How to drape fabric for swag patterns

This is one of the most creative aspects of making draperies. It's also a 'trial and error' exercise!

If you've never made a swag before, you'll get a great sense of satisfaction when you complete it. As with all new ventures, start simply and once you gain confidence you can move on to more advanced designs.

The big advantage of making your own patterns is that you can make the shape to exactly suit your window. If you use an off the shelf design, you won't be able to easily adjust it if it's not the correct size.


A standard swag pattern with five pleats

This exercise is invaluable. You'll learn all the basic techniques, and discover how swags sizes can be adjusted.

Create the basic shape

swag pattern shape with chain weight

Chain weight hanging to give swag shape

The best way to do this is to use nature. In particular, gravity!

Get a piece of pattern paper (plain paper or card will do) and pin it to the edge of your worktable if you've added a layer of felt to your table, or onto any suitable support.

Take a length of curtain chain weight and pin it as shown. The width between the ends is the width you want your swag to be. Adjust the amount hanging down so the depth is the required depth of the swag. This is the finished shape you want.

If you're just practicing for the first time, I'd suggest you make it about 3'0" (90.0cms) wide and 1'6" (46.0cms) deep.


mark the lining

Rough shape of lining before folding swag

Form the swag

Take a piece of lining (or whatever fabric you're using for this), fold it in half across the width, and use an iron to press the fold. Cut the sides roughly to the shape shown.

Open out the lining and mark off the pleat positions at about 5" (7.5cms) intervals. Pin the lining onto the support on top of the paper.


folding the fabric for the first pleat

Folding the first pleat

Take the first pleat on one side and move it up to the top. Adjust the fabric in the fold so it forms a neat arc towards the center of the lining. Pin the pleat in position. Then repeat on the other side.

Repeat for the other fold marks. Make sure all the tops of the folds meet in the same place.

Adjust the folds

Stand back from your first attempt, and see how the folds look. Unless you're very lucky - or extremely good at this! - you'll need to adjust some of them. Some will be too thin, others too fat. Some will be too high, others too low.

The usual adjustment is to pull a fold slightly outwards if the pleat falls too low, or move it in slightly if the pleat is too taut.

This is where the trial and error bit comes into play!

Two aspects you should check:

  1. The pleats form evenly about the vertical center line.
  2. The pleats are an even projection (they stand out the same distance from the wall).

Actually, that last one is almost impossible. The two pleats to concentrate on are the top and bottom ones. The top one has a tendency to be too thin, and the bottom one to be too thick. Look at the swag from the side, and try to get all the pleats as similar as possible.

swag pinned before trimming

Fabric pinned in place

Make the pattern

When you're happy with the shape, decide whether the right or left looks the best. Then trim that side to the shape of the chain. Include cutting through all the layers at the top.

(Because this is your first time, you may find that at the top the chain is nowhere near the last fold! Don't worry. Just adjust the chain so the width and length of the swag are correct. This is all part of the learning process.)

You'll end up with a very odd shape, as shown in the final pattern illustration.


final swag pattern

Final pattern. You only need to keep one half of the pattern if the swag shape is symmetrical.

Unpin the lining, fold it in half, and trim the uncut side to match.

If this is a size you'll use again, you can now transfer the shape to the pattern paper. Just copy one half of the pattern onto the paper, with an allowance all round of ¾" (2.0cms) for turnings. Don't forget to write the size of the completed swag on the pattern for future reference.


Alternative pattern

There's another way of making the pattern which allows for smooth sides instead of the serrated effect. You'll find the details on this page.

If you're finding all this a bit difficult, why not take a look at the patterns we've designed? This way you can use professionally designed patterns, and try out one of the designs for free to make sure it all works for you.

Adjusting the size

What do you do if your swag depth doesn't match the depth you want?

You can adjust it in three ways.

  1. Tighten or loosen the pleats. If the depth is too small, loosen the pleats equally at the sides, allowing more fabric to fall into the center. If the depth is too great, pull the pleats out at the sides.
  2. Increase or decrease the number of pleats. I wouldn't go below four, otherwise the swag won't look natural, and my preference is for a minimum of five.
  3. Reduce or increase the distance between the pleats. In this example we set this at 5" (7.5cms) intervals. You could try increasing or reducing in ½" (or maybe 1.0cms) increments.

As you can see, there are a lot of variations to play with. Everyone I've spoken to who makes swags has a slightly different way of doing it. So if you find a different way of implementing any of these steps, go ahead with whatever works for you.

Practice is the key

Making great looking swags is a real art. As you experiment with them you'll come to understand what you can do with folds, how you can adjust them to get any size you want.

Making swag patterns is an important part of swag construction. Making a swag based on your pattern is the next stage.

  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. swags
  4.  ›
  5. swag pattern one