Quilted curtains

Because of course I get my sewing energy back after making a hiatus post… I swear I’m getting around to those pants, eventually.

One of the big, big problems in my current house is things that were done multiple owners ago. Like the doors… or missing ones, rather.

There’s no door between the living room and the dining room, or between the dining room and the laundry. And the laundry windows are old louver windows – so they don’t seal in any sense of the word. (We think the current back door might have been scavenged from the living room door, because it matches the master bedroom door, but not the front door.)

What this means is that in winter, the heat leaks out through that area. In summer, heat leaks in.

The current owner isn’t interested in replacing the missing doors. And with summer coming and the risk of a scorcher, plus the hell of trying to keep warm in winter when you can’t seal off half of the house? Well, nothing else for it.

I can’t recall where I read it, but it was most likely articles in Low Tech Magazine – they did a whole series on low-tech insulation and heating, of which this (“Restoring the Old Way of Warming”) is probably the best starting point. Curtains and drapes are a good way to improve the thermal efficiency of windows, even more so if double glazing isn’t really a thing where you live. (I am not sure anyone in Australia has ever even heard of double glazing. It’s usually regarded as too expensive if someone has heard of it. They are probably wrong, but it’s moot when you rent.)

In older times, curtains and drapes were almost always heavy, thick fabric. Finding that these days? Not easy, and especially in an allegedly warm climate. (If I had a dollar for every time someone claimed that you don’t need this or that thermal efficiency improvement in Australia ‘because it’s such a warm climate’, I wouldn’t need to find another day job.)

But then, for some reason, I thought I’d heard of quilting curtains as well.

Reader, this was a mistake. I can’t find anything about that, and it turns out, it’s a real pain to do.

The actual curtains

I chose my fabrics from Homecraft Textiles – a canvas backing fabric, and a blockout-coated fancy brocade to go on the kitchen-facing side. The canvas back was originally going to be a whole separate set of curtains – allowing them to be changed out – until the quilting plan happened. Layering the fabrics, I realized, would both increase the insulation from the curtain, as well as helping to make it less likely to flap around in windy conditions, especially if front and rear screen doors were opened (which can easily cause a wind tunnel effect if the wind is blowing directly towards the house from either side).

I had originally planned to insert heavy hemp rope into the hems, to weigh them down as well – but couldn’t find any local sources that I could buy by the metre, and shipping costs were just too high for the small amount I needed. I ended up instead choosing long, oval-shaped fishing weights. I would normally stick with rope to weigh down clothing hems – metal and ceramic objects can wear through a hem over time, as well as potentially leaving painful bruises if the hem smacks against a person. In a house, they could cause dents and dings in the walls… but this house is so covered in them that it’s a non-issue. (As for bruises… well, don’t stand in the doorway then.)

Then, when I was ready to go ahead, I was reminded that there was an old double bed quilt sitting around, which meant I didn’t need to spend money on new quilt batting. (If I was going to do this again, I’d either strip the outer fabric off of the quilt, or go buy fresh quilt batting, for sheer ease of use.)


Working with such large pieces of fabric meant I had to work directly on the concrete outside. Not ideal, but I managed.

I first measured the length of my canvas fabric, ensuring I had enough to fully cover the doorway up to the top of the frame, to the floor. This also allowed enough extra for hanging loops. (The door frame has 3 screws protruding at the top, ostensibly for hanging curtains from; while I did obtain screw-in hooks that should be long enough to penetrate into the doorframe studs for security, I’m only going to resort to the hooks if the current screws aren’t secure enough.) I then added 6cm for the hem – 4cm for the actual hem, and 2cm for an additional turnback (and holding the fishing weights)

Then, I laid my trimmed canvas over the top of the quilt, and trimmed the quilt down to the right width. (I left the extra length on during construction – also potentially a mistake.)

I pinned and stitched the top of the fabric and the quilt backing together, and ran a line of stitching along the selvedge of the canvas and the edge of the quilt. And then started the quilting lines.

A real oversight by Janome is the length of the quilting bar – this is a piece of metal that can be inserted into the sewing machine foot (secured by a tiny screw) to help you keep your lines spaced evenly even if you can’t see the throat plate. The bar sits in the ditch of the previous line. But, this quilter bar can really only extend up to 6cm before it can’t be secured properly anymore – I set it down at 4 for safety’s sake.

Let me tell you, quilting across 112cm wide canvas with 4cm line spacing takes forever. I had to keep rolling up the finished sections, to be able to fit the whole thing back under the foot. I eventually had to turn the whole thing. I had avoided glue-basting any of this, because I figured that once the quilt was on, it wasn’t going to be easy to wash anymore – and glue basting would stiffen the quilt too much. Pinning was difficult enough with the thickness of the quilt. So that meant that my reversed lines were puckering and forming tucks up near the top, so I had to stop about 10cm back and I’ll have to finish those lines from the other direction…

…in other words, it was incredibly difficult doing it this way. I should probably have just bought new quilt wadding.

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