to Space Curtain Rings

This is more helpful advice than anything and not related to choosing drapes and curtains. 

Are you wondering how to space your rings? 

Here is the simple math:

Width of Panel ÷ Number of Rings = Space Between Rings

Here is a real example:

54 Inch Panel ÷ 10 Rings = Space Every 5.4 Inches 

Most panels come 54 inches wide and rings typically come in packs of 10 to 12. 

Photo Credit: Pottery Barn

An easy guide is the more rings the more pleats you will have!

Hope that helps 🙂

Shop for Curtains and Drapes

Now that you are fully armed with great information!

I’ll narrow down some of the shopping process for you because I have some tried and true favorites in my home!

We will stick with white options because they are classic and go with everything.

Tracey’s Favorite White Curtains & Drapes

Hidden Tab


Rod Pocket

I’m a BIG fan of the Pottery Barn brand as you’ll see 😉

They have NEVER disappointed and are the highest quality for the price!

Make sure to note if you are buying a pair of panels or just one panel.

Yep one time I ordered “3” thinking I was getting “6” and nope only 3 showed up.

Good luck in your shopping adventures and I hope you find something that makes you as happy as mine do!

As my FREE GIFT to you, with email sign-up a detailed paint sheen project guide! 

You will know the right sheen for every project…


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Until next time…




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