I got a new sewing machine last week. A Janome HD 3000. I like that name; sounds like a full-size truck. It’s an awesome machine, and putting it through its paces reminded me that I never posted a final write-up on our curtain project.
That’s how they look with the seats turned around. We had tried several commercially available ways to cover up the cab windows, but weren’t really happy with any of them. Suction cup things. Roll up things. Reflective Foam-core things. We didn’t really love any of them. Our big hang-up was that almost all of them required you to store something, and storage space in our ProMaster-based RV is at a premium. Another problem we had was that they all seemed to leave gaps or cracks around the sides where someone could see in or light could get out. I even tried working with the Remi guys – from Europe – to bring their Ducato shade over to this side of the Atlantic. No dice.
So eventually, I resolved I had to just make my own. A few sewing lessons later, I was able to make these – so the skill level required isn’t very high. These curtains work great in our Travato, but they should work with ANY ProMaster RV. So if you don’t like your RV’s cab shades, read on! I’ll give you the materials, dimensions, and links to the parts. It still may take a bit of trial and error based on your particular RV, but this should get you really close.
In our Travato, both front seats swivel to become part of the living area. So this curtain needed to both drape behind the rotated seats, and not lay on your head when it does. Most of the designs I found for other RVs had a curtain track that went all the way around the windows, up by the windshield. The profile of the ProMaster headliner made that impossible. So rather than screw buttons, snaps, or Velcro into our RV’s headliner, I elected to use magnets to hold the curtain up over the seats. There are 8 points where the curtain attaches with magnets, and I’ve pointed 4 of them out in this picture. The other side of the cab is the mirror image.
- The metal of the door by the B-pillar
- The metal of the door by the top
- Outboard visor bolt
- Inboard visor bolt
But in addition to that behind-the-seats-thing, I also wanted the ability to just pull it straight across to cut off the cab, like this:
This is actually a winter RVing strategy. Closing off the cab and its giant windows means less space to heat, and less heat will escape. But I didn’t want the curtain dragging the ground, so that meant the curtain couldn’t be too long. 60 inches was the max height.
I started with a mock up. I got some cheap cloth from the fabric store and sewed it into a giant rectangle 154 inches wide by 60 inches tall and cut, taped, tacked, and magneted it into place until I had something I was happy with. Then I marked it up and used it as my pattern.
How to do it
First, get some material you want to use for the curtains. You’ll need enough to sew a giant panel 154 inches wide by 60 inches tall (those are the finished dimensions). When I made ours, I wanted a blackout fabric. A heavier fabric will hang better, will block out more light, and will save you from having to use drapery weights in the bottom hem of the curtain. BUT… you can’t pick anything too heavy – because then it might be so heavy that the magnets won’t hold it up.
These are the curtains I used: Style Selections Quinn 84-in Room Darkening curtains. As far as weight, they’re right on the edge of what the magnets can hold up. I did not line them, and they do a decent job in blocking out light. I cut off and discarded the parts with the grommets.
Unfortunately, I can really only “kinda” sew, so I can’t tell you what to leave for seam allowances, etc. I left about two inches because I’m not very good. But now that you have the finished dimensions, I’ll leave you to figure out how to get there. My material was pretty thick, and at the end, when I was sewing through pleats on top of seams on top of seams, it got pretty tough. Hopefully, you’re better at it than I am, and you can plan accordingly.
Next, once you’ve got your giant panel, you’ll want to cut it down and finish it into this shape:
Those “wings” on the sides don’t really factor in much when the curtain is hanging straight down. But they keep the side windows covered adequately when the curtain is pulled behind the rotated seats.
With that done, it’s time to locate the magnets. The best way to do this is with the van itself. I’d recommend going at it in the following manner.
Step one, get the magnets. The bolts on the visors aren’t particularly magnetically strong, so I’d recommend getting some really strong magnets to make up for it. I used something like these:
Then, you need to finish off your curtain and hang it. You’ll use the magnets to hold the curtain in place as you’d like it to drape, and then mark those locations. (I’d say you should mark the locations with pins, but… you know… magnets.)
As far as hanging the curtains, I decided to go with a Snap Tape solution because it seemed like the easiest thing to sew. You’ll need to buy three things:
RECMAR 3091 Snap Tape – This is the only place I could find it sold by the yard. I purchased 4 yards to allow for mistakes, but I didn’t use it all.
RECMAR 3060 Plastic Snap Glide – These come 14 to a bag. I purchased 3 bags.
RECMAR 3294 Aluminum Curtain Track – I purchased one 8 foot length.
The first step is to sew the pleats into the curtain and sew the snap tape on to the curtain. You can do this all in one step. There’s a pretty good online demo of this that I found on YouTube.
But it didn’t go quite that smoothly for me. Like I said before, I had pleats on top of a seam, and on top of two seams in some places. This was a big chunk of material to go underneath the presser foot of Stef’s old machine. There was a good bit of time where I was operating the sewing machine manually by turning the knob. It was pretty tough, but if I got through it, you can.
Once you’ve got the snap tape mounted to the curtain, you just snap the carriers into it. That completes the curtain part of the deal. Then you have to mount the track. Mounting the track is easy enough – you just screw through the flat part of the track and into the panel over the cab area. But the challenge is to make sure you’re actually screwing into something. This is where it gets different for different ProMaster owners. On our Winnebago Travato, I was able to just pop off the covers and unscrew the snap caps holding that piece on.
Then make note of which places would be good to screw into, and which places you should avoid. If you have a different RV – or even a newer Winnebago Travato that has the plastic cover instead of the vinyl-wrapped one – you’ll need to figure out something that works for you.
In my case, the curtain track is mounted 2 3/4 inches down from the top of that piece at the center. The exact length of the track isn’t terribly critical, as long as you get close enough to the ends on the driver’s and passenger’s sides. And you will want to make sure to tuck the curtain track back between that cap and any cabinets next to it. This is why I went with the aluminum track – I had to push it in pretty good.
Oh, and one last item. You’ll want to get a couple of these to screw into the ends of the track. They keep the curtains from coming out the ends.
RECMAR 3030 Steel End Stop – They come 10 to a bag. You’ll only need one bag.
A word of advice here. Put the end stop on the far end of the curtain before you spend 10 minutes forcing it into any narrow spaces. (Don’t ask me how I learned this.)
Once you’ve got the carriers installed and the track mounted, just thread the carriers into the track to mount the curtain. Then, as planned, use the magnets on the points I indicated, and hold up the curtain, getting the drape of things to your taste. When I had that settled to my liking, I outlined the magnet positions with tape (because I couldn’t use pins). Then it was back to the machine.
I sewed rectangular pockets around each of the magnet locations. The pockets have to be a bit larger than the magnets , like this:
Because your sewing machine is metal, you have to sew up 3 sides of the pocket, insert the magnet, and then hold the magnet away from your needle, presser foot, feed dogs, etc. while you sew up the last side. This was a challenge I hadn’t anticipated for my very first sewing project… I got it done, but there was some swearing.
I just sewed straight through onto the show face of the curtain. If I were doing something fancy like attaching a liner I could have made it look better I suppose, but as it is, the pockets show through on the front of the curtain.
And that pretty much does it. Once you’ve got the magnets in, just re-mount your curtain into the track. Tuck a bit of it back behind any cabinetry on the driver’s side if you have it, and add another end stop to the passenger side. If you want to, you can make a tie back, as I did. Mine is just a strip of the material and two rings from Home Depot. The hook on the B-pillar trim is just a 3M Command Hook.
Don’t Forget the Sliding Door
A number of people have asked about the matching curtain I have on the sliding door. It looks like this.
This was actually done before I learned to sew, so I didn’t do this one. I made a pattern and handed it off to someone who sews better than I do. So I can’t tell you exactly what she did. But I can give you a few details to help you finish this off yourself.
First off, you’ll need this for the curtain track:
RECMAR 3110 Plastic Curtain Track. I got one 8 foot length.
I went with plastic here because I was mounting this track INSIDE the window well on the sliding door. That’s curved slightly, and I figured the plastic track would bend to conform. I mounted the track in the same way as the aluminum track – you just screw right through it. Only in this case, you’ll want to pre-drill some holes since you’ll be screwing directly into the sheet metal of the door. Oh yeah, and use sheet metal screws. You’ll need top and bottom tracks, mounted one directly above the other.
For the carriers on the curtains, I used these:
RECMAR T Glide w/ Elastic – Airstream – They come 14 to a bag. I got two bags just to be safe.
I used the elastic because I wanted this curtain to be under a bit of give, and a bit of tension to keep it taught. Finally, in the four corners, I am again using magnets to hold the curtain into place. Jenn got her magnet pockets much smaller than I did. I attribute that to her having skill, whereas I kind of don’t.
The last parts you’ll need are four of the end stops. But if you bought the bag of 10 in the first bit, you’ll still have 8 left over, so you should be good.
I just made a template out of a piece of fleece, and pinned the elastic carriers where I wanted them. I turned it over to Jenn and poof! I had a side curtain.
There is, however, one problem with this design…
When the curtain is open, the material bunches up on the stern side of the curtain. It’s fine when you’re looking out.
But when you open and close the door, that material can and does brush up and down the side of the van. Depending on how filthy your van is at any given time, this may or may not be a problem for you. If anyone has any ideas how to solve that issue, sound off in the comments below.
So there you go. Best of luck with your curtains!