Drapery 101: Best Draperies to Open and Close

Here’s an overview of the most common drapery types, as well as my favorites for functional panels. Not all draperies are meant to be functional (that means “opened and closed”). In fact, most of the more popular drapery panel headers are meant to be stationary (that means “not open and shut constantly,”) or used on a very limited basis.

Rod Pocket Draperies

Rod pocket is relatively self-explanatory. These draperies hang on rods, and rod pocket drapes have a “pocket” into which the rod is placed. Generally when people attempt to make their own draperies, this is the style they go with, since you just need to fold over the top of the fabric and sew one line of stitches.

Rod Pocket Drapes Before Image Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Rod Pocket Drapes (This is a BEFORE.)

I’m going to be honest – I hate rod pocket draperies in most cases. The fabric wraps around the curtain rod and bunches up really funky when the drapes are open. When the panels are pulled closed, there’s no life to the panels at all – it’s just flat fabric. To me, it looks a lot like a sheet that’s been tacked up to a window.

The pocket itself is often quite small, which means the pocket wraps tightly around the pole. Since there’s very little room, rod pockets draperies are difficult to actually open and close. You have to tug pretty hard at the panels, which means you’re putting a lot of pressure on your drapery rod. If you don’t have that thing REALLY well anchored to the wall (and many people don’t), then eventually you’re going to end up with bent brackets or a bracket that rips out of the wall altogether. Not good.

When are pole pocket draperies appropriate? They’re GREAT for stationary panels in an informal space. Arrange the fabric once, and you’re done. Stationary pole pocket draperies are also great for underneath valences or cornice boards. You can’t see the top treatment anyhow, so if you don’t need a super polished look, then pole pocket could be a good option.

Rod pocket underneath cornice boards custom drapery in dining room Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Rod pocket works for underneath cornice boards.

Back Tab Draperies

Back tab is one step up from pole pocket.

Floral Back Tab Draperies that are too short in bedroom Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Back Tabs. These are WAY too short.

Back tabs give the illusion of pleats. However, they’re not supposed to be opened and closed regularly. In fact, they’re a real pain to open and close because the fabric gets oddly bunched up (since the pleats aren’t really there).

Back tabs are as the name suggests: tabs on the back of a drapery panel that you thread through a drapery rod.

Back tabs have the same shortcomings as pole pockets, but the overall look is a little better. If your panels have a pole pocket AND back tabs, please use the back tabs.

Grommet Draperies

Grommets are a very popular choice for read-made panels these days.

Floral Grommet Draperies that are too short in bedroom Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Grommets. Messy. And too short.

The look is decidedly more contemporary than pole pocket or back tab, so I understand the appeal. However, grommets are also NOT meant to be operational. Grommet panels get super flat looking when they’re closed.

Floral Grommet Draperies that are too short in bedroom Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Flat and Blah

Grommets are often put onto super skinny rods, which means there are large gaping holes in between the grommet opening and the rod. This looks funny and is NOT how grommet draperies are supposed to be hung.

Custom White Grommet Draperies done in Family Room Design Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Grommets Done Right

You’re supposed to hang grommet draperies with a rod that’s only slightly smaller than the grommet opening, creating a more polished look. Also, be sure that the grommets and the rod are the same color, or the grommets are going to stand out. The grommets themselves are more functional than decorative and shouldn’t draw the eye.

Ok Lindsey, now you’ve gone through all of the kinds of draperies they sell in stores. If we’re not supposed to be using any of the ones you mentioned above, then what ARE we supposed to use?

Custom Draperies

I think you can probably guess my top alternative: custom draperies! With custom panels, your fabric options are virtually limitless! You can also have the draperies tailored to the exact length of your window, unlike store-bought panels that only come in three limited sizes.

Custom draperies in Christmas decorated family featuring reds and blues Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Try Finding THESE in Stores! (You can’t. I designed these myself.)

If you are investing in custom panels, then you’ll likely have a pleated top, which guarantees a nice look, regardless of whether the draperies are open or closed.

Pleated custom draperies in Mid-Century Boho Dining Room Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Pleated Top

Pleated custom panels also come with drapery hooks already attached, so a professional drapery installer just needs to hang the hook into the drapery rings and voila!

Ripplefold draperies are another type of custom drapery that is made to be functional. Ripplefolds were traditionally found in hotels and other commercial spaces but have gained popularity in homes lately. The pleatless look is great for more transitional and contemporary spaces.

Custom ripplefold draperies in Ohio Family Room Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Functional Ripplefold Panels

Ripplefolds require a specific kind of hardware (traversing rods). The panels themselves are custom made for the specific rod that is selected. This is NOT an option for DIYers – please have a reputable workroom create ripplefold panels for you.

Find out more about different pleat types in this blog post.

Elevate Your Store-Bought Panels

If you really don’t want to invest in custom window treatments, you can still use pole pocket or back tab drapery panels, but you need to hang them differently. You must use rings and hooks on a solid rod. Yes, this means you’ll be investing a little bit more into your drapery hardware than you would if you use a skinny telescoping rod, but it is WELL worth the investment in the long-term.

A telescoping rod is adjustable in length, like a telescope. These rods always sag in the middle over time. Draperies snag in the thicker part of the telescoping rod. The rod also can expand when you pull the panels open. I hate them.

Draperies on a thin telescoping rod Lindsey Putzier Design Studio
Thin Telescoping Rod

If you invest in a solid rod, you’ll have a good quality rod that can accommodate panels that are meant to be operational. The rings slide easily along the pole, and the hooks create a faux ripplefold look. Yes, you’ll need to do a little work putting the hooks into the back of each panel, but it’s well worth the effort.

Eclectic Vintage Dining Room  with black and white drapes and white drapery rod Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

The photo above is of my dining room. (That’s right – I have store-bought panels in my own home in one room.) I loved the pattern, which went perfectly with my black and white foyer tile. I added hooks to the back of the panels and hung the panels on rings.

Eclectic Vintage Dining Room shown with foyer tile to match the black and white drapes Lindsey Putzier Design Studio

Are they perfect? No. Are they a LOT better than they would be if I would have used the rod pocket? Absolutely!

Remember: for functional panels, custom is the best way to go! If you don’t want to do custom, take the time to learn how to put drapery hooks into the drapery panels and hang the draperies on rings.

1 Comment
  • Victoria Addington
    | 7 July 2023

    I like that you said that custom draperies might be useful since they can be made to precisely fit your window’s length, as opposed to store-bought panels that can only be purchased in a few sizes. I’ll make sure to share this with my brother, who just moved into a new house, as he was considering what to put on his windows to offer some extra privacy because their windows are a little bigger than typical. I’ll definitely look into companies that sell custom draperies so they can assist him in getting one.

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