How to Calculate for French Pleat Curtains

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French pleats are classic.
French pleats are classic. (Image: Trinette Reed/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The French pleat is a classic drapery heading. Used in every decor style, it can be fabricated from almost any fabric type. When placed close together, as in sheer drapes, the pleats control triple-fullness fabric, while allowing the luxurious excess to flow and undulate across a window. When placed farther apart with little fullness, the pleat allows a scant curtain to appear full. French pleats are three-fingered pinch pleats; each finger typically uses 2 inches of fabric, but the style of the window treatment, the type of fabric and the mood of the room dictates the fullness and amount of fabric required.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Calculator

Measure the width of the area you're covering. Record this measurement as the “finished width.”

Measure the length of the area -- and record this measurement as the “finished length.”

Consider the style of the room, and the function of the curtains, to determine the appropriate fabric. If the curtains are to be sheer, triple is the preferred fullness. If blackout and insulation is required, 2-times fullness is typical. For decorative curtains with light lining, 2.5-times fullness is sufficient.

Multiply the finished width of the area to be covered by the amount of fullness required. For example, if the area is 100 inches wide and will be covered with sheers, 100 times 3 equals 300 inches. Record this as the “total flat width.” For center-split curtains, divide this figure in half and record this measurement as the “one-side flat width.”

Divide the one-side flat width by the width of the selected fabric, then round up and record this figure as the “panels per side.”

Add hem and header allowance, usually 12 inches, to the finished length of the curtains and record this measurement as the “panel cut length.”

Multiply the panel cut length by the panels per side. This results in the number of inches of fabric required for each half of the curtains. Multiply this figure by 2, and divide by 36 for the result of the number of yards of fabric required for the curtains.

Calculate the pleat fabric allowance by subtracting the required finished width of one panel from the measurement, after construction but before pleating, of one side of the curtains. This will result in the amount of fabric in each half-curtain available for pleats. Calculate a number, between 4 and 6, that will divide evenly into both the required finished width and the fabric available for pleats -- for the result of the number of spaces and pleats. Divide the amount of fabric available for spaces by the number of spaces to determine the number of inches per space, and divide the amount of fabric available for pleats by the number of pleats to determine the number of inches per pleat. There will be an equal number of pleats and spaces per side, but they may not use the same amount of fabric.

For example, if the flat panel is 50 inches wide and the finished curtain should be 20 inches wide, there will be 30 inches available for pleats, 20 inches available for spaces. Both 20 and 30 are divisible by 5. There will, therefore, be 5 spaces of 4 inches and 5 pleats of 6 inches.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the fabric selected has a pattern, add at least 20 percent to the fabric estimate to allow for matching the pattern across all panels.

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