Maybe you moved into a new place and it just doesn’t feel comfortable with bare windows, or maybe you’re in a mad redecorating phase and want to change up the look of your whole house. Either way, you’re trying to find the perfect curtains that fit your budget, match your furniture, and speak to your sense of what a home looks like! So, what is the best fabric for curtains?
The best fabric for curtains represents the mood and decor of your personal style and pairs well with your furniture and walls. Good curtain fabrics also provide the functionality you need, including blocking out light, granting you privacy, or keeping your home energy-efficient by preventing drafts.
In this article, you’ll discover tips for selecting curtain fabric that suits your home and compare the pros and cons of each popular kind of curtain material.
Curtain Fabric Types
You can make beautiful curtains out of pretty much any kind of fabric, but each type of material has its pros and cons when used as a window treatment. Whether you plan to make your own drapes or buy them ready-made for your home, you probably want to find out which kinds of cloth work best for certain purposes.
Some synthetic materials are UV resistant, which means they may last longer in a sun-drenched room like an enclosed porch or sunroom.
Once you familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each type of material, the world is your oyster! You can compare costs at various retailers or even track down non-traditional bargains to create a unique style of curtain that is all your own.
If you enjoy repurposing things to avoid waste and express yourself artistically, you can find ways to make window treatments out of old bedsheets, silk scarves, or even tea towels!
If your primary concern is cost, not style, you can find budget-friendly ways to score the kind of cloth you decided you want. People make curtains out of tablecloths they found on clearance; thrift store items like flat bedsheets, a couple of kitchen towels stitched together, burlap sacking, or beautiful saris!
Before you launch into the hunt for material, though, here is a quick overview of the general types of curtain fabrics.
Sheer FabricsSheer fabrics include materials like voile, lace, and gauze. The overarching characteristic of these materials is that they are so thin that you can see through them. Because of this, sheers do not block out a lot of sunlight and do little to protect your home from cold drafts.
While you may automatically associate sheers with your grandma’s formal dining room, yesterday’s stuffy is today’s vintage! Lots of people use sheer curtains and lace panels in stylish new ways today.
Traditionally, sheer panels often double up with another set of heavier drapes, often made from damask or velvet. This layered look remains classy and expensive-looking, though not everyone finds the stiff formality suitable for their home.
For a trendier look, some people loop a single, heavy lace panel to the side with a string of pearls or layer multiple sheers in different colors to build a rich, shimmery style. Of course, as you will soon see, the sky is the limit when it comes to styling your windows! Once you know what kind of cloth you like best, you can arrange your drapes in literally thousands of different ways.
Opaque FabricsThis catch-all description characterizes any cloth with a high enough thread count that you can’t see through it. Everything from cotton to velvet falls into this category. While opaque materials come in a variety of weights and thicknesses, many of them do provide an excellent buffer against outdoor elements such as wind and sunlight.
These kinds of fabric work well in a multitude of styles, from the super-formal drapes you may find in a ballroom to the casual gingham valance you can use to brighten up your kitchen!
Decorator FabricsAlso known as drapery fabrics, these materials feature a heavier weave than cotton and sometimes have a visible, almost canvas-like weave. They often look like the kind of cloth you would use to upholster a chair, though drapery fabrics have a lighter weight to help them hang elegantly.
Because of their weight, these materials make excellent formal drapes. They can also serve as excellent blackout curtains when they have the proper linings.
Garment and Quilting FabricsGarment and quilting fabrics encompass another broad category of materials, from brightly printed cotton to batiks to knits and silks. Think of any cloth you would use in a piece of clothing.
The cool thing about using these less-traditional kinds of cloth is that you can create a truly personal and unique style. However, the danger with using some of these materials is that their printed designs may fade after prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Linings and InterliningsTraditionally, materials like cotton and polycotton make the best linings. This extra layer provides a buffer between the glass and the exterior cloth of the curtain. The lining adds a layer of protection, shielding the exterior material from UV rays and adding extra thickness to prevent drafts.
Sometimes, especially in stiff drapes that need extra volume or must hold a particular shape, an additional middle layer–or interlining–is sandwiched between the lining and the curtain materials as well. This provides serious insulation besides lending itself to elegant draping!
What is the Best Fabric for Curtains?
The best fabric for curtains marries your unique style with the functionality you need in your home. Each kind of cloth has its own thickness, appearance, and texture. Let’s take a moment to understand the characteristics of common types of curtain materials.
1. CottonWhen you think of cotton, you may picture plain white bedsheets with a nice, soft weave. However, cotton comes in dozens of different forms, from batik to corduroy.
The versatility of this natural fabric makes it an excellent choice for hundreds of different curtain styles.
Most cotton types have a high enough thread count and a thick enough weave that the material can hold its shape without a curtain lining.
2. LinenMade from flax fibers, linen is another natural and traditional curtain material. This cloth usually has a slightly heavier weight than many types of cotton. It also features smooth bobbles, called “slubs” in its weave, which gives it an elegant and textured surface.
Linen’s unique texture and weight make it an excellent choice for drapes. However, it does not block light as well as some more opaque materials, and it wrinkles easily.
3. MuslinTechnically another form of cotton, muslin has a super lightweight, almost airy weave. Depending on its weight, it can become transparent, and some people like to use it in place of a more typical sheer cloth such as voile or lace.
If you like floaty, billowy curtains, muslin might be the material for you! It is also dead cheap, so much so that people often purchase it to make dummies of the actual clothes they intend to sew!
4. WoolDo wool curtains make your windows look like they are wearing sweaters? Not necessarily! Wool has a thick, dense weave that makes for an excellent insulator.
If you live in a cold climate, you may want to strongly consider this material. The downside of wool is that it is difficult to wash and can be very heavy, creating a bulky appearance.
5. SilkOne of the oldest, most beautiful natural fabrics, silk has an allure all its own. This cloth features rich and shimmery colors. You can use unlined panels to create a flowing look or line silk panels for a more structured drape.
On the other hand, silk often has a hefty price tag, and it does require dry cleaning. It also fades easily in direct sunlight.
6. Chiffon & VoileSometimes the terms “voile” and “chiffon” are used interchangeably to refer to any sheer, lightweight cloth. Technically, voile is a transparent material made from either cotton or polyester. Chiffon is traditionally made from silk.
These sheer fabrics look sophisticated when paired with another, thicker type of exterior curtain material. They can also shine on their own, though! These materials allow a lot of light through, which can lend itself to an airy design scheme.
7. TaffetaTraditionally, taffeta is made from silk, though today you will likely find it made from polyester. It has a crisp, almost crinkly texture and a lustrous appearance. This material makes eye-catching and luxurious curtains because of its unique texture. Silk taffeta requires dry cleaning, though the synthetic versions do not.
8. SatinSatin’s super-smooth surface, created by a special technique called twill weave, makes it the princess-dress fabric of choice! Satin is also traditionally made from silk but more often made from synthetics like polyester today.
This material has a thick weave, which allows it to block sunlight effectively. Many people love satin’s sleekness, but it may seem a bit regal for a more contemporary home.
9. DamaskDamask is a term, not a kind of cloth. It indicates how the material is woven, using a special jacquard loom that creates a pattern using a contrasting luster on the surface. This cloth can be made from cotton, silk, wool, or any material! Damask materials make excellent, heavy, slightly stiff drapes with detailed and sophisticated patterning.
10. BrocadeIn appearance, brocade’s textured surface may resemble damask, but brocade is made with multiple layers of different-colored threads that create its silky, patterned surface.
Brocade can make gorgeous, highly textured panels for a formal design scheme. However, it does fray easily and does better with a lining to protect it.
11. VelvetFew people don’t love the soft, thick pile of velvet! This beautiful material used to be made from silk, but today can be made from a mixture of silk and rayon or various polyester blends. It is created by weaving two pieces of cloth in a double thickness and then slicing them apart to create the pile.
Velvet makes heavy, elegant drapes and often features jeweled tones that match a sophisticated and a bohemian style. Unfortunately, even the synthetic versions of velvet cost quite a lot.
12. LaceLace is made in an open, weblike pattern in many different designs, from flowers and butterflies to castles and dragons. You can find lace made from many different materials. The synthetics, like polyester, tend to be the cheapest.
Traditionally, lace often played the sidekick role as a sheer panel behind the main curtains. Today, many people enjoy the beauty of a lace pane on its own. Lace doesn’t provide a lot of privacy, but it does add a lovely, soft texture that perfectly suits cottage decor!
13. GauzeGauze has a translucent, sheer appearance. It is usually made through a technique called leno weave, which makes it very open-textured–you can see the gaps between the threads.
Though rarely used on its own, the open weave of this material can create a lovely contrast to the texture of another kind of cloth.
14. PolyesterIn some ways, polyester is the great imposter of the fabric world. It is a synthetic material essentially made from plastic, but it can resemble silk, cotton, or even velvet, depending on how it is made.
A lot of the curtains you buy pre-made will contain a large percentage of polyester. This material is washable and much cheaper than many natural materials. Polyester also has flame-resistant and UV-resistant qualities, which make it an extra-safe choice for your home.
15. Sheer PolyesterWhen you think of sheer curtains, you probably picture plain white panels hiding behind the “real” curtains. Polyester sheers come in a variety of brightly dyed colors and patterns!
Like all sheer fabrics, this material does not provide a lot of privacy or insulation. People do love polyester sheers for their vibrancy and low cost, though!
16. RayonRayon is made from highly processed wood pulp. Despite its woody origins, it resembles silk in its sheen and smoothness.
Rayon requires dry-cleaning but is more affordable than many other kinds of cloth.
17. Nylon NetNylon is another synthetic fabric, and nylon net weaves that material into a looser, more open texture. This creates a sheer and transparent cloth.
Some people find that nylon net collects dust and looks grimy after a while. However, with proper care, this material can give your home a light and fresh appearance.
18. Cotton BlendsMany clothes and household items today feature material made from the fibers of multiple kinds of cloth. Cotton blends especially well with other fibers, such as polyester. These blends capitalize on the best qualities of each kind of fiber. Blended fabrics can have many different styles and appearances. You should check the manufacturer’s label on pre-made curtains or the end of the fabric bolt if you plan to buy cloth and make your own curtains. These details will let you know what fibers make up the blended material.
Thermal CurtainsThermal curtains are often made out of flannel, but they always include a layer of acrylic foam between the layers of cloth. This allows them to serve almost as an extra wall in front of your windows, blocking out the cold! Thermal curtains do usually cost a bit more because of their special properties.
Blackout CurtainsIf you work the night shift and need to sleep during the day or need to protect expensive furniture from the sun, you need blackout curtains!
You can find blackout curtains made in various styles, but all of them include “blackout cloth,” which is a special cloth backed with foam that is entirely opaque and does not allow any light through.
Most Popular Curtain Fabrics By Room
Now that you’re an expert on the popular types of fabric let’s consider which material works best in each room of your house!
Living room styles vary dramatically from one home to another. For this reason, many people consider the versatile cotton curtains to be the best for your living room. Cotton can hang heavily when it has a thick weave or float when it has a lower thread count and a lighter weave. It comes in all designs and colors, too!
For a more formal living room, the secondary fabric of choice is probably velvet. Velvet provides a deep, rich frame to any window and can elegantly offset your lovely furniture. Velvet also adds a warm and jeweled tone to any room, which you may want in a room you spend a lot of time in!
Kitchens are a place of warmth, fun, and high energy! Many people like kitchen window treatments that don’t cover the whole window, such as valances or swags.
If you have a traditional or farmhouse-style kitchen, you will probably like the warm, woven look of cotton or gingham. If you have a more bohemian kitchen, you might prefer a ruffled voile cafe look or even striped silk. For a cottage-style kitchen, you might consider a simple lace panel to add a touch of cuteness to your kitchen!
These days, not every home features a dedicated dining room. These rooms tend toward the formal end of decor, and many people like to use very elegant and structured drapes to set off their fancy table and chairs.
The most popular materials for dining room drapes tend toward weighty fabrics with a silky sheen, such as silk, taffeta, brocade, and damask.
Bedrooms are the most personal of spaces. You may want this space to reflect your personality and use a bold, vibrant material such as a printed polyester.
On the other hand, some people use the bedroom as a quiet retreat and hang sheer muslin or gauze that allows in lots of refreshing sunlight.
How to Choose Curtain Fabric
Ideally, you want to consider the feel, color, texture, and weight of a fabric before deciding how well it melds with your personal sense of decor. Beyond that general advice, though, you should consider four key qualities:
- How it matches your home.
- How it meets your needs.
- How it fits your budget.
- How trendy it looks.
First, you want your curtains to match your home. Window treatments shouldn’t blend into the woodwork; you want to notice them. They can serve as a great backsplash for your furniture and provide a harmonious partnership with your carpet or rugs.
Another key aspect of this is that you want the curtains to fit your personal sense of style. For example, if you decorated your whole house with an industrial-chic vibe featuring exposed brick and shelves made out of old pipes, pink polka-dotted polyester drapes would probably clash with your vibe.
Second, make sure the curtains you choose meet your needs. If you live in a cold place, consider thermal curtains. If you need sunlight to pour into the windows of your artist’s studio, try sheer fabrics, and have a handy way to loop them aside when necessary!
Next–though perhaps most importantly–you should consider how much each kind of material costs. Velvet costs more than muslin. If you have a tight budget, you may need to align your decorating style with fabrics that don’t cost a lot.
Finally, do keep in mind that styles change constantly. One year blinds are the hottest thing ever, the next everyone thinks blinds are old fashioned, and repurposed saris are all the rage. If you like to keep up with trends, Pinterest, magazines like Southern Living, or any home-decorating blog can let you know the latest word on windows.
How to Choose the Color of Your Curtains
Last but not least, what about color? You would have considered color when you matched your curtains to the style of each room. Here are a few quick tips for choosing curtain colors:
- The color should either harmonize or contrast with the decor in the rest of the room
- For a minimalistic style or tranquil style, choose a color a shade or two darker than the walls
- The color will either lighten or darken the room. In bedrooms, many people prefer a darker color to block out light
- For kitchens, vibrant colors add to the general warmth and friendliness of the space
- Many people prefer formal colors and heavier drapes in living rooms and dining rooms
Do you feel armed with a vast wealth of curtain knowledge, ready to go out and purchase just the right fabric for your home? Hopefully, you feel confident about pinning down the characteristics and functionality of each kind of material and feel ready to select the type that suits your home perfectly.
Leave a comment below to let us know what kinds of fabric you are considering and what you like best about the curtains in your home!