6 tips for using pinch pleat draperies as window treatments for a mid century home

window treatments for a mid century modern living roomI’m following up on yesterday’s story about Dave and Kris’ lovely mid-century modern living room with this post that specifically applauds their window treatments. These are beautifully executed and give me the jumping-off to spotlight six tips for this style of window treatments for a mid century modern interior:

pinch pleat curtains over sheer panels

  • Pinch-pleat draperies: Rock the Casbah. I am the world’s #1 fan of pinch pleats. They are tidy, yet warm and welcoming. They are harder to find than panels … because they are harder to make, but not THAT much harder… as you will recall, Gavin and I even got in a hissy fit one time over whether they require more fabric than panels. I think the determining factor is how full you make either. Where to get pinch pleat draperies? I tend to favor finding someone local who can make them to fit your windows perfectly. This is what Cindy did, for example. Other sources: For off-the-shelf, readers seem to like J.C. Penney’s Supreme line, including their prices; there are othe pinch pleat options on the JCP site, use the Search box. Vintage — you may be able to find pinch pleats vintage, too, and these can also be adapted (made smaller) or pieced together to make wider widths.
  • Stack back: This is a term you must conquer if you are to use pinch pleats. Basically, it means: You need to think about how much space the pinch pleats will take up when they are open… and plan this into your calculations for how wide to buy your pinch pleats. For example, Dave and Kris’ drapes look to have about a 12″ stackback (on each side). If they have a 40″ window… with 4″ trim on each side… a 4″ overlap at center… and 4″ returns (the fabric needed to wrap the traverse rod 90-degrees to hug the wall)  they would order a pair of panels that span approximately 76″ combined. When closed, this would allow enough fabric to cover the entire window (from return to the center, overlapped)… and when the drapes are open, the stackback would begin at the edge of the glass (covering the trim.) I hope to heck I got this right, and I am sure that if not, Gavin will correct me. There are places like Smith & Noble that have calculators — seek them out. Really, it’s not that hard. If you are having someone make the drapes — give them super careful measurements of your window and they will do the calculation.
  • Sheer panels underneath: I love how Dave and Kris have put sheer panels underneath the pinch pleat. This makes the room all glowy — let’s in the light, but maintain privacy, if that’s required. However, if you like to open the windows wide during the day, the sheer are going to be a pain. Alternatively, you can opt for sheers on pinch pleats — that is, two layers of pinch pleats. The downside to this, is that your draperies are going to extend farther into the room. Sheer panels can be tucked right behind the single traverse rod holding your solid pinch pleats; you’re gonna have a 4″ or so protrusion into the room. If you have two traverse rods, one stacked on the other, I think you’re talking 6″ miniminum protrusion, because their needs to be enough space for the bottom set of sheers to open and close. I was in England this summer and in the humongous drapery section of John Lewis, I noted that the brits seem to use kind of “pin-tucked” (I think that’s the word) sheers on traverse rods, under their pinch pleats. The pin-tuck design is flatter — so I think the protrusion is minimized. Sorry, I am sure that this is really hard to understand.
  • Position of top of draperies: Note how D&K’s draperies start at the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling. But look at the light — the window starts much lower. They have installed the draperies floor-to-ceiling to fool your eye into believing the windows are larger and also, to accentuate the height of the wall. With the sheers in place, in particular, this works magnificently. Lesson: First consider whether you can take the drapes all the way to the ceiling — especially if the window is already vertical (rather than horizontal) in its orientation; no need to think that your drapes “must” start right above the window — which would, in this case, have broken up the lovely overall lines of the room.
  • Position of bottom of draperies: For mid-century interiors, I am also a fan of draperies that just barely brush the ground. Tidy. Linear. Also, easier to open and close, and to keep clean.
  • Traverse rod: Paint it! You can also paint your traverse rod to blend in with the wall color or in this case, the color of the sheers behind it. I just laid out my traverse rod to the correct (installed width) and put two thin layers of spray paint on it. My traverse’s sit on top of ivory colored grasscloth, and spray painted almond, are barely noticeable.

Do you have a fear of pinch pleat drapes… of traverse rods… of making homemade pie crusts? YOU CAN DO IT, and you will be a better person for the effort!

And remember, all my stories about window treatments for mid century homes are located in the Category: Retro Accents / Window Treatments.


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  1. MaryE says

    To me, pinch pleats are the most perfect drapery style. I had mine custom made locally and they were expensive, but they are fantastic. I may change out the hardware/ traverse rod sometime for a different look but I will always want pinch pleats, or as my Mom used to call them, ‘draw drapes’. I have the aforementioned cheapo tab curtains from Home Depot in my bedroom and sewing room, but they are just temporary. When my sewing skills improve, I may attempt to make some draw drapes for those rooms.

  2. Jay says

    Found this site through the NYT. What a hoot! It’s great. I live in a 1957 ranch house that was pretty much intact. Still have the original birch plywood kitchen cabinets with black colonial hardware and Westinghouse wall oven. Alas, the pink master bath is no more. The built in place shower had structuaral and plumbing issues so it had to go. Anyway, the previous owner left the JCP drapes and sheers that covered the standard picture window with side double hung windows. They hung from one long traverse rod. There was just one problem – they were bright pink. They stayed up one year. If only they were some other color! But I like venetian blinds so maybe those with some panels on each side.
    Great site! Can’t get enough!

  3. Gail says

    Here’s an option for sew-it-yourselfers – pleater tape. My mom always used it in the 60s and I made drapes myself with it in the 80s. I didn’t know if they still make it but I was in JoAnn fabric Thursday after reading the blog so I looked and sure enough, it is still available.

    It is fabric tape with narrow pockets woven in. You buy the hooks to go with it, they have 3 prongs that fit in the pockets, pulling them together and creating the pleats. Single prong hooks for each end. You can leave more or fewer empty pockets between the pleats to get the look you want depending on size, fabric, etc. You can take the hooks out to wash and iron flat. If you are going to wash make sure you preshrink your fabric. Many home dec fabrics say dry clean but if it is cotton you can wash it.

    I remember getting the tape and hooks first, figuring out the spacing, then taking the hooks out, measuring the tape to get the size for my panels, then figuring the amount of fabric I needed.

    You may not want to go this way for a large ceiling to floor project for multiple windows, but for kitchen or bathroom valence you might give it a try.

  4. Tiki Tom says

    Hey Everybody,
    I’m looking for some pinch pleat advice! I love the tailored look of them & recently scored enough vintage JC Penney panels (thanks goodwill!) to resize & use on the windows in my living & dining rms. The problem is, I have built in radiators under 3 of these windows. What are people’s opinions about running these just to the sill instead of to the floor?

    • pam kueber says

      Tiki Tom, see the post about Cindy and her pinch pleats. Use Category: Retro Accents/Window Treatments. Or try the Search bar. She had this issue — ran the draperies just to the sill — looks great. Take a look….

  5. Jason says

    My question – I have not been happy with the curtains I put up. I got regular rods with some curtains that have back tabs so they hang pleated. Nice price on the curtain rods from Christmas Tree Shops and cheap curtains although nice, from Target. I also bought Kirsch rods for the sheers from Penney’s.

    I think now that my error was not going with traverse and pinch pleat to begin with and aside from the option of also traversing the sheers, I’m most concerned with the height.

    I placed 6 inches above window trim – and I’ve read you should do 4 – 6″ But, this makes for high water curtains if you use 84 like I did and 96 would be too long. So do I need to move the rod down or put them at the ceiling? I always thought drapes hung about halfway between the window and ceiling generally. I definately hate them right on the top of the window and the closer you get to the ceiling the more it makes the doorways in the room look weird.

    I grew up spending most of my time in my grandparents 1955 Perma Stone ranch – anyone know permastone? Love it! Picture windows big enough to drive a truck through and seasonally changed pinch pleat drapes that my grandmother would never have now in her new house. But, I’m pretty sure they weren’t to the ceiling either – so are these custom lengths a normal thing? Or does everyone have a rod height that equals 84 or 96 to the floor? I didn’t even know to the floor was what you wanted when I started, I was deciding the top height mainly. Any help is much appreciated! The big window in my living room is actually in a corner. 3 seperate windows, 2 facing front and 1 on the side wall. I think I’ll do 2 traverse one goes left from the corner and the other right from the corner so the drapes are on each wall if that makes sense. Right now I’m using a corner connector.

    No, my grandmother didn’t save all her custom drapes for 2 picture windows that matched in our adjoining living/dining:(

    My first home is a 1956 ranch and I love it and I’m trying my best to bring it back, including my yellow and black tiled bath. I appreciate any help you can give a guy in delaware who can’t sew!

    • pam kueber says

      Yes, Jason, I think the general rule is to hang the rod such that the curtains just barely barely barely touch the floor. Yes, 84″ is quite standard. Alternatively, depending on your space, you can hang them closer to the ceiling, with longer panels, as shown in Dave and Kris’ house. Send me a pic if you’d like – I can’t promise that I would feature it, but it would be up for consideration… Use Contact to connect.

      • Jason says

        Thanks Pam for the quick reply – I’ll try to get one and also measure because I think the top of the frame to the floor may be more than 84 anyway. Not to mention that when I fluffed the curtains they seem to have shrunk lol.

        Anyway – maybe some readers have some ideas as well on that. All I know is that manually pulling curtains back and forth is for the birds despite their length and appearance issues.

        I have to say also – I’m new here, but I love this site!!!

        • pam kueber says

          I am the world’s biggest fan of traverse rods if you really want to open and close your drapes. Welcome! Sometimes the hem of the curtains can be let out to add length.

  6. Kirsten says

    I keep coming back to this page and rereading it. I am getting closer and closer to trying to make pinch pleat drapes for the mega 155″ window in our front room. I’ve been told by some, “Just make grommet drapes. They’re so easy,” but with the pleating tape and pronged hook tutorial that Rachel posted, the pinch pleats don’t look too daunting. So I don’t want to give up just yet!

    Can anyone tell me what I should multiply by for fullness to look right? One website’s formula I used gave me 3 times, or about 450 inches. I’ve also heard 2 or 2.5 times.

    • pam kueber says

      I am not sure. I think it depends on how deep you want your pleats to be. When the drapes are pulled closed, you want the whole length to sort of stretch out flat – with the pleated thingies sticking out. Gavin? Gavin?

  7. Kirsten says

    I am still working on the pinch pleat solution for our front room. I keep coming back to retrorenovation in hopes that folks out there might have some experience to share. I’ve come to the conclusion that sewing them myself is not an option at this point.

    Does anyone have any experience or knowledge of http://www.factorydirectdrapes.com out of Northern CA? They have pinch pleats at what seems an unbelievably reasonable price (compared to what I’ve priced to have them made by a local person).

      • pam kueber says

        However, other readers have expressed concern that the JCP pinch pleats sold today are not of the same quality as in the good-ole-days…

  8. Justin says

    I’m wondering if anyone has resources on traverse rods online… ones that would go with vintage 1950’s curtains, (which are heavy barkcloth) and are somewhat “modern” “retro” styled?

    My 1960 standard ranch has a 12 foot window in the living room. I found atomic barkcloth curtains that are stunning… but the rods I find online are too “country” looking, or too flimsy – those white cheapy ones are just not going to cut it. Has any readers out there found such a thing?

      • Justin says

        I’m looking for something other than those Kirsch ones…
        Their web site says “light to medium weight” curtains, and they don’t look to be super high quality – at least the photos on their web site and where I’ve looked online don’t seem very special. My curtains are pretty heavy, and I’d hate to purchase them and go through the hassle of installing them to just be unhappy.

        Do you have online photos of yours? Any other solutions?

  9. Jason says


    I’m not sure, but I notice that SuperFine Traverse rods do not have the light to medium weight language. I think they may be heavier and are their top of the line at Kirsch. I have called Kirsch before trying to figure out how to address my corner window, which they have helped me with. I just need to get to the point where I’m ready to spend the money and take down the old stuff and patch and touch up before instsalling the new.

    I would say call them because they were really nice when I called. I’m in Delaware and have been trying to find people to sew pinch pleats and I may have JC Penney installation put the rods up, but I think I could do it, but in this situation I may go with them. Then, the other normal windows I will just mimic what they did.


  10. says

    Pam, I knew I could count on you!!!! I just bought vintage barkcloth on Ebay…about 5 minutes ago and then came straight to your site for what to do with it!! Pinch Pleats it is and it’ll be okay to have them stop short at my windows. Cindy’s looked great. Thank you ….from all of us I’m sure….for being our go to retro girl !!!
    Judy F

  11. Donna says

    I just purchased ivory sheer pinch pleated window valances at a thrift store. I love these valances but don’t know how to hang them so they look updated. I mainly want to use them in the kitchen and maybe over a large sliding glass door in the living room. I live in south fl so I don’t want heavy drapes. Any suggestions would be appreciated. thanks

  12. Donna says

    about the post above one of the windows in my kitchen is a corner window a over the sink any ideas how to handle that with pinch pleated valance. the other window is a large window in the breakfast area and a sliding glass door. thanks

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