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For Soft Light (and Farmhouse Vibes), DIY Rustic Burlap Roller Shades

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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.

You're going to make this and it's going to be adorable.
You're going to make this and it's going to be adorable. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

Light coverage, with softened natural light filtering through.
Light coverage, with softened natural light filtering through. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.)
Hardware store supplies.
Hardware store supplies. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.)

You only need one screw to get each socket on the wall.
You only need one screw to get each socket on the wall. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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!

How your sockets will look and work. (Pretend this isn't a copper rod! We don't recommend using one for this DIY, since you need to staple the fabric to it to secure.) Photos by Mark Weinberg

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.

A staple gun will secure the loose weave of the burlap to your curtain rod. Photos by Mark Weinberg

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.

Box-cutter or burlap-cutter? It can be both.
Box-cutter or burlap-cutter? It can be both. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

Bind the two sides of burlap together with a diagonal stitch.
Bind the two sides of burlap together with a diagonal stitch. Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

Both dowels secure? You're ready to hang it!
Both dowels secure? You're ready to hang it! Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

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.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

What else do you use burlap for around the home? Share your ideas in the comments.

Tags: curtains, burlap