French Pleat Curtains for Fabric Lovers
by ABBY LU
To most of us, curtains are simply something — a piece of fabric, maybe — that we use to cover or adorn our windows. When we shop for curtains, we probably look at colours, prints, and general design before anything else. And that is okay because we have to like how it looks; curtains are usually long-term investments and we do not want to be stuck with a colour or design that we do not really fancy.
However, there are some homeowners amongst us who are connoisseurs. They want a certain look for their home and would prefer if everything is unified under a general interior scheme. For instance, some people may prefer the natural, quirky, and free-flowing vibe of a hipster decor. So, they may select curtains in neutral colours or blinds made of recyclable bamboo, for example.
But, our topic of the day veers a little off that hipster tangent. We are going to talk about a very traditional and classic curtain design. In particular, we are going to explore a curtain heading called the French pleat. But before we do that, let’s learn more about what a heading actually is.
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What are curtain headings and what do they do?
Almost every object that we encounter at home or elsewhere have components. A basic chair, for instance, is made of a seat, an arm, legs, and a back rest. Similarly, curtains are not just pieces of fabric: There is a heading, which is the top portion of the curtain where it is attached to a track or a rod. This is one the the most important elements as the header that you choose can dramatically alter the style and looks of the curtain.
There are several types of headings. A grommet heading features circular rings — which are usually made of metal — that allows one to simply string the curtain through a rod. As it is relatively casual and fuss-free — adjusting its width across your window or drawing it open is simply done by hand — the grommet heading has become a fast favourite in recent times.
Some other curtain headings include tab tops: Curtains with extended “tabs” that are attached to a rod. Meanwhile, rod pockets are curtains that are folded over and sewn to itself, creating a “pocket” that could be slid over a rod. This is a favoured style for cottage-inspired interiors because it has that handmade and vintage look about it.
As mentioned earlier, the type of heading can determine how your curtain drapes and looks. Apart from that, however, it can also affect how mobile the curtains are. Grommet and tab top headings, for example, make it extremely easy to slide the curtains into whichever direction you desire. You can gather it on one side or adjust its width evenly across the window according to your preference.
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A rod pocket heading, however, is fit rather snugly around the rod, which makes it relatively hard to move the curtain about. Therefore, it would be more suited for stationery panels that are held open by tiebacks or holdbacks.
Additionally, your choice of curtain headings will also affect your choice of curtain rods or tracks because it will dictate if they remain hidden, partly visible, or fully visible. Obviously, if it is visible, your choice of hardware will be an important decision as well. So, considerations about its colour, finishes (matte or glossy), material (metal, wood, etc.) and choice of finials (the decorative element at the end of the rod) and rings will come into play.
It may sound a tad complicated but it really is not that hard. The Internet provides us with a lot of images that you can refer to when you are making your decision and it is simply a matter of choosing what works for you and your home.
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The classic and all-time favourite
If you are perceptive, you may have noted that I missed talking about pleats — the classic and probably most utilised curtain headings of all time. We know what pleats are, of course. They show up, not only in interior design, but in fashion as well. They are simply made by securing a gathered fabric in place to create a type of fold.
Now, we know that a pleated skirt can take many forms. Tightly pleated skirts will have a certain fullness and flare about it. Tight pleats are usually made with lighter and more pliable materials such as chiffon because stiffer materials such as denim will become too heavy. Pleats are made by doubling the fabric on itself, and imagine wearing the weight of two pairs of jeans!
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With this in mind, let us consider curtain pleats. The type of pleats that you choose as your heading will determine the fullness of your curtains or how it drapes. It will also influence the type of material you use. Some heavy fabrics such as velvet may not be suited for certain pleats.
There are many types of pleats: There is a goblet pleat, so named because the full and round shape it creates resembles a goblet. This heading type is attached to the rod via rings and it is suited for a more ornamental or traditional interior setting. Think classic ballrooms, chandeliers, and rich brocade.
Then, there are also pleats that are classic yet clean and streamlined enough to be used in modern, Scandinavian interiors. These include the box pleat, the single pleat, and the French pleat. Of the three, the single pleat is preferred by those who are into extremely clean interiors because it appears almost flat when it is spread out across a window.
The best compromise, however, is the French pleat heading. It is classy enough for a period style interior but simple enough for a modern scheme as well. Also known as a three-finger pleat, French pleats -- spaced evenly along the curtain -- creates a very neat and uniformed drape that will satisfy even the most exacting perfectionist amongst us.
And there is an added versatility to selecting the French pleat: It can be attached to a rod with the use of curtain rings or hung to a track. Whether you select one or the other can boil down to personal preference because both choices are equally elegant.
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Making the best of French pleats
Fabric lovers will rejoice at the fact that French pleat curtains can be made with almost every type of light to medium weight fabrics. Heavier fabrics such as damask and velvet should be avoided but this is not necessarily a concern in Malaysia as we tend to use less of such fabrics anyway due the humidity and heat.
French pleats work best with plain fabrics in a single colour to retain the focal point on the pleats and folds. Having said that, it is also possible to use lightly-embossed fabrics and those featuring weaves and abstract, nature-inspired prints. Loud prints, geometric designs, or vertical stripes should be avoided as these will look distorted due to the folds.
Also, depending on your preference or budget, French pleat curtains can be made using almost anything. Crisp fabrics such as linen, cotton are good choices. Silk can look stunning and luxurious as well because of the natural sheen. However, silk is notoriously hard to care for so you may want to consider a polyester alternative that resembles silk.
And if you have decided on the French pleat, you may want to know where best to hang this curtain. As the French pleat is a heading that is already about 6 inches in length and has voluminous folds, it will work best as a floor-length curtain in rooms with large windows and generous ceiling height such as the family room, the dining area, or even bedrooms. This will accentuate the existing volume of a space and make it feel even roomier.
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In addition, a French pleat is a classic curtain style, which means that it will never truly go out of fashion. And if you select high-quality fabrics in neutral colours, you may never have to worry about it being out of fashion. This makes it a fairly sustainable choice in the long run as you will not have to change it according to the shifting trends.
French pleat curtains are commonly paired with tiebacks. The choice of tiebacks is entirely up to you but ropes, fabric or cord are most commonly used. If you would like a creative tie back, a curtain or fabric consultant will be able to show you some options. While most French pleat curtains are gathered to the side of the windows, a style featuring an hourglass tieback can work and may look surprisingly good as well.
Avoid these “pleatfalls”
While French pleat curtains will definitely lend an air of luxury and elegance to the space it occupies, you may want to consider some of the reasons why some people avoid this particular curtain design.
For one, it may not be the cheapest option amongst all of the other headers you could choose. The fabric that is required to make a French pleat curtain is slightly over two times the length of your curtain rod or track. It is, as mentioned earlier, voluminous and of course this can only mean that you will have to spend more on fabric. If you intend on changing your curtains often, this may not be the style that is suited for frequent replacement.
Its volume also means that it will most probably have to be professionally cleaned. Even if the material can be hand- or machine-washed, washing it on your own will be a difficult task. And with so many uncertainties regarding lockdowns and business operations, getting it to the cleaners may not be something that can be done with ease.
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Also, its pleats and folds can collect dust, dander, or other allergens -- and if you have a family member with allergies, it may be a good idea to vacuum it regularly. So, in terms of maintenance, a French pleat curtain may not be the easiest choice. And it is for such reasons that French pleat curtains should not be used in areas such as the kitchen where it will absorb vapours, smoke, or particles created by cooking.
Nevertheless, these are issues that can be mitigated, which means that they are not dealbreakers. Plus, almost every curtain design, fabric, or material that you choose will inevitably have some disadvantages, too. So, go for something that you know you will love. And French pleats — being a mainstay in curtain design — is an option that people go for again and again.
Perhaps, that touch of luxury is precisely what we need in our dowdy lives right now. And, no, a curtain will not be able to change your life. But it can change your home -- the space in which you live your life. And as the home is where we spend a lot of our time these days, we should not underestimate the breath of fresh air that something new will bring to our home and families.
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Real Simple Editors. (2019, May 31). Your Guide to Curtains and Window Treatments. Real Simple.
Hatashita-Lee, K. (2021). How to Calculate for French Pleat Curtains. SFGATE.
Schneider, R. (2018, Sept 14). What are French Pleat Curtains? Hipages.
Ro, L. (2020, Feb 6) The Best Curtain Rods, According to Interior Designers. The Strategist.
Erlam, L. (2021).How to Do a French Pleat Curtain. SFGATE.
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