Maybe you’ve taken it upon yourself to DIY a valance for your window. Or maybe you’ve hired a workroom and now are on a scavenger hunt to find the perfect fabric.
Either way, there are some guidelines you must follow when it comes to choosing the ideal valance fabric that will work for you.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities and what you need to consider in the process.
Valance made with large rooster pattern cotton and contrasting fabric in brick red.
Use Home Decor Fabrics Only
Hopefully you already know this, but I want to make sure I cover the basics here since there is so much misinformation out there.
Home decor fabrics are 54 inches wide (or around that range, up to about 60 inches).
If you’re looking at 45-inch wide fabrics, you’re standing in the wrong area of the fabric store. 45-inch fabrics are for clothing, not curtains.
Also, look for fabrics that say dry clean only. Machine-washable fabrics for the most part aren’t good enough quality fabrics for custom valances. Most home decor fabrics are labeled as dry clean only.
Face Fabric Vs. Accent Fabric
All valances will have a face fabric. This is simply the main fabric of the valance. It’s most often found as the the top layer of layered valances, and it’s usually the fabric that’s used for swags.
Some, but not all, valances also have an accent fabric. Accent fabrics are inserted in the back of bells, box pleats, and jabots as contrast linings, and they may also be used as banded edges.
There are a few things to consider when choosing the face and accent fabrics.
Unless a fabric is a solid color, it will have a vertical and horizontal pattern repeat. The larger the pattern repeat, the more likely the chance that the pattern will get cut off on a valance.
For example, a fabric with a cluster of flowers that’s 18 inches across means that the valance length needs to be at least 18 inches long in order to properly center the pattern.
Keep this in mind as you select your face fabric.
Also understand that having bigger patterns means that you’ll need more yardage, so take this into consideration if you’re on a budget.
For accent fabrics, you’ll want the pattern repeats to be small. Anything with repeats less than 4 inches is a good rule of thumb to use when picking accent fabrics.
(I’ll move on with the rest of the post, but you can learn more about fabric pattern repeats in this post.)
Solid colors will have the biggest impact and create the most pronounced contrast.
Small-scale patterns will create a more subtle contrast, and should be considered more as a coordinating fabric than a contrast fabric. These are usually small-scale stripes, gingham checks, and small diamond lattice or calico floral patterns.
Now that you know to use 54-inch home decor fabrics and understand the concepts of scale and pattern repeats, let’s talk about what the composition of the fabric needs to be.
There is obviously more to fabric selection than I can cover here, but here are the basics that will be most useful to you.
If you’re just starting out as a novice seamstress and are worried that you’ll make a mistake, I recommend picking a cotton fabric. Cottons are less likely to stretch or warp, and they’re fuss-free when it comes to ironing.
There are many variations of cottons, but any of them will work just fine, as long as they’re home decor fabrics.
You may come across duck cotton, which is just a medium-weight canvas with a tight weave. Twill cottons have distinct diagonal weave lines running across them.
These two types of cottons tend to be a bit sturdier, so use them if you want some weight and substance on your windows. They’re also great for busy areas of a home.
Cotton with twill weave.
Other cottons are a bit softer and can be used for valances with deeply pleated swags and soft, draping pieces.
Slubbed cottons are very popular nowadays. They’re medium-weight fabrics that have small horizontal lines running across them, looking as if someone was deliberately trying to pull those threads out. This makes the fabric appear somewhat imperfect, giving it that natural, textured look.
Slubbed cotton in royal blue.
Other cottons are classified as having a barkcloth-like or poplin texture. These fabrics tend to have a tighter weave and should be reserved for flat or minimally gathered valances only. Try not to use them for gathered valances or swags.
Chintz is often a cotton that has a high sheen finish over it. Some chintz cottons have a somewhat scrunchy texture, making them a great fabric to bring out the depth of swags and pleats. Chintz cottons should be used for formal, upscale valance styles.
Chintz cotton with a slubbed texture. Notice the subtle sheen.
Other cottons have a damask pattern. More on that below.
Jacquard is a general term for patterns that are woven into printed cottons or polyesters, which is done by using the same color or multi-color thread.
Damasks are an example of a fabric that uses the jacquard weaving technique. The focus here is just on creating a subtle depth to an otherwise plainly printed fabric. This is created by incorporating sateen threads and weaving them in different directions.
Damasks are often reversible, although with 100% cotton prints, this is usually not the case.
You’ll most often come across damasks in the form of a floral scroll pattern, although other patterns are possible, too.
Floral damask weave on a floral cotton print.
Chinoiserie monkey print cotton with geometric damask weave.
Brocades are also jacquard fabrics that are made from multi-colored threads that appear to be raised, or embossed, on the base fabric.
These threads fray easily and are easy to be pulled, so it’s common for these fabrics to have a backing
Most brocades are best left for upholstery use only when it comes to home decor fabrics, since this backing usually makes them too thick to drape into valance swags. Although, you may be able to pull off some flat valances with brocades.
Some brocades are on the softer side and are pliable enough to work on virtually any valance style, but understand that those fabrics can be on the higher end of the price range thanks to their softness and luxurious sheen.
Be careful with brocades. It’s easy to find a poor quality brocade fabric that will make your window look cheap in an over-the-top kind of way. A little goes a long way. Find a good quality brocade and use it tastefully.
Woven polyesters tend to have substantial weight, although many still remain pliable enough to be used for valances. These fabrics can be 100% polyesters, although sometimes they can be made from a blend of polyesters and cottons.
Stripes and checks are most commonly found in this category of fabrics.
I recommend getting a swatch or touching the fabric at the fabric store first before buying it. Some polyesters can be upholstery weight fabrics, so make sure the one you select is pliable and able to drape well before buying it.
Knowing whether an upholstery weight fabric can be used for a valance is an art rather than a science, and it usually takes some experience to gauge what works and what doesn’t.
If in doubt, just go with a cotton.
Woven polyester and cotton blend stripe used for a London valance.
Cotton and Linen/Rayon Blends
You’ll often come across cottons blended with linen or rayon. Most frequently, the cotton is about 55% of the fabric, with the other 45% being the linen or rayon.
These fabrics are great if you’re looking for a bit of texture on your windows. Just know that these fabrics may stretch or warp once you start cutting them and it may sometimes be difficult to line up the fabric patterns for novice seamstresses.
Sometimes, you may come across 100% linens, which will be difficult to tell apart from similar cotton and linen blend fabrics.
100% linen with a slubbed texture.
And if you’re still looking for a fabric with some texture, but one that’s easier to sew, just go with a slubbed cotton as mentioned above.
Silks and Faux Silks
100% silks are popular, thanks to their high sheen and scrunchy feel. The problem with silk, however, is that it fades easily and doesn’t hold up well against water.
So, all valances with silk should not only be lined, but also be interlined to prevent fading from the sunlight. I also don’t recommend using silk fabrics near kitchen sinks or bathroom sinks or shower stalls.
You’ll most often come across silks in the form of dupioni silk or taffeta silk. Dupioni silk has a slubbed texture similar to slubbed cotton. Taffeta silk is smoother and has a high sheen. Both types of silks have a scrunchy texture, giving them the unique draping ability that’s perfect for gathered draperies, valances, and balloon valances.
Since silks require interlining, fade more quickly in the sun, and tend to be more expensive, faux silks have become a popular alternative.
Faux silks are simply 100% polyesters that visually are almost indistinguishable from their silk equivalents. Faux silks don’t require interlining, so you will be able to create faux silk valances using only lining.
Although, because both silks and faux silks are light-weight, interlining is always a good idea.
Balloon valance made with embroidered silk. This valance was both lined and interlined.
If you’re looking for embroidered fabrics, there are two things you must take into account.
First, you must know what the composition of the embroidered part of the fabric is. It’s best to look for rayon embroidery because it gives the fabric a sophisticated sheen.
Second, pay attention to how much of the fabric width the embroidered part covers. You may come across a 56-inch wide fabric, but if the embroidered design only covers 50 inches of width, that means that you only have 50 inches of usable fabric.
White cotton base cloth with rayon embroidery.