Ask us how we are and we’ll probably lie. But look at our windows and you’ll know. More sweat than swag? Bespoke curtain rails or just off the rails? Fabric puddling – or just muddling? Put up some interlined curtains or a well-made blind and all that changes. They’ll pull a room together sure, but crucially they’ll make you LOOK more together. Good curtains scream, “I’m in control.” And it needn’t cost a packet to have curtains that don’t come in a packet.
The commitment of curtains is terrifying. What if you choose the wrong design? Or length? Eyelet or the old style hooks? Would a Roman blind work better there? French pleat? Stop. Breathe. We’ve found some of the best curtain makers in the country and that includes blinds, shutters, some amazing fabrics and more. These creative geniuses will help you navigate the mystifying world of window dressing. Help you sort your tracks from your stack backs, your linings from your bindings. No, we can’t give you prices as we don’t know the shape or size of your window or what style you’re after or what fabric you’ll use. But none of this lot is a big chain; they’re well priced and personal.
1. SELF-TAUGHT STITCHER: RUTH GREAVES (BRISTOL)
A true creative. Ruth made her first dress when she was 10, went to art school, has been a hat maker, worked with antique lace… “I can work out how to do anything with material,” she says. We hear it’s true. She started on curtains when she was at home with 4 kids and wanted to make some cash – 20 years on she’s full-time and in demand. She’ll come round to measure up (there’s a charge, as people were taking the piss getting her to fine-tune the measurements then going elsewhere – but only about £30).
If you’ve no idea what you’re after, no probs, she’s good at the hand-holding/advice bit. Just don’t choose a trendy fabric that’s bad quality. It’s her pet hate. If it’s fashionable the price can be high but the quality can be terrible, she explains. “I’ve had expensive fabrics that are like paper when you start to sew them. If it’s good quality the fabric will last more than 30 years.” She makes a good Roman blind too: “When you can see the rod pockets on a Roman blind the rods often stick out after a while but I make them with no stitching showing.” It’s a science. So much so she reckons she’s better at maths now than she was at school.
2. DO-IT-ALL DRAPER: ALASDAIR ELLIOT AT THE TRACK HOUSE / THE CURTAIN EMPORIUM (WARWICKSHIRE)
“When you’ve been doing this for more than 35 years,” says Alasdair in his amiable, plummy drawl, “you can look at a window and know what’s going to work best on it. You just know.” His is a bit of a curtain empire, with The Track House as the curtain and blind making side (very bespoke, he assures us, no [sniffs]… contract work) and the sister business next door, The Curtain Emporium, selling stunning second-hand curtains (they have over 500 pairs and only take those in near-perfect condition). So either you buy your amazingly discounted curtains from the Emporium and Track House alters and fits them for you, or you get the whole shebang made from scratch by Track House.
“The important thing,” says Alasdair, “is to choose your fabric first. Before your paint or wallpaper.” You can always find a paint to match your fabric but not always the other way round. He’s keen to talk about his invention, a portiere rod. One of those rods that sit across the top of the front door so you can hang a thick curtain across the door and keep the draught out. The key to Alastair’s CosiDOR is that it rises when you open the door so you don’t need to draw it every time.
3. NORTHERN NEST EGG: WATH COURT FABRICS (YORKSHIRE)
We all have our coping strategies. For one of us, it’s Wath Court’s Facebook page. Fabrics, fabrics and more fabrics… florals, linens, tartans… and the prices! Paula set up the business on her return from Oz nearly 7 years ago but has worked in textiles forever. None of the fabric is damaged; she just buys discontinued or excess stock so you pay less. All the big designer names are here. Often a quarter of the normal price. One gorgeous Edinburgh Weavers duck egg fabric was £40 a metre from other shops. Here? A tenner! Which is why people trek from far and wide to rummage through her stock.
If it’s too far but you know what you’re after, give Paula a call and she’ll keep an eye out for it. She won’t make up curtains but she has a handful of great curtain makers she can direct you to. Even if you’ve wandered in with no measurements she’s a whizz at estimating how much fabric you’ll need. She’s so passionate about what she does, has such good prices and spends so much time helping you that we wonder how she ever makes any money. A gem.
4. THE POLE PEOPLE: MADE BY THE FORGE (IPSWICH)
You know how it is. You point out an iron curtain pole for the new home and your partner says, “£150! I can knock you up one of those in my forge!” At least that’s how it went for Julia. True, she’s married to a blacksmith. So partner Richard [who could have stepped out of a Thomas Hardy mini-series] started making things for their cottage in Suffolk. By and by, the vet came round and asked if he could have a few things made for his place. And Made By The Forge was born.
These are beautiful, sturdy, British-made poles. They’re not cheap but they’ll outlast all of us. If you can’t go there yourself, they’ve done a video online to take you through getting the exact measurements (once the iron is cast, that’s it) plus an online calculator to get a quick quote. Their poles have furnished everything from small cottages to Scottish castles, Medieval mansions to minimalist maisonettes. “People want something that’s well made,” Juliet says. She’s right. Why spend all that money on the curtains only to hang them on a cheap plastic rail? Anyway, there’s the whole romance of it. The blacksmith. The forge. The ‘Oh yes I had it cast by a blacksmith I know…’
5. FABRIC IN THE FARMYARD: SEAMSFINE (BUCKINGHAMSHIRE)
A welcome break from panic-inducing high street interiors shops, this is a beautiful set-up on a working farm. “Farming doesn’t earn much,” says Diana, so she set up the business in the barn to make a bit of cash. It’s a relaxed, friendly set-up with kids mucking about, customers sitting on sofas drinking coffee, browsing through sample books, talking through ideas. “It helps people to work out what they want if they’re here surrounded by gorgeous furnishings,” she says.
But don’t be fooled by the homespun sound of the barn, she recently did a shoot for Sanderson. Diana has clear ideas about what’ll work and what won’t. She’ll tell you if she thinks you’re losing the plot. In the nicest, sweetest way. Her top tip is not to choose your best fabric for the curtains you’re going to park in the spare room, put your best fabrics where you’ll see them all the time. “Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised,” she says.
6. PELMET-MAKER FOR THE PM: THE CURTAIN LADY (WANDSWORTH)
When one Midult commissioned Nick Meehan a.k.a The Curtain Lady (though definitely a man) to make a postage stamp sized blind for her grotty loo a while back, she had no idea his clients included Theresa May (he’s done three of her pads) or that many of his commissions involve him flying overseas to clients’ second homes. Oh the shame. But to his credit he took it on and the (teeny tiny) blind was (and still is) top quality.
Meehan is an interior designer advising people on the whole look of their home, though curtains, blinds and so on are his bread and butter. “Our clients tend to be people in terraced houses worth up to 5 million,” he says. He listens to what they want and will do anything from making up a curtain to putting you in touch with decorators, carpenters and any other hand-holding they might need. But he insists no job is too small. Beautiful curtains, we hear, not cheap but still cheaper than many of the larger chains. Or you could commission a cushion, he makes those too.
7. THE ORIGINAL SWAP SHOP: THE CURTAIN EXCHANGE (COLCHESTER/BATH/YORKSHIRE)
True pioneers of quality vintage, friends Liz and Juliana set up 28 years ago with nothing but a hunch that there were loads of amazing curtains out there, which weren’t being used. Turns out people liked the idea of having beautifully made curtains that cost a fraction of the actual price.
They now have three shops around the country in Colchester, Bath and Yorkshire. Forget those silly postage stamp swatches you get, these shops are big on volume, with acres and acres of gorgeous long curtains cascading from ceiling to floor. A really stunning set-up. You can even take them home to try out.
“Ideally you’d keep popping in as stock comes and goes quickly,” says Juliana. They design their own fabrics and do ready-made as well. You won’t be short on advice here. “When it comes to windows and fabric, we’ve seen every type of problem,” she says. “We’ll guide you as much as you want, measuring up, suggesting styles, supplying fabric, making up tracks and fitting. Good quality curtains will transform a room. And cheap, ready-made ones will kill one.” *does quick mental audit of home* We bought our first big girl curtains from their old Notting Hill shop back in the day. They made the pokey flat transform into a home back then and are still going strong today.
8. CELTIC CURTAIN KING: REMNANT KINGS (GLASGOW/EDINBURGH)
Just before I speak to her the lovely Helen has taken a call from a nervous chap who just moved into his first flat. He’s well out of his comfort zone but his mother told him to call. They’ve been making her curtains for years. It’s clear he’ll be scooped up and fitted with something fitting. Set up after the war and now in its third generation, this place is part of the Scottish establishment. “People are frightened,” Helen says. “They’ve no idea what they want: colours, fabrics, finishings, how to hang it. Pleats? Rings? Pelmet? Or might a blind be better? A roller? Roman?” Enough, we cry.
They do a lot of Edinburgh townhouses and flats but will also take on a challenge – they recently went to a large house in the middle of nowhere up north where they struggled (but managed) to get the fixings into the thick granite walls. Another fitter trekked over to Cambeltown (8-hour round trip) to fit out a house for Londoners setting up a B&B over there. The fitter will be going back, to fit the things once they’re done. Hear that, ye London curtain folk who won’t travel a mile off your patch!
9. EXQUISITE & ETHICAL: MALTHOUSE AND SUMMER (GODALMING)
This is about as far from the department store curtain buying process as it gets. Aimee is VERY bespoke. Her curtains could make us weep. She’s an absolute perfectionist but she needs you to be on board with how she works. She’ll ask you whether you’ve had curtains made before because she needs you to know this isn’t Ikea, it’s a very personalised, quality piece of work that’ll look amazing and last years. She knows who all her suppliers are, only uses fabrics from British and Irish mills and won’t use your fabric, as she can’t vouch for the quality. As she puts it, you either get it or you don’t. But if you’re on board with all of this (and there’s little to argue with) she’s a delight.
She’s truly passionate about what she does and is involved in the whole process. She’ll come to your house, so when you say you’d like pale silk curtains in the sitting room she can point to the jam-encrusted toddlers and a large dog and suggest perhaps another fabric would be more hard wearing? She’ll go anywhere from Hampshire to South London and across to Sussex.
A real problem solver with a talent for listening and tapping into who you are and what your style is. Even when you don’t know it yourself. She worked in high net worth insurance in her past life, so she has a good understanding of project management and costs.
10. OLD SCHOOL WONDERS: WONDERSTITCHES (TWICKENHAM)
They don’t make them like this anymore, at least not in London. Good, old school curtain makers set up by a skilled curtain maker and run by her son, with a workroom on site and lots of down-to-earth advice. Their style is unflashy and hands-on. They know it’s not cheap to have curtains made so are determined to get it right for you. If they think you’re mad to choose that fabric or that style, they’ll tell you. We know this, as our Midult’s curtain choice (think swags and pelmets) was definitely channelling her fantasy Georgian townhouse NOT her actual 1960s ex-local authority flat, but they let her down gently and guided her towards something more suitable.
One thing they’re not old school on is communication. They’re always texting, emailing, sending the latest pics to check you’re OK with progress – very comforting as when you’re spending upwards of £1,000 you don’t want any surprises when the end product is unveiled. We won’t let you do your own fitting they say sternly. And we don’t just deliver the product; we need people to be 100 % happy that our craftsmanship is perfect. They’ll also remake or alter curtains, so you might get a Roman blind made out of some old curtains you can’t use, or cushions. They just made some beautiful but damaged curtains into two wonderful blinds. Genius.
11. AT THE CUTTING EDGE: SCISSOR SISTERS (BURGESS HILL)
If you’re after something a bit less I’m-turning-into-my-mother-ish, Melinda’s your woman. She’s up on all the new fittings, fixtures and fabrics out there and very can-do with it. We hear she’s good for the soul, too, tripping up with a ton of fabric books, sitting on your sofa chatting, talking you through the options, your lifestyle, pinning down your personal style. Why is fabric so darn therapeutic?
She’s bang up to date on the latest tech, from Roman blinds which you can now make so big they’ll cover massive bi-fold doors to wave headed curtains, the big new thing from the States. She works with three other ladies and is expanding the business next year. Her big advice is poles. Make sure you have the right tracks and poles because it makes such a difference. What’s the point in spending money on curtains if you’re going to be yanking them across a rickety old track for years? Spend a little bit of money on getting it right, even if there is a perfectly good pole there already.
12. THE FAKE-IT FILM: WINDOW FILM COMPANY (BUCKINGHAMSHIRE)
Remember when you had to cover your science book with sticky back plastic and no matter how many pairs of hands, rulers and heavy encyclopedias you threw at it there was always that sodding bubble in the middle. God the rage. This is what put our Midult off doing the window film for so long. Obviously she’d love to commission some beautiful bespoke frosted glass from the local glazier (don’t rub it in) but when one quote came in at £3,000+ she opted for the cheat route.
You choose your design from the website and in among the naff ferny, hearty options there are some good old classic etching-style ones and if you get the fitting side right you can’t tell it’s not the real thing. They will do installation for you but it’s a £282 call out charge that is a bit steep seeing as the stuff is only about £60 a metre. You can cut it yourself or you can put your measurements in and have it computer cut to size (totally do this especially if you’re getting a pattern or it’ll be skewiff and will send you into a rage. Every. Single. Day).
There’s a glue residue, activated by soapy water which you spray on, put into place and then squeegee out the water, a bit like wallpapering (well that’s alright then…) but on glass. We know someone who’s had theirs for 12 years and surprisingly there’s no peeling or damage.
13. BLOCK IT OUT BLACKOUTS: JOHN LEWIS (UK-WIDE)
When it comes to blackout blinds John Lewis absolutely nail it. Literally. Don’t muck about with the off-the-peg jobs, you need these beauties measured to the last half millimetre and expertly fitted to your window.
One Midult’s husband became obsessively neurotic about ‘light leakage’ while he was doing night shifts at the BBC. He’d tried everything, gaffer tape, rugs rammed under the curtain rail, dark towels lining the panes… Anything to keep out the teeniest fucking chink of light. In the end those John Lewis’s blinds did more for their marriage than any relate counsellor could.
14. THE VINTAGE VAULTS: DIVINELY VINTAGE (ST ALBANS)
Don’t be getting all sniffy about second-hand, these are far from someone else’s smelly old moth-eaten drapes. We’re talking top vintage. So good that Jeremy Irons has been chasing them for curtains for his fantastical Irish castle. A lot of the curtains which Sue and her chatty, affable husband Mark get in are really very grand and they’ve helped furnish a stately or two. They’ll only take curtains in absolutely mint condition, usually the beautifully interlined variety. And long.
Sue set up her shop in 1994 but they’re now in a big barn outside St Albans that has more space. “Second-hand curtains are such a good thing as you can get really delicious curtains for a fraction of the price you’ll spend on having them made,” enthuses Mark. They’ve got some amazing damask curtains in, which someone had made for £3,000 less than six months ago. They then moved and they don’t fit the new place. Sue’s selling them for £550.
When you see something you like, there’s someone here who will alter them to fit your windows. The level of support is brilliant. They love what they do and it shows in the way they have time to chat, advise and convince you to take the curtains home to try them out. And if you’re after anything specific, a certain designer, a style, you can let them know and they’ll keep a look out for you.
15. DYNASTY OF DRAPERS: PAT GIDDENS (KENSAL GREEN)
It’s in her blood. We’re talking Walton’s Mountain right here in North London. It started with Jonas the draper back in 1870, then came Herbert, then Reginald, then Maurice. Now Pat (one of eight) is a 5th generation curtain maker. Two of her sisters and a brother are in the trade too. It’s hardly surprising, as they grew up playing with curtains rings in her father’s workshop and learning the trade. Pat’s clients stick with her through thick and thin – country houses, homes abroad, and kids’ first flats, after that first drape they won’t use anyone else.
Pat knows everything about fabric, windows, fittings and if ever she’s stumped there’s the rest of the fam to consult. Family gatherings must be like a textiles convention. She’s a self-confessed control freak and does everything in-house where she has a team of 16, which means she can monitor the quality of everything. It’s not cheap getting curtains made and Pat understands that. It’s a big investment so I always want the client to know that whatever happens, I will sort every last detail. You never know how a fabric will perform so you need a curtain maker to be a perfectionist. To tidy, tinker and to not walk away until the client is 100% happy.
Her big headache is underfloor heating as it can make curtains shrink up from the heat (particularly linen), then dry up when there’s more moisture in the air. Not so smug about your underfloor heating now, are you?
16. THE CURTAIN CRACKERJACK: JSB CURTAIN CONSULTANTS (LONDON)
A few years back, one Midult was lucky enough to have a man named Jag fit her curtains. Fast-forward and Jag is now JSB Curtain Consultants. His mother’s a curtain maker, his father a fitter and he has an expert eye for looking at a window and knowing what it needs. He worked for a high-end company for 10 years cutting his teeth on big £40,000 jobs but now he’ll take on anything, big or small. He doesn’t have a website – who needs one when all your work comes flooding in word of mouth? A Londoner through and through, this guy is an all-talking, all-walking curtain pro, and flexible on whether you want utterly bespoke or something more quick fix. He’s mega flexible and good at staying to the bitter end until everything is perfect which is vital as there’s no point in spending all that money on a curtain if you don’t love it. He’s also been a bit of a hero at popping round to advise on curtain options and helped fix a job someone else had botched without being in the least bit I-told-you-so-ish about it.
17. THE TEXTILE TECHIE: THE OXFORD CURTAIN SHOP (OXFORD)
What would be your worst nightmare? Have you had anything in the past that you’ve hated? What style are you trying to achieve? Janet at the Oxford Curtain Shop’s approach is all about removing the fear most of us have when it comes to deciding on and committing to curtains and she turns the whole process into a lovely, feel-good thing. She starts by getting you to do a word cloud to work out what you want. Are there childhood memories or peer pressure guiding your choice? But you also need to be practical – do you want soundproofing or warmth? “When people ask me what I do I say I help you sleep at night or I make your friends jealous,” she says.
She’s done work for the Ashmolean, DIY SOS, canal boats – she’s even covered a camel seat and upholstered a motorbike sidecar for a pet. An engineer owns half the business and Janet has a PhD in chemistry, so with this lot you know the fabric will be right and do what it’s told to. Janet is a pro on fibres (she trained as a hair technician and hair is, she points out, just another fibre). Fabric suppliers come to HER for advice on why a fabric is damaged or not behaving. A self-confessed curtain nerd, she’s forever testing fabrics, examining fibres and putting linings in the freezer to test their durability.
18. SHAKE IT UP WITH SHUTTERS: SHUTTERLY FABULOUS (BRIGHTON)
It was the number 19 bus that forced our Midult into the arms of Shutterly Fabulous. She’d resisted the wave of plantation shutters rippling through the neighbourhood but locking eyes with a kid on the top deck of the number 19 bus (she was naked in her bedroom) did it.
There are loads of shutter shops around but shutters can be clunky and a badly fitted shutter is a pain in the arse, be warned. Based in Brighton, most of Shutterly Fabulous’s business is within the M25, though they’ve a partner in Manchester too.
These guys can do pretty much any colour, design, finish. Thick slats, thin slats, standard white or a shade of green to fit with the room. They’re not afraid to tell you if it isn’t going to work (yes you with your plantation shutters over Tudor leaded panes). As well as the slats they do beautiful Georgian style solid shutters. The fitters are all experienced carpenters so they know what they’re doing and how to finish it well. It’s not a bad idea, apparently they cut heating bills as they’re great insulators, reduce damp and mould, plus they’re natural sound insulators. And you won’t be providing commuters with a daily (free) peep show, there’s that too.
19. ONE STOP CURTAIN SHOP: THE CURTAIN FACTORY OUTLET (NORTH LONDON)
Don’t tell Dave his place in North Finchley is too far – a handful of his buyers are Kiwis and journey across the globe just to buy his stock. Regularly. That’s a 36,000km round trip. Why do they do it? Because this place has seriously discounted fabrics. Gorgeous fabrics. Stuff you didn’t think you could afford. Often at silly prices. They started out in the 1970s as wholesale in London’s East End then started selling top end designer fabrics directly to the public 20 years ago.
The website only has about 1% of what’s in stock so it’s worth tipping up. You’ll always find something you love, guaranteed. They have all the big names: Sanderson, Matthew Williamson, Designers Guild… You’re often looking at £60 a metre fabrics for £10 a metre. A customer recently found that the £10 a metre fabric they were selling was Ralph Lauren, selling for £110 a metre down the road. Result. This is a one-stop shop so once you’ve found your fabric they’ll come and measure up, help you decide on what you need, make the things and come and fit them too. And if you get stuck on the godforsaken North Circular getting there, think of those Kiwis and suck it up.
20. ALADDIN’S CURTAIN CAVE: THE CURTAIN AGENCY (EDINBURGH)
It’s like being back in the womb *says with complete authority*. Teeny and warm and snug with slightly muted lighting. And every inch of wall space is covered with beautiful, interlined curtains, cascading from ceiling to floor. You are completely enveloped in these thick, beautiful fabrics. Are you feeling it?
The women running the place are both motherly and sharp as a pin. “Just enjoy the fabrics,” they coo. But ask their advice and they’re on it. Too on it. When we show them the big old curtains we’re hoping they’ll sell for us in the second-hand curtain part of the shop, they rumble us with uncanny accuracy. I see minute particles of sun damage in the seams, one of them says. The tape is unusual. Were these made in a hot country? By someone of Indian extraction? (They were made by an Indian tailor in Dubai. WTF, Sherlock?)
Humiliating, having to stuff the rejected goods into the boot of the car (dreams of a windfall dashed) but respect. We’d have faith in them to make us any number of curtains. Lots of people we know have, and with great results. Though from what we hear, people often plan to get something made from scratch but change their minds once they enter THE WOMB and see all the loveliness that lies within. As proved, they are VERY fussy about what second-hand curtains they accept and all look brand-new: acres of classic linens, wools, tweeds, tartans and more, with a good smattering of all the big designers. They cover pretty much the whole of Scotland, even the Highlands and Islands, and do light fittings and other furnishings too.