Friday, July 9, 2010

Leather Curtain & Tie-Back Tutorial

Now that the book tour and Disneyland craziness is over, I can get back to the long-delayed curtain tutorial!

As you may recall, this is what the finished product looks like:

Here's what we started with: a $20 set of curtains purchased at Ross.

 We bought them because we liked the copper rings on top and the waffle-weave texture:

There were just two problems:

1) It turned out the curtains were the exact same color as the walls, so they looked big, blank, and boring.

2) Someone else really liked the waffle-weave texture, too. This someone:

As you can see, she feels *terribly* about what she did. Really.
Yep, our one-year-old kitty Tonks had never experienced the joys of climbing curtains before, and these provided all the right claw-holds.

Within a week, our poor curtains looked like this:

Since the destruction only went up about four feet, though, I decided to try and salvage the top halves and replace the bottoms with faux leather.

The process was pretty simple. First we cut:

Then we trimmed the vinyl (purchased at Jo-Ann's with one of their 40% off coupons - woot!) to the same width as the fabric panels, allowing extra for a hemmed edge:

Now you guys can't say I never post photos of myself anymore. :) Also, I'd like to say my hair looks especially bad here, but sadly, it doesn't.

We planned to hem the edges on the sewing machine, but first, since you can't exactly iron vinyl (heh), John used some carpet adhesive tape (double-sided) to press the edges down. He used a heavy hardcover book and stood on it to make a nice, crisp edge.

The trouble came when we tried to go back and hem through the edges. The carpet tape is insanely sticky, and gunked up the needle. So, we nixed the hemming idea. Fortunately the tape is strong enough that it looks and holds up just fine.

To attach the vinyl to the fabric curtains, we first taped/hemmed the sides and top edge. (We left the bottom for the time being.) Then we used our machine to stitch just below the top hemmed edge of the vinyl to the fabric panel, as you can see here:

Because the stitching is below the adhesive, and is only on one layer of vinyl, there were no needle-gunking issues. Of course, this also meant that the top 2 inches of the vinyl gapped open, like a flap. Enter the penny buttons. I had to hand stitch through all three layers: the doubled-over vinyl and the fabric panel, so that the buttons held the vinyl flap taut. And yes, it was a real pain to do. (Thank goodness for thimbles.)

Lastly, we hung the curtains, measured where we wanted the bottoms to fall, and cut and hemmed them with more carpet adhesive tape.

At this point, I thought we were done.

Then I tried to open the curtains. Heh.

It turned out that the vinyl was too thick to allow the panels to scrunch together very well; the bottom halves just didn't want to stay open. So, necessity being the mother of invention, we started brainstorming tie-backs.

In the end, I'm glad we hit this speedbump, because I think the tie-backs are the coolest part. :) Plus, they were fun and cheap to make.

Here's what you need:

The cotton rope you may have to order online, since you want something pretty thick. (This is a one inch diameter rope.) We found ours at for around $13 with shipping.

Other than that, you'll need copper caps and tubes from the plumbing section of any hardware store, two wall hooks, and some heavy copper wire. (Ours was salvaged from old electrical wire John had in the garage.)

To make your tie-back caps, first bend your wire around a broom handle or stick to get a good circle:

Then snip the edges:

And bend them out, so you get this shape:

Next drill two small holes (just slightly thicker than your copper wire) into each copper cap:

Now insert the wire ends into those holes...

And use a thick screwdriver to bend the edges out inside the cap, so the ring is held firmly in place:
As you can see, John braced the cap on the broom handle to do this part. Be careful, though; the cap could slip.

The finished caps:

Ok, now we're on the home stretch!

To cut your rope, first wrap some masking or painter's tape around the area you want to cut, and then saw through the taped area with a sharp blade.

The tape is extremely important: without it, your rope will unravel into a miniature mop-head.

Next, slop some heavy-duty glue or epoxy into your copper cap:

And without removing the tape, jam the end of your rope into the cap:

Your tape shouldn't show. If it does, you are using some insanely wide tape. Stop that.

Before you attach the second cap, slide on the copper tube or any other kind of embellishment you want to use. You could also knot another piece of rope in the middle, and let the ends dangle. Oh, or how about a bunch of metal rings? Really, there are all kinds of fun options.

Next, I dunked each tie-back in coffee to age it a little.

As you can see from my test swatch of rope in the picture before this, the coffee only darkened the rope by a teensy amount - but it's still better than the stark white is used to be.

And finally, we hung the wall hooks where we wanted them, and, voila!

It's hard to get a good shot with my dining table in the way, but you get the idea.

And that's our curtains! Hope this was helpful/entertaining for some of you. Let me know if you try any of this yourselves; I would *love* to see what you guys come up with!


Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. Nice job! Love your inventiveness! :)

  2. Just have to say that I love the fact that you named your cat Tonks. It makes me giggle like the nerd I secretly am! Also I think this blog might be better than the other by a smidge because it really lets you talk about more things, and be more humorous!

  3. Jen, thank for the tutorial! You're an angel for doing that for us!! (and your hair isn't that bad!)

  4. So cool! And it looks so professional, too! Love it! Well done!

  5. LOVE them! They turned out great & look like they work perfectly with the rest of your dining room.

    Please, be sure to do more tutorials, I don't even care what for, because as usual, you just crack me up.

  6. Too cool. I might actually try to do something like that some day, so I am glad to know that this tutorial is here for when I need it :D

    And, you are hilarious. I love when you post stuff cause I know I will be happier! THANK YOU!

    "If it does, you are using some insanely wide tape. Stop that." Favorite quote of the week.

  7. Hi Jen

    Love the curtains! In fact, love the whole dining room.

    I thought I'd clue you in to some artwork that would be truly awesome in your steampunk dining room. Check out It's kinetic sculpture. Way cool. My favorite is "Tri-fusion" (
    That's what's hanging above our fireplace. Only problem, it's not exactly decorating on a budget! I had spent literally years drooling over the website before we could afford it. (My most excellent husband bought it for me for my birthday)

    Anyway, when I saw the pics of your dining room, all I could think was that one David Roy's sculptures would look great on the walls.

    Thanks for both Epbot and CW - they always make my day. If you and John ever find yourselves in the DC area again, you've got a standing invitation for dinner!

  8. Pretty cool. I'm wondering-would it work to use a small leather punch on the vinyl (when prepping to sew on the buttons) so that you are still ancoring it but not having to run the needle through it? In my head you'd be sewing the buttons to the fabric curtain behind/through the vinyl, which might not be correct...

  9. I totally love the way your minds work!
    This is a great idea, effective and costs little :)

  10. So clever you two! The curtains are so very lovely.

    ( john, stop biting your nails! lol )

  11. Well, besides the perfect climbing wall for Tonks, it would have also been a handy cat combing area. Cats love to rub against curtains (even more so in getting access to the window or sliding glass door behind) and the window pane texture would have had much clinging fur on it in no time.

    Jeanine (the cat queen) feeder of 7

  12. Great tutorial.

    Another place for rope, but you would call it "line" is at your local West Marine or Port Supply if you live by the water. The style you used is super cheap there, but not cotton, which means you can "treat"/melt the ends to keep them from unraveling. (Former sailboat owner.)

  13. The curtains look amazing, and like several other readers, I'm also geeking out over the fact you named your cat Tonks! :)

  14. Love this site, love the tutorials, love the pictures. And get out about your hair -- it is lovely. Thanks for sharing. More! More! We want more!

  15. Very very cool!!! As for creating some steampunk inspired decor, well, I'm still trying to explain to my husband what steampunk is...

  16. For a possibly cheaper rope option, try heading to your local feed store and pick up a cotton lead rope. The lead ropes can also be ordered online for about half the price of the rope.

  17. I am inspired by your blog(s)! Love the curtains, hope Tonks keeps off 'em. Happy Weekend!

  18. That is kickass. I love the entire room, really - it's very steampunk without being overwhelming, even non-steam types will be comfortable there. Very classy. And I may have to try a rope tieback... Hm, I wonder where it would fit in my house...

  19. Love the room! Love the cat! Love the tutorial! (but, I found a spelling error! I know, what are the chances?? Like zilch~ ) Anyway "taught" should be "taut" in this case.

  20. Wow, that's great, very creative!

    I think that black tea actually works better as a dye to artificially "age" fabrics, you could try that next time ;)

  21. Smart, funny, AND creative! You two are amazing!

  22. I always admire people like you who can make things yourselves and create such great looks. I have to say that for myself, my eyes sort of glazed over on step 3. (OK, really, on step 1.) I'm really, really, really not handy. But I applaud those who are! Great job--the dining room looks wonderful. Tell you what--I'll be happy to cook anything you want to SERVE in that room. Cooking I can do! :)

  23. @ Carolina - WOW - those kinetic sculptures are awesome! I literally "oooohed."

    @ Shawnette - No, you're right; and we did cut a slit in the top layer of vinyl so I could get the needle through a bit easier. Really, we could/should have punched through both layers like you said, though, and just attached to the cotton beneath. Now I know for next time!

    @ Diana - Ha, you tell him! John started nail-biting again back when he was in the ER on the first book tour, and hasn't been able to stop since. I say we gang up on him. :D

  24. Very very nice! That leather addition is genius.

    Our cat even destroyed metal mini-blinds.

    Great pix to showcase your crafty inventive ways.

  25. I LOVE that you shared this tutorial with us. I've had a number of curtains ruined by athletic cats (try waking up to two doing an olympic diving competition from the curtain rod halfway across the room to your pillow). Its great to see how another pet parent handles this problem without breaking the bank to buy replacements (the curtains, not the cats ;) ). And with such flare too!

  26. Just had to comment that my cat's name is Remus... I think I hear wedding bells!

  27. Wow, Tonks looks *exactly* like my Saffron, right down to the odd tortie spots and the extra medium-hair fluff (if I'm reading the photo correctly). Clone kitties ♥.d

  28. What a cool idea! I love how creative you get with your decorative ideas, as a new home owner I've been trying to figure out ways to make our space decisively cool, personalized and outside of the box. Your posts help to get the wheels turning and remind me to work with what I have and to decorate for myself! I always come back to see what else you are doing, great work :)

  29. Do I spot a copper wiring smiley face in the photo of the finished caps?

  30. I was wondering how you bent the pennies! I have tried, but break more then I bend. Did you find a successful method?

  31. For sewing thru vinyl and leather use a glover needle. They are available for hand and machine sewing. It helps alot when trying to go thru massive amounts of thick fabric as well.

    Your dining room is beautiful. I don't have cats to worry about, just three small children. I don't get to do a lot in the way of decor, sadly.

  32. I must say, that as much as I love CW, this blog is fast becoming a new 'must read'.

    Thank you for all the entertaining, informative and fun stuff.

  33. I am old. I don't know what Steampunk is. Love the curtains, love the site. Love the dining room!

  34. lovely tutorial and curtains! Pro tips for sewing: if you have to sew through something sticky (sticky-back velcro comes up the most) wipe the needle with silicone lubricant first. You'll have to re-do it periodically, but it helps a great deal.
    The other solution is to not use tape, but mark the back of the vinyl, fold to that line and sew as you fold, then top stitch near the outer edge to fold the vinyl down for a crisp edge. You can also cut the vinyl in a shaped or scalloped edge and leave it (it doesn't fray), though you may need to skive the back or edge-dress it if the inside of the vinyl looks bad at the edge. Just more ideas from an upholsterer and CW fan :)

  35. asked if I was doing a history project on wars...some one was looking over my shoulder ate photo of the rope and wire and copper caps and they thought the copper caps were gun caps!

  36. Love the curtains and the cat's name. You have inspired us to turn our den into a steampunk library.

    @anony at 11:56 - the penny tutorial is in the archives on the June 11th posting.

    ps - Is there a problem with CW? We haven't been able to go there for a couple of days.

  37. Wow, you guys are amazing. You had me up until the copper end rope thingies. I probably would have surrendered at that point and bought some awful rope things with tassles. :0
    Clearly, Tonks wanted awesome pressed penny, leather-like curtains too. Good kitty.

  38. I'm floored! Those look so amazing that I'd have sworn that they were bought like that. Love the penny buttons so much.... :)

  39. I never knew steampunk existed before you blog, but now I cannot imagine a world without it. My bf is so glad (yeah, right) I have all these projects for us to do now! Seriously love your blog.

  40. awesome! that's such a rad idea! wish I had that much patience, but two toddlers make me wish i had curtains to begin with. yeah. it's THAT crazy.

  41. Lovely tutorial, Jen! Very nice!

  42. Steampunk is pretty popular at ComicCon in San Diego, lots of girls and guys dress up in incredibly beautiful costumes.

    You should go sometime, you would melt from the awesomeness, I promise!

  43. Wow. You have raised my non-craftiness bar to almost having a desire to do a craft.

  44. Tea works wonders for darkening. I "aged" paper for a project in school by microwaving the paper in a bowl of tea.

    Also, the curtains would have looked neat with sisal rope instead of the cotton!

  45. I'd go one step further with the leather punch idea. Put a hole through all of the layers (even the curtain fabric) then use plain small buttons on the back to hold your penny buttons in place. Essentially, you are sewing the two buttons together through the hole in the fabric. You'll have to stitch a bit loosely to be able to work the needle, but if you use heavy carpet/button thread, you should be able to pull it snug once you've taken two or three passes through. Well done, though, they look great!

  46. Ever since you did your steam punk cake feature, I've been gaining an appreciation for the style.

    I really like your dinning room. I love your ingenuity with the curtains too.

  47. I love the copper caps. I have been wanting to pick some of those up for crafting. I wonder if they have small enough ones for making jewelry with?

  48. Maybe you should get this steampunk Mr. Potato Head to accessorize your room:

  49. I loved the curtains so I tried to make a similar version for my living room. I decided the taping instead of sewing sounded great, so that's what I did. But it won't hold. It did for a day or so, but then it stopped. Maybe it's the humidity or the sun, I don't know, but it didn't work. :( So now I'll either have to figure out a way to get the tape off and sew them,or else I may try some glue. Probably glue.

  50. Soy sauce stains things much darker than coffee will. Would also look great with the leather and such.

  51. So perfect for me =)
    You're absolute right about your kitty. Mine too =<

  52. if you wanted to try dying the tie-backs a second time, i would either suggest a strong black tea, (thanks Tinu) or even just using the black coffee a couple more times :)


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