The width of drapery side panels can make or break a window. There’s nothing worse than a drapery that doesn’t have enough fullness. A drapery that has so much fullness and fabric, that it overwhelms a window isn’t a good thing, either.
But how do you choose the right width for your side panels? As a general rule, the flat width of a drapery should be about two to two and three and a half times as wide as its dressed (or stacked back) width. There are some adjustments that must be made depending on the type of fabric, lining, and header style chosen. A drapery that needs to be functional rather than decorative will also have different width requirements.
Let’s clarify and simplify this to help you figure out the width you need.
Stackback and Flat (or Pleated) Width
A flat, or pleated width is the width that a drapery can stretch to the furthest when hung. For rod pocket drapes, this is simply the width of the fabric when laid flat. In other words, if the drapery is 50 inches wide at the bottom hem, it will also be 50 inches wide on top. Pleated draperies are different. They may be 50 inches wide at the bottom hem, yet by the time the pleats are created on top, the header usually is about half of that (roughly 25 inches in this example).
We refer to this as the pleated width. Use the illustration below to help you with the types of headers you may find.
Regardless of whether the drapery is a rod pocket, pleated, or any other type of style, what really matters is the stackback. This is how the drapery will naturally hang on the window.
So, continuing with the idea of a 50-inch drapery, you may find that a rod pocket drapery has a stackback of about 24 to 28 inches, while a pleated drapery has a stackback of about 15 to 21 inches. Say you have a 40-inch window and choose a pair of pinch pleat draperies that have a 15-inch stackback each. That means that the rod needs to be about 64 inches wide if each drapery is to cover about 3 inches of the window on each side (40 + 15 + 15 – 3 – 3).
(In case all this sounds too confusing, we have a convenient drapery width calculator and worksheet that you can use by going to this guide.)
Are the Draperies Functional or Decorative?
The purpose of the draperies is very important. A popular design trick is to let the draperies frame the window rather than cover it. This creates the illusion of height and makes the window appear wider than it really is.
It’s a great idea if the draperies are decorative only, meaning that they’re stationary and won’t need to be closed shut. But if they need to be functional and you’d like to be able to fully shut the drapes in the evening or when you need privacy, you’ll need to make sure your draperies don’t come up too short when you try to pull them across the rod. Let’s use the example above. To recap, the window is 40 inches wide and the rod is 63 inches wide.
The two pinch pleat draperies have a total stackback of 30 inches (15 x 2), which means that the pleated top header is 50 inches wide (25 x 2) when stretched as much as possible. Clearly, you won’t be able to make 50 inches of pleated drapes work on a 63-inch rod, so these draperies can only be decorative. A logical solution is to switch to rod pocket drapes instead, but rod pocket draperies are a hassle to pull across a rod on a daily basis.
The better solution is to go up in fullness. Find a fabric that drapes well and isn’t too heavy. This is why silks and faux silks are so popular for draperies – they drape well and naturally require more fullness due to their light weight. Increase the size of the stackback a bit, let the drapery overlap the window a bit more, and you’ll realize that you’ll be able to draw the draperies shut.
Let’s take a look at another example, using the same 40-inch window. Now, we’ll choose a 25-inch stackback instead of the 15-inch stackback we chose in the first example. Each drapery will cover about 10 inches of the window on each side this time.
Doing the math, the rod width comes out to 70 inches wide (40 + 25 + 25 – 10 – 10). To get a 25-inch stackback, each pinch pleat drapery should be about 37 inches wide at the top header (which translates to a width-and-a-half, or 75 inches at the bottom hem). For a pair, this comes out to 74 inches of coverage at the pleated header when the drapes are drawn shut.
Now, this will work on a 70-inch wide rod!
Measuring for draperies isn’t exactly a walk in the park. You may have to go back to the information above again to review, and don’t forget to use our guide and calculator. To summarize the information, the idea is that for decorative draperies, you want to make the rod as wide as possible to make a window appear wider and larger than it really is.
But for functional draperies (meaning they must be closed shut), there has to be more overlap with the window, the rod can’t be as wide, and you may have to add more fullness to make sure the drapes have enough coverage.