Introduction: Custom-look Treatments From Purchased Thermal Panels

I really enjoy looking out my bedroom windows, whether the view includes gently falling snow, a full-on blizzard, or watching deer snack on my hostas.

What I DON'T enjoy, is the draftiness and heat loss to that view. Since staying under the covers all winter is not an option, I needed to add a layer to those windows that would save some energy, look nice, and stop my complaining (like that would happen).

Here’s the backstory:

  • Wife wanted a warmer bedroom
  • Husband wanted it darker in the morning
  • Wife wanted the look of custom window treatments without spending a lot of time or, especially, a lot of $
  • Wife didn't want to repaint the room but couldn't find the "perfect" fabric or readymade curtains
  • Husband wanted wife to fish or cut bait; wife agreed
  • Wife finally found readymade curtains in the "perfect" shade and fabric, but they were too short
  • Husband said if wife didn’t get curtains, he would buy some. Wife began to fish.

Here's the express version of the instructions:

  1. Start with Ready-made Thermal-lined Panels
  2. Select Fabric for the Insert Band
  3. Determine the Insert Band Location and Size
  4. Cut the Readymade Panel
  5. Sew in the Insert Band
  6. Line the Insert
  7. Hem the Sides
  8. Apply Trim
  9. Hang Panels

and here, in moderate detail, is the process I used:

Step 1: Step 1: Purchase Ready-made Thermal-lined Panels

Yes, I could have made each of the panels from scratch, but those too-short, ready-made panels mentioned above were the primo perfect shade of teal/grey/blue, were already thermal lined, were $15/per panel, and already had grommets in the header (although the person who originally inserted those grommets had CLEARLY BEEN DRINKING because that was one mega crooked row).

But, I love me a good shortcut. AND a pricey look “on the cheap”.

So, the task was to increase the length of the thermal panels and add details that would satisfy my snooty “custom look” requirement.

Inserting a "band" of fabric (see what I did there...that's why they're called "banded window treatments") onto inexpensive readymade drapes would satisfy two of those backstory goals, and ultimately warm up the bedroom. (And no, you should not suggest your own joke about other ways to “warm up the bedroom”.)

I had one single window to cover and one triple window. This Instructable will focus on panels for the single window. To do the triple window is pretty similar but requires sewing two panels together for additional width.

Remember, each single window has two panels, a right and a left, so you will do each step twice.

Step 2: Select Fabric for the Insert Band

I found a print fabric that would introduce other colors to my too blue room. It had a large-scale design that repeats every 27 inches.

When selecting the insert fabric, you want to purchase enough fabric for the width of the panel, including side hems, PLUS additional fabric as required for pattern/print matching and placement (pattern matching is one of the details that professionals give a lot of attention). I always generously overestimate. You can always make a throw pillow or two with the extra fabric.

TMI (extra detail for clarification):

Looking at the print of my insert fabric, I decided to make the insert 28” deep to showcase the full print.

And, for my snooty custom look, I wanted to use the best part of the pattern and have it appear in the same place on each of the panels.

I’d already selected the part of the fabric for the depth of the insert, but also wanted to pay attention to the repeat of the design along the width. I found it simple to identify a center point of the pattern and work out from there…

Let’s use my measurements to illustrate: My readymades are 40 inches wide. I needed a 40 inch wide section, plus one inch per side for side hems, SO…I needed about a 42-inch width of fabric.

However…I chose that width (or selection) by finding the preferred center of the print repeat and measuring out 21 inches on each side to determine the section I will use.

THEN, I needed a second piece of fabric with that same selection so that the second panel will match.

So, a custom look isn’t usually the most economical use of fabric. However, optimizing the print is a really nice feature once they’re finished.

Step 3: Determine the Insert Band Location and Size

A quick search of “banded panels” or "banded window treatments" will yield many options for where to locate the insert. I tried to visualize how different placements would look by laying a section of fabric and trim on top of the purchased panels.

Ultimately, I chose to place the insert at the top, about 1.5 inches below the header (“header” is the top part of a window treatment, and includes a stiff lining and the method of attaching the panel to the curtain rod. Examples include pinch pleats with hooks, rod pockets, tab tops, etc).

Some folks locate the insert at the top, or the middle, and some select the bottom…it mostly depends on personal preference, how much work you want to do (like creating an entirely new header out of your contrast fabric or having to hem an insert), and/or what furniture is in your room that might obscure your handiwork.

Step 4: Math Time!

Determine the desired finished length of the panel. The readymades were 84” long, I wanted my finished panels to be 94” (based on the height of my curtain rods).

Cut the purchased panel horizontally where you want the banding to begin (be sure to add .5” for seam allowances).

Determine the desired size of the insert band (I wanted my insert section to be 28 inches deep), paying attention to pattern placement and repeats (for wider windows) as needed. Be sure to add .5” to the top and bottom of the insert for seam allowances.

Cut away any excess length from the top edge of the bottom piece of the readymade panel (no need to hem twice).



For my panels, I wanted a finished length of 94” long with a 28” band of print fabric. My readymade panels were 84” long.

I cut the panel 1.5” below the header across the full width, leaving me with a 5.5” piece as the top. (See illustration).

I knew my insert panel would be 28 inches deep, plus .5” at the top and bottom for seam allowances, so I cut a selection 29 inches long (and about 42 inches wide).

Of course adding fabric gave me too much length, so I cut away 17 additional inches across the readymade panel, leaving me with a 5.5 inch header + 61.5” remaining inches of the readymade panel, to which I would add/insert the 29 inches of the insert fabric. Subtract the two inches for seam allowances and I should end up with 94” panels. (See illustration.)

Novice tip:

When you sew two pieces of fabric together, you use something called a “seam allowance.” That’s the distance from the cut edge of the fabric to the stitching line (the seam). Most sewing patterns use a 5/8” seam allowance, but I use 1/2” for simpler math.

You need to remember to include the seam allowance in the math above, adding a half inch to each place you will join fabric: For the ready made, I added a half inch at the header and a half inch added to the 61” on the bottom. I also added a full inch to the insert piece. That’s why there is an extra two inches when you total the measurements above. Those two inches of length will disappear as “seam allowance”.

Step 5: Sew in the Insert/Band

To make the insert seam less bulky, you’ll want to open up the side hems of the readymade panels using a seam ripper or snips. You can cheat a little and open just the area where you are attaching the insert.

(TMI: For my triple window, I opened the side seams on the entire panel, shown in the first photo above, and sewed two panels together. That window used four readymade panels, two for each side of the triple window.)

Right sides together, pin the header portion (upside down as shown in the illustration) to the top of the insert, and sew together using a .5” seam allowance.

Repeat on the second panel, making sure the pattern design placement is the same as the first panel.

Then right sides together, pin the bottom portion of the readymade panel to the bottom of the insert fabric (as shown), and sew together using a .5” seam allowance. Repeat on second panel.

Sew a zig zag stitch over the cut edge of the seam allowance to keep the fabric from unravelling.

Press the seams inward (using a pressing cloth to avoid damage to the thermal lining).

Flip the panel over and press open the seam so it lays nice and flat.

So far, so good?

Step 6: Line the Insert Band

I want my panels to be both room darkening and thermal, so yes, Virginia, I have to line the insert.

The lining fabric should be about same width and depth as the insert fabric.

Full disclosure/skip a step: it would probably be MUCH simpler to sew in the lining at the same time as you attached the insert. Just place the lining (right side up) on top of the wrong side of the insert fabric before you sew it (i.e., wrong sides together). Then topstitch a quarter inch from the seam over the seam allowance.

But, since I was making up the process as I went, I did it this way, which admittedly was the hard way:

I placed my lining, right side up, on top of the back of the insert (wrong sides together). I aligned the top edge of the lining along the stitching line, then sewed it by using a zig zag stitch .25” in from the stitching line. (I used the zig zag rather than worry about finishing the liner edge. The zig zag might have been overkill, but that’s what I used.)

WHAT? A ZIG ZAG STITCH!!! Though ALL the layers!? What about the front!?

Look Padawan, this is not about beautiful sewing. Remember the goals: fast(ish), cheap, custom look, and warmth. It’s about functional sewing that looks beautiful from the front, and gets the job done. These panels will be hung inside a second story window no one will ever see up close, but would still look perfectly fine even if you could self-suspend in mid-air to creepily look in my window from the outside (I'm looking at YOU, Superman). As to the zig zag showing on the front, not to worry, I'll cover that stitch with trim anyway.

If you ignored the full disclosure shortcut and are following this hard-way method, repeat by sewing the bottom of the liner across the bottom seam (where the insert and readymade were joined): right on top, just like before, a quarter-inch from the stitching line (and really, it doesn’t matter much whether it’s above or below the seam.) all this a second time on the other panel (two per window, remember).

Still with me?

Step 7: Hem the Sides

Continuing with my theme of loving a good shortcut, you can see from the first photo above that I didn’t open up the whole side hem, just what I needed to sew the pieces together.

To complete the side hem on the insert, I folded the fabric over a scant half inch, then a over second half inch (to line up with the original hem) and stitched down the folded edge. Press the newly sewn edge.

Step 8: Apply Decorative Trim

Technically don't have to apply trim. It's a really nice finishing detail, though, and as an added bonus, it's a pretty smooth way to cover any mistakes you might have made....or, ahem, exposed zig zag stitches.

Flip the panel to the front.

Cut a length of trim the full width of the panel, plus an inch to wrap around the sides. (I chose trim that was about 1.5” wide)

Zig zag stitch the side edge of the trim to keep it from unravelling.

Pin an inch of the trim behind the panel (over the side hem) and pin to the area of the seam where the insert and the thermal panel meet, adjusting as necessary to cover any exposed stitches or wavy lines in the seam. You'll need to do this for the top of the insert and the bottom of the insert on each panel.

Using a matching thread, sew right across the trim at the top and bottom, the full width of the panel. Sew over the top side of the trim and the wrap-around at the same time.

(TIP: I used a tan thread for the top stitch and a white thread beneath so the tan wouldn’t show up on the white lining…you know how fussy I am about beautiful sewing, lol.)

Step 9: Hang and Woot Woot

One thing I’ve learned from many years of sewing. NO ONE ever comes up close to examine any thing I’ve ever made. They look at the overall piece.

I have sewn plenty of examples of beautiful workmanship. But when time is a factor and the details don’t affect the goals, there’s nothing wrong with what my FIL calls “outside hooey, inside phooey”…especially when no one cares about the phooey part.

All I know is that from anywhere in the house, I sometimes actually hear Husband call out, “I love your bedroom curtains!”

and that’s hooey enough for me.

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Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016

Participated in the
Full Spectrum Laser Contest 2016