More options for your curtain design

By using a valance or other top treatment you open up a whole world of curtain design. There are any number of ways you can treat your windows once you decide to have some form of top treatment.

Two of the major advantages are hiding any track, rails or other hardware from which curtains are hung, and bringing color and pattern to the top of the window which can give balance to the overall window treatment.


A Valance

This is softer than a cornice box, and made from unstiffened fabric which is usually lined and interlined. You can have them gathered or pleated, either by hand or by using tapes just as you would make a curtain heading.

Alternatively, they can be made from just a flat piece of fabric. This is similar to the effect produced by an upholstered cornice box, but is much easier to implement.

The valance can then be fitted in a number of ways.

  • You can hang it from a track which is positioned just in front of the curtains track.
  • Or use a board to which you fix the curtain track, and then attach the valance track in front.
  • Alternatively, fix the top treatment to the front of the board by means of velcro. The board is usually fitted above the window frame using a number of strong brackets fixed firmly to the wall.


valance in living room

By using a valance at the top of these living room curtains, color has been introduced into the upper part of the room. This breaks up the area of wall above the windows making for a more relaxed and softer window treatment. Note also the large area rug where the tones of the red give warmth and life to the room.


Don't forget the extras

In the enthusiasm of designing and making your top treatments, it's easy to forget all the additional ways you can improve their looks.

One way is by using a border in contrasting fabric along the bottom edge. Or if your fabric has a distinct pattern, this can be cut out and placed on the top of a plain fabric.

You can buy all sorts of fringes and trimmings for your furnishings. These can be added to the base of your treatment and will give a professional finish to them.

Cornice box (or pelmet)

These are decorative covers which conceal the tops of curtains and any other unsightly bits such as rails and fittings. A rule of thumb is to make the depth of a cornice box no deeper than one sixth of the overall curtain drop. This can vary depending on the shape. If the cornice box is shaped, then the depth may be less.

Another guide is to make the depth of the cornice box 1.5 inches for every foot of curtain drop. For example, if your curtains are 8 feet long, the average depth of the cornice box would be 1 foot (1.5 inches X 8).

Originally cornice boxes were carved and gilded, and you can still find examples in antique stores.

Cornice boxes are usually made of a very stiff base material such as buckram, or for a more professional effect from wood (hardboard). This is then covered with a fabric, usually the same as the curtains.

A shaped cornice box is an excellent way of disguising an ordinary straight curtain track and makes a plain window far more interesting.


red valance

Because the straight red valance is so strong, it defines the decor of this bedroom. But notice the bottom edges, how they are edged in a plain white border. This gives relief from the strong red color, which is particularly noticeable where the curtains are seen behind.




These consist of one or more pieces of fabric gathered and draped in various ways.

But be aware that this can be a complex curtain design.

Many of the most 'natural' looking swag drapes - which appear to sweep majestically above the curtains - are very carefully and cleverly made. Even sheer fabrics which look simple are carefully arranged to achieve the required effect.

A set of top drapes is also referred to as 'swags and tails' or 'swags and jabots' when the central semi-circular or tear-drop shaped drapes are framed on either side by 'tails' or 'jabots'- pieces of folded fabric which are as much as one half the length of the curtains.


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