Curtains and awnings are two great ways to keep heat out of your boat when sailing in the tropics. I have written about designing a awning, but this week I did the first set of curtains for Eurybia. I liked the flexibility of the design of these curtains, and they were quick and easy to sew as well. And if you haven’t used grommets in your sewing before this article will introduce you to using them in your work.
Goal for the Curtain Design
Our boat has small opening ports, larger fixed ports, and hatches. Some of the ports have lots of room around them for mounting curtain hardware, some have almost no room. I wanted a solution that could be adapted to all these situations without appearing to be different designs when they were done. Also I wanted to use different material in the salon and the aft berth, but wanted them to appear “related”. And finally I wanted them to be easy to sew, easy to mount and de-mount for cleaning, easy to close or keep open. I think this design meets those objectives, but you be the judge whether it would work in your boat.
Tools and Methods for Making and Hanging the Curtains
For ease of installation (and removal for cleaning) I chose to hang the curtains on leech line threaded through grommets punched into the curtains. You could use elastic cord instead of the leech line just as easily. The line runs through padeyes to optional cleats for tightening. I used 1/8″ leech line, the smallest padeyes we could find, and #1 spur grommets. We also used small cleats for tying off the leech line, but you could use a trucker’s hitch instead which provides a mechanical advantage while being tightened so that the line doesn’t slip loose. We got the leech line, padeyes, and cleats at our local marine hardware store.
I have standardized on #1 spur grommets for my sewing kit. It is helpful to standardize on one size and one style (spur vs plain) because the cutters and dies are expensive and are different for spur or plain grommets. Spur grommets are stronger for high-demand uses, but are certainly NOT needed for this job. But since the spur grommets are not much more expensive than plain grommets, and the dies are $30 or more, I decided to use the spur grommets I had even though I didn’t need the strength. Think about where grommets might be useful on your boat – you may want to go with a system that you can use for other things.
A big heavy “dead-blow” hammer or rubber mallet is the ideal tool for cutting holes and fastening compression hardware like snaps, grommets, or twist-lock fasteners. There are several styles of hammers available at SailRite.com . I use this mallet (see right) but it has become very expensive so I would have to recommend the less expensive dead blow hammer. It might be helpful to view a video of SailRite’s demo of various hammers and mallets.
Each hole cutter is associated with a particular grommet size, and this number is stamped into the shaft. Review this chart of grommet sizes to decide what you want to use. The hole in the grommet has to be large enough to accommodate the size line you want to use, but not so large that a knot in the line will slip right through. For a #1 grommet, which is what I use, the #1 hole cutter or even a #2 will work well. It is better to have the hole a little larger rather than a little smaller. If you create too small a hole for the grommet the material will bunch up around the outside of the grommet.
If you choose to hammer in the grommets you will need to buy a grommet die set which include a base to hold the male portion and a setting tool to hammer into the female portion. They will need to match the style of the grommet (spur or plain) and the size (0 to 5 are fairly standard).
You can fasten grommets with a dead-blow hammer and die set, or if you anticipate doing a lot of them you might choose to buy a Press-N-Snap. The Press-N-Snap can assist with attaching snaps, grommets, and can even cut the holes for the grommet, but each task requires additional dies. There is also a bench mount for the Press-N-Snap that makes it much easier to use.
The Sailrite Video on using the Press-N-Snap is quite useful – it introduces you to some of the ways you can use it.
Whatever system you go with the place the male part of the grommet down on the surface with the fabric face down over it, then place the female grommet with spurs down on the top of the fabric. Then hammer or press-n-snap together. It’s important to have the female grommet on the backside of the material as it is a less attractive finish than the male side after it is hammered on. See below for a comparison.
Appropriate Materials for Curtains
You have many choices of material for curtains. You can go with Sunbrella or other marine materials, but you certainly don’t need to. I selected a cotton print and added mid-weight interfacing to stiffen it, then a drapery lining for the back. Drapery linings come in many styles and can provide blackout if you want a really dark cabin. They all will help reflect heat and provide some insulating properties. They also will prolong the life of your curtain material by protecting it from the sun coming through the port. I used an inexpensive lining material that provides some insulation from heat.
The Curtain Design
Making these curtains is like making a pillowcase. After sewing the three sides together you turn it right-side out, fold in the last side and top-stitch around the whole thing. You don’t need to do any hand sewing. Next sew pleats to make them fold more evenly, and add the grommets last.
I found that about 15″ of curtain length for each 12″ of wall provided adequate length for pleating. For curtain height I gave a couple of inches above the port to provide room for the grommet and then a couple of inches below the port to balance. Then I added 1″ to each dimension to provide a .5″ hem on each side. Cut the lining to the same size as the front material. The interfacing can be 1″ smaller in each direction. For curtains with a finished height of 12″ I cut the liner and face material to 13″ by the length + 1″. I cut the interfacing to 12″ by length.
Sewing the Curtain
- Cut the face material and liner to (Finished Height + 1″) by (Finished Length + 1″)
- Cut the interfacing (if using) to Finished Height x Finished Length
- Iron the fusible interface to the wrong side of the face material.
- Pin the facing material and lining material together, right sides together. Starting on a long side, sew three sides together with a 1/2″ hem. Leave the fourth, short side open.
- Turn the “pillowcase” right side out, making sure to poke the corners out so they are square. (a chopstick works well!)
- Tuck the fourth edge inside and iron and pin this last hem so the cut edges are hidden.
- Top sew around all four sides with a narrow hem – about 1/4″ is fine.
- Determine your pleats placement. The pleats should be 2″ to 5″ deep, depending on the size of the curtain. Divide the length evenly so that the pleats are all the same size and you have an EVEN number of pleats. For 30″ curtain you could have six 5″ pleats or eight 3.75″ pleats. For awkward lengths like 31″ fold the material in half, then in half again, and repeat until you have about panels roughly 3″-5″ in width.
- Mark (on wrong side) the pleat placements as determined in the previous step. For the first pleat fold along the pleat line with right sides together and sew a very narrow pleat: 1/8″ or less. At the second pleat fold along the pleat line with wrong sides together and sew a very narrow pleat. Repeat for rest of pleats alternating the direction of the fold for each one.
Grommets and Hanging
There will be one grommet between each set of pleats, but they don’t have to be centered in the pleat. I prefer to have the grommets for the back facing pleats only 2″ apart and the forward facing plates to be further apart. This is because the line that the curtains hang on tends to be mounted close to the wall and there will not be room for the curtain to flow smoothly behind it. Plus it is more dramatic to have the curtain protruding into the space.
For an easy way to line up the grommets stack the folded panels in one stack. Stick a long pin into the stack so that pin is 1″ from the top and 1″ from one side or wherever you wish it to be. This marks all the grommets and keeps them lined up and uniform. Open up the material one pleat at a time and mark the location of each grommet by placing a mark where the pin penetrates.
For the curtain below I put the pin about 1″ from the back side and about 3″ from the front side – this is equivalent to placing the grommets at 1″, 6″, 2″, 6″, 2″, 6″ etc.
Cut the grommet holes in the marked locations using the Hole Cutter. Apply the grommets with hammer or Press-N-Snap. Tie one end of the leech line to the far padeye. String the line through the grommets and secure the second end either with a Trucker’s Hitch, half-hitches or a cleat.
That’s it! Enjoy your beautiful work!
You can also use this basic design with variations in different areas of your boat. For hatches add grommets to top and bottom of the curtain and run them on two lines on either side of the hatch. For areas where you do not have room to run a line to hang the curtain you could use twist ties to attach the curtain. Use your imagination to solve other installation issues. The design is quite flexible and minimizing the visual differences will streamline the look.
If you make curtains like this please post a picture! I’d enjoy seeing your own variations.
Thanks very much for such well-written (and illustrated) instructions for making these boat curtains. Your design was the perfect fit for the cabin of our Spencer 31 sailboat “Windsong”. As I’ve no sewing skills, I used ultra-hold fusing tape to “stitch” things together instead; hopefully, these will remain intact through the moderate heat of Pacific Northwest summers. I’ve attached a photo of the completed and installed curtains here.
Fantastic! I’m so glad the instructions helped. It sure looks great.