How wide should curtain panels be? Knowhow for the perfect fit

Measure like the professionals. These are the secrets of window style

How wide should curtain panels be: A bedroom curtain idea with white walls, sheets and curtain on a black rail
(Image credit: Paul Raeside)

However fabulous the fabric you select for curtains, unless they fit well they’ll prove a disappointment. What’s more, they might also fail to ensure privacy and control light in the way you want them to.

The width of curtain panels is one of the keys to success with window treatment ideas. Panels without adequate fullness will look mean when they’re closed, and even stationary curtains need to be ample in width.

The rules of the game when you’re measuring? This is what the experts advise when it comes to how wide curtain panels should be.

How wide should curtain panels be?

The right measurements are key to ensure the success of all your curtain ideas. The right curtain length is vital, as is the height at which curtains should be hung. The correct width of curtain panels is no exception.

The number one rule that should guide you when deciding how wide curtain panels should be? ‘Don't skimp on the fullness of drapes,’ says Maggie Griffin, founder and principal designer of Maggie Griffin Design.

Here, we share the guidelines you should have in mind when considering the right curtain panel width for any window.

The general rule for curtain panel width

While there are nuances, the general guideline on how wide curtain panels should be is easy to remember. ‘To ensure panels look ample and drapey when closed, they should have a combined width that is two to two-and-a-half times the width of the window,’ says Kelly Simpson, senior director of design and innovation at Budget Blinds, experts in blinds, shades, shutters, and drapes.

‘Two hundred per cent fullness is an industry standard for a good rippling of the fabric,’ agrees Noelle Isbell of Noelle Interiors. What’s this going to mean when it comes to measuring? ‘For example, if you have a 6 foot width opening, you would specify 12 foot width fabric,’ she says.

living room with traditional furniture antique rug and sheer curtains

(Image credit: Georgia Zikas Designs)

How wide should sheer curtain panels be?

It’s recommended that you opt for wider curtain panels if they are sheers. 

Kiley Jackson of Jackson Warren Interiors explains the difference between specifying fabric for non-sheer and sheer curtain panels. ‘We allow enough fabric for a combined two-and-a half-times fullness (referring to both panels combined),’ she says. ‘For sheers, it’s three to three-and-a-half-times fullness.’

How wide should pleated curtain panels be?

Pleats are a popular heading choice for curtains and create an elegant window treatment. As for fullness, this is factored into the width. In other words, you can order for your window’s width and be confident that the fabric will drape well and fit the window with sufficient generosity.

How wide should stationary curtain panels be?

Living room with armchairs and sofas, floor length curtains and neutral palette

(Image credit: Maggie Griffin Design)

If you want to dress your window with stationary curtain panels rather than those you’ll open and close, the curtain panels do not need to have as much fullness. For stationary panels, use panels one-and-half times the width.

How to measure for curtain panel width

While we’ve been referring to the width of curtain panels in relation to the width of the window, be aware that it’s actually the width spanned by the curtain rod measured between its finials that’s important, and this could add several inches to the window width measurement.

‘Hanging the curtain rod above the window trim is a tactic used to make windows look bigger,’ explains Lucy Searle, global editor in chief of Homes & Gardens. ‘But extending the rod at either side of the window frame on each side also makes it a more attention-grabbing feature of the room. It can also allow the curtains to be opened and stacked back against the wall rather than partially covering the glass so that maximum natural light reaches the room during the day. 

‘Choose a rod that’s between 8 and up to 24 inches wider than the window frame to create 4 to 12 inches of additional space either side of the window.’ 

If you take this route, adjust the curtain width measurements to fit the rod width.

How much wider should curtains be than the rod?

How much wider curtains should be than the rod is dependent on the curtain type you select. If you’ve opted for grommet curtains or rod pocket style, they should be two or two-and-a-half times the rod width combined. 

But if you’ve chosen a pleated heading instead, the fullness of the curtain is allowed for, so you just need to choose curtains the width of the rod.

How wide should curtains extend past a window?

Ideally, extend the curtain rod by 4 inches either side of the window as a minimum, and up to around 12 inches. This allows the curtains to, at the least, obscure less of the glazing when they’re open to allow maximum natural light into the room. It also creates the illusion of a wider window. 

This won’t be possible with every window, as some are located without sufficient wall space either side. But if you can, it’s worth it for a grander looking window and a brighter room in daylight hours.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.