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At 23, I moved to Brooklyn naïve and frugal. “You need window treatments,” my mom insisted, but I demurred. I like to wake up to sunlight. There’s a lush green tree outside my window. If I can’t see my neighbors, they can’t see me.
Come winter, I could see my neighbors.
I bought flimsy cellular blinds for privacy. They did the trick, but felt sorely out of their element in an Italianate brownstone. When I spotted a neighboring brownstones’ burlap panel curtain from the street, I realized the true genius of burlap as a DIY material: easy sewing.
Though burlap is a dream to stitch, it does come with trade-offs:
- Pro: The loose weave creates a grid, making needlework more like needlepointing, less like sewing.
- Con: The loose weave makes it relatively sheer, meaning you may need to double-up for privacy. This is not a blackout curtain.
- Pro: You can buy a 10’ bolt at a garden store for around $9.
- Con: Some DIYers report that their burlap, intended for outdoor landscaping, sheds indoors. We didn’t experience this with our test run, but it’s a risk to keep in mind. Check how much the fabric you're considering sheds before purchasing.
Ready? Here's how to make a burlap roller shade for your windows.
Here's what you'll need:
- One roll of burlap (you can find a variety of widths online; aim to purchase one that's 1 or 2 inches less wide than your window frame. For the window pictured I used a 3-foot wide roll.)
- A straight edge for cutting
- A razor blade
- Jute thread (or other thread that will blend in with burlap)
- A needle with an eye large enough to fit your thread
- One set of wooden closet pole sockets
- A drill
- Two wooden dowels (I used a 1-inch thick dowel for the top and 1/2-inch dowel for the bottom.)
- A staple gun
- A handsaw (optional; you may be able to have your wooden dowels cut at your local home improvement or hardware store.)
1. Install pole sockets on the inside of your window frame
Determine the height at which you’d like your curtain to hang. Mark the center of each pole socket, drill a pilot hole, and then attach the pole socket to the window frame with a single screw. (Use an anchor if the material your drilling into requires it.)
Note: if your window construction doesn’t allow for an inside mount, don’t fret! You can substitute the pole sockets for curtain rod brackets. The rest of the steps are the same. Just make sure you cut the wooden dowel to the appropriate length to rest in the brackets!
2. Cut wooden dowels
Measure the distance from the inside of one socket to the inside of its mate. Cut both wooden dowels to this length. If you’re planning to purchase pre-cut dowels from the hardware store, measure the width of your window frame less the thickness the pole sockets to determine the correct length.
3. Staple burlap to large wooden dowel
Use your staple gun to attach one end of the burlap roll to the thicker of the two wooden dowels. Be sure to staple diagonally across the warp and waft, or the burlap may wriggle out of the staple.
4. Determine the length of your curtain and cut it
If you’d like to create some visual bulk at the top of the curtain, roll the burlap around the dowel a couple times. Once you’re satisfied, hang the dowel in the sockets and unroll the burlap bolt until you reach your desired length. Add an extra couple of inches (enough to circumnavigate your thinner wooden dowel) and mark it.
Using a straight edge and a razor blade on an appropriate cutting surface, cut the burlap at your mark.
5. Sew (kinda)
Fold this newly cut end of the burlap around your thinner wooden dowel loosely. Remove the dowel, but leave the burlap folded over itself.
Thread the needle with your jute thread. Start sewing a pocket for the dowel by inserting the needle through both layers of burlap, beginning at one edge.
If you imagine that the warp and weft create a grid, you want your first stitch to traverse one spot to the right and one spot up (as in the image above, which we demonstrated with cotton twine so you can see it), diagonally. Essentially, it’s a needlepoint half-stitch. Lock in your first and last stitch in the row by creating an X.
Keep going until you've stitched all the way across the fabric, then thread the thinner wooden dowel through the pocket you made. This bottom dowel serves to weight the curtain.
6. Hang, and enjoy!
Insert the top wooden dowel in the pole sockets.
To raise the shade, simply roll the top dowel to draw up the lighter end. The burlap is lightweight and course enough that it should raise up a few inches and stay put, no problem.
What else do you use burlap for around the home? Share your ideas in the comments.