Homemade Westfalia Curtains

Well, the time came for me to embrace my girlyman side and make my own set of curtains for my 1970 hardtop Westy. They are cheap, cool, look good, and let me attend to any activity I wish inside my camper, fully shielded from the prying eyes of the rest of the world. Before I started this project I knew next to nothing about curtain making or sewing in general. Therefore I decided to document the process here so that other novices might gain the confidence or desire to attempt it too.

Unfortunately, the pictures did not turn out as good as I had hoped. Several detail shots were too blurry to use. If you are shopping for a new camera, do not, no matter what the salesman tells you, buy a Cheesemaster 2000 camera. But I included some schematic diagrams to illustrate the process where needed.

At first I planned to go minimalist. A single piece of fabric doubled over at the top to form a basic rod pocket. Pure function, and not a hint of estrogen. But a few suggestions from my wife convinced me to try something with a bit more aesthetic value. The final design was easy to make and looks pretty good, in my opinion. The curtains are lined with backing material, stitched top and bottom with hidden seams. All raw edges are dressed up, and simple rod pockets are created for easy hanging.

What you need:

About 6 yards each of main fabric (visible to the outside world) and lining fabric (visible from inside the bus).

Sewing machine (or a lot of time if you are doing it by hand).

Thread which matches your fabric and/or liner.

Tape measure.

A bunch of pins. The ones with brightly colored round heads are good.

Cloth scissors and/or pinking shears. Pinking shears make a zig-zag cut which helps keep the cloth from unraveling. You can probably get by without them since all ragged edges will be stitched in this design.

Pattern cutting board. This should be available at any sewing store. It is essentially a giant piece of cardboard graph paper that makes it easy to layout the pieces and ensure uniformity. We already had one, but I'm sure it is fairly cheap to buy. If you want to make one, get a big piece of cardboard and draw a 90 degree angle in the upper right hand corner. Extend the lines all the way along each edge so that you can line up your fabric for a square cut. Also put a line at 18 inches so you can hack off 18" X whatever-the-width-is rectangular pieces.

A delicious beverage.

Plenty of good music.

Step one: Pick your fabric

The first step is to select a fabric. I went to a local fabric store and was amazed at the variety of cloth that was available. Fabric is sold by the linear yard, but the width is not standardized. I found bolts anywhere from 44 inches wide to 60 inches wide or more. Prices vary enormously. I picked out a kewl print that was 40% off, so I bought 1/8 yard to take it home and see if it was right for my bus. It was, but I decided not to use it. It was fairly expensive, even with the discount. Also, I was afraid of the pattern, since the printed design wouldn't look too good if I didn't get it lined up precisely. When selecting your fabric, be wary of horizontal or vertical lines. A slight misalignment or sewing error could draw attention to itself.

The wife suggested going to Wal-Mart, who had a very respectable fabric department much to my surprise. I thought they only had Automotive and Sporting Goods departments. So I managed to find 7 yards of some weird paisley cloth for $2.50 per yard (45 inches wide), and some plain off-white material for $1.00 per yard. The plain stuff would become the lining, which is visible from inside the bus. I like it that way because it will help brighten the interior when the curtains are drawn. The total cost of enough material to do the entire bus was about $25. The 45 inch wide material ended up being about the right width for 2 curtains per window, so I didn't have to cut it for width. That's about twice as much material per window as you might think (about 45 inches per window). The generous amount of excess allows you create the bunched, curtainy effect.

Step 2: Measure your bus

On my 70 bus, I measured from the top of the side curtain rails to the lower cord and got 16.5 inches. The rear rail-to-rail measurement was 15.5 inches. Things are less precise in front, so I figured I'd make all the front curtains 18 inches long. If your measurements are different then correct accordingly in the following steps. The side-to-side length doesn't matter too much because you will have a ton of excess to play with (see preceding paragraph).

Step 3: Assemble your stuff

Find a big table where you can spread out and get your stuff together. If you don't have a big table, you may want to cut your fabric on the floor, because 6 yards of fabric can get unwieldy. Wherever you choose, put down the cardboard pattern guide and position the folded fabric where you can flop it out easily on top of the guide.

Step 4: Lay out the lining

(see diagram 1)

Place the lining material on the pattern guide, making sure to align the edges with the guide so you will get square edges. My lining was plain, but if yours has a pattern on it, make sure the side you want to show is facing UP. Get it lined up nice and square, and smooth out all the wrinkles with your hand. You are supposed to use an iron, but I said to hell with that. Make sure you don't stretch the fabric, or else the curtains may not hang right - just use a light touch and keep at it.

Step 5: Lay out the main fabric

Place the main fabric on top of the smoothed out lining. Make sure the side you want to show is DOWN. Get it aligned as close as you can with the lining and smooth it out as before, again saying to hell with the iron.

Step 6: Pin, cut, and pin again

(see diagram 2)

Once the layout is right, pin the top edge. Put a pin on each end and about every 10 inches in between. No measuring please. Just slap in some pins to keep everything together. Now make a cut along the full width of the fabric (through both layers) 18 inches down from the top (17 inches for the rear curtains). The extra fabric will allow for the seams and for a bit of "play" when you install the curtains. Use the pinking shears if you have them. Once the cut is made, pin the cut edges as before.

Step 7: Sew the top and bottom (long) edges

Go to the machine and sew the top and bottom edges. By this, I mean the long edges. The safe thing to do is remove the pins as you come to them. Stay as close as possible to the edge of the fabric and keep it straight. The machine wants to track straight, so just help it along. One tip I discovered is to focus on the entire piece of fabric instead of just the edge that is being sewn. Run that baby through nice and square! I ran the edge of the presser foot along the outside edge of the fabric, thus putting the seam about 1/4" in.

Step 8: Turn the curtain inside-out and sew the edges

(see diagram 3)

Now that the long edges are sewn, you have a floppy cylinder. It is much like a pillowcase that is open on both ends. Turn it inside out. Looks good already doesn't it! This is because the seams are turned to the inside, creating "hidden seams". Now you want to dress up the short edges (see diagram 4). Starting with the short edges of the "main fabric", fold the short edge inward about 1/2", and pin. You do not want to fold both the liner and "main fabric" together. In fact, they will not be fastened together at all, because that would cause the curtain to hang improperly. The finished product will still be like a pillowcase that is open at both ends.

Place the pins closer together than before, every 2-3 inches. Now that the "main fabric" is pinned, do the same thing with the lining fabric. Make sure you get the corners (where the lining meets the main fabric) tucked in.

Once it is all pinned, run a seam all the way around. You are sewing around the lip of the cylinder. DO NOT SEW THE SHORT EDGES TOGETHER! It will make the curtain hang funny. Keep the fabric moving around the cylinder and you can sew it in one shot. Flip the cylinder around and repeat for the other short edge.

Step 9: Sew the rod pockets

(see diagram 5)

Now lay the curtain out flat and run your hand along the long edge to press it flat. You have made it this far without an iron, so there is no sense in getting it now. On second thought, it would be a good idea to go get it and carefully place it in the trashcan.

Sew the "main fabric" and liner together along the long edges. This will form the rod pocket which is used to thread the curtain onto the rod. Put the seam about 1 inch from the edge and let her rip. Here you must be careful to run straight. My sewing machine has several lines marked into the base plate which act as guides.

Do both of the long edges. On the second one, I put the rod pocket at 3/4". The 1" pocket is for the rod at the top and the 3/4" pocket is for the cord at the bottom.

Step 10: Check the fit

Go out to the bus and try it out.

Step 11: Do it again

Now that you have the idea, it is time for the music and the beverage. I busted out all the rear curtains in an afternoon. I saved the fronts for the next weekend.

Back to my main page.

Matt Freeman
January 23, 2000