How to Make Pencil Pleat Curtains with Shirring Tape

Pencil pleats are thin, even pleats used in drapery headings, valances, and bed skirts. Using shirring tape makes creating these pleats simple. You can control how tight or loose you want the pleats.

Like the fabric used in this project? Drapery fabric isn’t just for decor. You can use it in fashion too, like this circle skirt Jen made with the same fabric as these pencil pleat curtains.

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Step 1: Sew the shirring tape to the heading

I have already sewn the sides and hem of this curtain panel so we can focus on the heading. See our other curtain videos for instructions on getting to this point.

For lined curtains, check out How To Sew Lined Back Tab Curtains, and for unlined instructions, look at How To Make Rod Pocket Curtains.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Sew the sides and hem of the curtain panel

To start the heading, fold down the top edge about an inch and iron. Also tuck under the corners.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - fold down the top edge about an inch and iron
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Tuck under the corners

Take the shirring tape and pull out the strings at one end so you can knot the ends together. This 3″ shirring tape also comes in a 4″ version with 4 strings.

Cut off the extra tape so you leave about ½” beyond the strings.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Pull out the strings at one end of the shirring tape
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Knot the ends together
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Cut off the extra tape

How far from the top you place the tape depends on how you want them to hang in relation to your hardware. Insert a drapery hook into one of the pockets. This tape has 3 options, but you’ll usually want the top one.

Then hook on the eyelet curtain ring, if that’s what you’re using. I’m going to position the tape so that the curtain comes to the very bottom of the ring. That’s ½” from the top.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Insert drapery hook to determine tape placement
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Position tape so the curtain comes to bottom of the ring

Fold under the end of the tape with the knot under the tape. Pin across the width of the panel. Cut off the tape on the other end leaving enough to fold under.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Fold under the end of the tape
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Place tape on heading
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Pin across width of panel
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Cut off extra tape
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Fold under end

Sew around the top, bottom and sides of the tape. Make sure not to sew over the loose strings at the end.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Sew around top, bottom and sides of tape
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Don't sew over loose strings at the end

Step 2: Gather the pleats

Pull the strings to gather the pleats. Pull until you get to your desired finished width for the panel.

For pencil pleat curtains, you want to multiply the width you want the finished panel to be by about 2.5. It can be more or less depending on how full you want the curtains. I want this panel to be 20 inches wide.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Pull the strings to start gathering the pleats
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Gather the pleats
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Pull until you get to your desired finished width

In case you want to change the width later, don’t cut the strings, but rather bundle up the extra. Knot the strings, and then twist them. Fold them in half so they twist themselves together, then bundle it up and tuck it between the first and second pleats.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Knot the strings
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Twist the strings and fold in half
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Bundle up the strings
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Tuck between pleats

Step 3: Add drapery hooks

Insert the drapery hooks into the pockets on the shirring tape. Put one at each end and distribute the rest evenly.

The curtain is now ready to hang on either curtain rings or a traverse rod.

Pencil Pleat Curtains - Insert the drapery hooks
Pencil Pleat Curtains - Distribute hooks evenly
Pencil Pleat Curtain Panel - Closed
Pencil Pleat Curtain Panel - Back
Pencil Pleat Curtain Panel - Open
Pencil Pleat Curtain Panel
Q & A
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Browse 2 questions Browse 2 questions and 2 answers
In the video of this tutorial it says the tape is placed 1/2 inch from the top, but in the above post it states 1/4 inch. Which one should it be?
A shopper on Aug 27, 2018
BEST ANSWER: For this curtain it ended up being 1/2 an inch, but this distance can vary based on the hardware you're using. Thanks for bringing the inconsistency to our attention--it's now fixed!
Can this be used on sheer curtains without being to visible from the front?
A shopper on Aug 20, 2017
BEST ANSWER: No, it will be visible from the front unless you cover it with a valance or swag. If it's more of a semi-sheer fabric, it might look fine since there wouldn't be as much contrast between the tape and fabric.