Eleanor Flegg talks to curtain expert Mary Wrynn, who knows where to draw the line on poles, fabrics and pleats
IF windows are the eyes of the house, then curtains are your mascara and eye shadow. Get them right and the room looks quietly brilliant. Get them wrong and your guests won't know where to look.
"People feel that they can relax once they have the curtains up," says Mary Wrynn, who has been making curtains from Mohill, Co Leitrim, for the past twenty years.
She runs a concept-to-installation service that takes her customers through the curtain-making process from start to finish.
"I'll come out to people's homes with samples and help them decide what they want. I try not to steer them too much – if they want flowers they'll get flowers. Then I have the curtains made up for them but I also make sure that everything's installed properly and steam-fitted. The fitting is very important and I like to see it done properly. It's better than throwing holy water at them – as you send them away with a bundle under their arm."
Wrynn runs a luxury service but her fabrics begin at €25 per metre with an average customer paying around €45 per metre. The making service then costs around €45 per drop (length of fabric).
She says the front window of a house would have four drops, which would leave you with a making fee of €180 on top of what you paid for fabric and lining, not counting variables like pelmets and interlining.
Wrynn finds that most of her customers spend between €700 and €1,000 on a nice set of curtains for their main front window, everything included.
"You still get the same level of attention even if you're going for a cheaper fabric," she says.
"I do the fancy fit-outs in Mount Merrion but my bread and butter is the average person wanting their front room to look nice for Christmas. People love their curtains. There's a lot of hard surfaces in homes nowadays and curtains help to soften the blow."
So how do we make the right curtain call?
According to Wrynn, the most common mistake that people make is skimping on fabric, which needs to be at least two and a half times the width of the pole.
"Without that width of fabric there's not enough fullness in the curtain," she says. "They'll meet in the middle but they won't look decent."
She also advises against machine stitching the sides of the curtain. These must be sewn by hand, which allows the stitching to ease out when the curtain is hung.
And do use a strong enough pole. "A weak pole doesn't have the durability to hold good strong curtains. A decent pole is the making of the curtain."
Another pitfall is to economise on the lining. "Cheap linings don't last," Wrynn announces. "The lining is the future of the curtain." She expects her curtains to last at least fifteen years, but only if you treat them right. Never stuff your curtains in the washing machine. You need to hire a good dry cleaner to take them down, clean them, and put them up again.
It's no surprise that Wrynn doesn't approve of ready-made curtains in general. "If you have to go for ready-mades get the cheapest that you can and change them as soon as you can afford to. Or just use a roller blind. Anyone can live with a roller blind."
But if you are going down the ready-made route, expect to pay a mere €65 for a pair of 90 x 90cm curtains from Dunnes and up to €75 for the equivalent from Heatons.
Ikea also has ready made curtains in interesting patterns and natural fabrics from €45 for a pair. In all cases, remember that cords are a potential hazard to small children and make sure that any curtains or blinds meet the current safety standards.
An alternative to having your curtains made for you is to learn how to make them yourself.
Murphy Sheehy is an Aladdin's Cave of fabric on Castle Market, just the other side of the George's Street Arcade in Dublin. They've now cleared out the first floor and turned it into a studio where they run a one-day workshop in interior sewing about every two months.
The workshop costs €90 and will teach you how to measure up a window, cut out the fabric, sew the hems, and finish the curtain with a pencil pleat.
You take the sample home with you to use as a template when you embark on making your own full set of curtains.
Fabric for the curtain is included in the price, and the instructor always uses a print fabric, which is more difficult to match up, so that the students learn all the skills. You'll also be introduced to French pleating, which is also called triple pleating and involves three pleats gathered together with a space between them.
Murphy Sheehy also run a curtain-making service, which costs around €55 per drop for French pleating and €65 if the curtain is interlined (much to be recommended if you don't have double glazing).
If you bring in the measurements of your window into the shop they'll give you a rough idea and then send a fitter to your home to give you an exact quote.