Roman Shades Weren’t Built in a Day

Roman Shades are one of my favorite window treatments. And this post is going to go over everything you need to know (or at least everything I know) in great detail.

Years ago, I used a workroom owned by an Italian seamstress near me, named Josephine. Since Laurel was not a word in her vocabulary, she always called me Laurrrrie.

Josephine would say:


“Laurrrie, all you do are Drrrapes and Rrroman shades.”


Haha. Yes, I would say that was true 95% of the time. I have done valances, but the number of times, I can count on two hands. To see one job where we did valances, please click here.

As for swags, it is at most two times, but I think only once; It was a relatively loose swag.

But, Roman shades?


We did hundreds of them.

Well, I’ve never actually made one. However, I’m well-acquainted with how they are constructed. This business has such a steep learning curve. And, again, like so many other important aspects, none of this is taught in interior design school.


Therefore, this post will share everything I know; because what you don’t know can get you into expensive trouble.


So, let’s first begin with what a Roman Shade is.


A Roman Shade is actually several different styles of window coverings made of fabric to cover the glass. It is not a blind. Blinds have slats. Or, at least openings, and are not made of fabric.


Below are the five main types of Roman Shades.


Five Roman Shade Styles

please pin to Pinterest for reference


Sometimes you will find different terms applied to the different styles of Roman shades.


This, of course, can be quite confusing. For example, sometimes, a flat fold is called a soft fold. I find that when working with a workroom, being as visual as possible works the best.


1. The flat fold Roman shade

is sometimes called a plain Roman Shade. This is the most common type, and the one used almost exclusively when there is a ribbon trim applied. The thing to remember with flat or soft fold Romans is that you have to train them to remember their folds.

However, if it’s a sheer fabric, that will likely not be possible. So, if you want a super crisp fold and don’t want to have to put the shade up at a snail’s pace, making everything lie perfectly as you go up, it might be better to do a ribbed Roman shade.


2. A ribbed Roman shade

can either be stitched or with a thin metal dowel inserted for a crisp fold when the shade goes up and down.


3. The soft fold Roman shade

is like the flat fold; only the rings used to thread the cords that make the shade go up and down are only sewn at the ends of the shade.


4. The London or Fishtails Roman shade

is like the soft fold; only the rings are set in from about 3″- 8″ to create a drooping tail on the end. These shades might or might not have a pleat where the rings are sewn on. This is an attractive choice when the window is wider than the width of the fabric. A seam can be put where the rings are. And then, a decorative tape can be used on the front to cover up the seams.


5. The hobbled or pleated Roman Shade

was more popular a few decades ago. However, it uses a lot of fabric and is, therefore, a lot more expensive to make. Plus, it looks a bit too fussy for most people.


What about balloon shades, Laurel?


Well, they’re not my thing. I’ve never done one.


The Advantages of Roman Shades Over Drapes


  • They are usually a lot less money.
  • There’s less fabric,
  • Less labor
  • No expensive hardware.
  • Installation costs less too.
  • Sometimes curtains are not an option. For example, if there’s a banquette or an especially deep radiator. Or, the window is on top of a doorway. It happens. Builders do the wackiest things, sometimes.


Of course, one can do Roman shades with curtains.



From a job, we did in 2015. This is a soft-fold Roman shade with the rings on the end.


Inside Mount vs. Outside Mount


Inside is duh…inside the window frame and IMO usually preferable, especially if there’s a pretty window casing.

An outside mount is when the shade is outside the window frame. There are a few different reasons why doing an outside mount is preferable.

  1. There is inadequate space to install an inside mount shade. (more about that in a sec)
  2. It’s in a bedroom and the inhabitant(s) need/want the room to be very dark. There are gaps in an inside mount shade.
  3. There are multiple shades, and some are inside, and some are not.
  4. Another shade’s inside the window frame. That could be a roller shade, wood blinds, I’ve even seen two Roman shades together!



Here are some other outside mount Roman Shades.


carey carlin | photo-Paul Johnson white-bone-inlay-desk-keyhole-chairCarey Karlanphoto: Paul Johnson


cornice-outside-mount roman shadeI love the cornice over the outside-mount Roman Shade with red trimming.


liz-carroll-Nowell - Hooper's Room 3Liz Carroll

I love the valance over the shade with trim detail.


One thing to point out. When doing an outside mount Roman shade, you’ll see the very small board. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me, and my workroom would cover it with fabric.

However, years later, a different workroom made a flap to hide the board.

I’m not that crazy about that solution because sometimes the flap would stick out, and we’d have to use some double stick tape or putty to get it to lie flat.


So, there are two solutions.


One, is to do a valance around the top of the shade, as is done in the two examples above.


ADreamHomeDecor - outside mount Roman side flap sewn

Or, the flap could be sewn to the shade as this one is above.


bg custom windows greek key roman shadeBG Custom Windows

As well demonstrated in the charming room above, the outside shade should hang out about an inch on each side of the window frame. And, I think a half-inch minimum.


While we’re on Greek Key for trim, here are a few more just because I love it so!


stacy brandford photo - style at home roman shade greek key trimStyle at Home – Stacey Brandford – photo

Designer – Jessica Waks



This is actually a roller shade. And get this. She used Gold DUCT TAPE for the trim. Here’s the tutorial.


greek key trim diagram roman shade

I cannot find who did this, so if anyone knows, please tell me. It gives a clear diagram of how to apply a Greek Key border. Love this!


kayes curtain and blind warehouse high-res-roman shade

Kayes Curtain and Blind Warehouse


This is a wonderful bank of Roman Shades in a sheer linen. Please note that you won’t have complete privacy. I also love the extra flap detail at the bottom of the shade.


Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

How a Ribbed Roman Shade is Made


back of roman shade with clutch


Yes, this is the backside, in case you didn’t realize that. :]


I’ve never done the kind of Roman shade with the dowels or ribs, but it’s a nice look if you don’t mind the horizontal lines. In addition, this is guaranteed to give you that crisp look if that is important to you.

Flat fold Roman shades have rings and nylon cords that go through them to pull the shade up and down. This one above has a clutch mechanism under the board. For years, I didn’t use the clutch because one broke very early on.


Later on, that changed.


I have to say that it is so much easier with the clutch because you don’t have to wrestle with the cord or tie it up around a cleat to keep the shade up.


leatherwood design co back of roman shade

Leatherwood Design


Above is a flat fold Roman Shade with rings and without the clutch.


However, this one is interesting because it is a reverse mount.

This flat fold has five rows of rings which is required on a shade this wide. And yes, they are sewn on individually–by hand. There is a ring tape, but that can only be used with a blackout lining unless you don’t mind seeing the tape.

Please also note that one often sees the rings and/or where they are sewn, plus the cords— especially with sheer Romans.


One other point is when doing a blackout Roman Shade.


Normal blackout fabric is, well, black. This can create a problem because a little speck of black might show up on your shade when the rings are sewn on. Not good. Plus, blackout linking can make for a stiff shade.

This one by Fabricut is quite soft.


Something else to be careful about


Usually, I prefer not to use blackout lining, but sometimes it’s necessary. One of those times is when you’re using a crewel fabric. They tend to have a mess of threads on the back, and when the light shines through, you’ll see them. Therefore, it is necessary to use a blackout lining. Here’s a from 2010 where we had that situation.


roman shades drapes copy

Laurel Bern Interiors window treatments. Yes, that’s my lamp I brought over for the photoshoot.


The shade is mounted on a 1″ x 2″ board running with the wide side parallel with the window frame. The boards are actually a tad smaller than that.


This next part is important, regarding inside mount Roman shades.


If you are doing an inside mount and space is tight, you can have your workroom run the board the other way. That is what we did for the green shade above. You can have as little as 1/2″ to work with.

Some will say that’s not enough, but we do it ALL the time! I did it in my old house. (below) It is alright if the shade protrudes up to 1/4″; it’s not noticeable.



my old house

When measuring for Roman Shades, it is essential to discuss with your workroom if they take off the measurement and, if so, how much. I would give them the exact measurements and have them take off 1/4″. (side to side) They might insist on a half-inch. I like them to fit pretty snugly, and maybe once, the installer had to shove them in. lol.


Long Windows or banks of windows.


ml interior designs roman shades

Marisa Lafiosca

When there is a mullion in between the windows, we can do separate shades.

large window roman shade

If there is no mullion, then there is the option to do one long shade

or break it up between windows, leaving about a 1/4-1/2″ between shades.



I love this long shade at the JK Place in Florence

Yes, I know there’s a kink in the shade. And, yes, it bothers me, too. haha. Alas, it’s an imperfect world.


beth web atlanta homes lifestyles sheer roman shade

Beth Web via Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles

Gorgeous bathroom with lovely sheer linen shades.


This brings me to another common problem with Roman Shades.


The part of the window that needs to be covered in a bathroom is usually the bottom, not the top.

Here are my solutions:

One is to do the shade as below, which we needed to do anyway.

In any case, what I do for all of my Roman Shades is make a permanent pleat at the bottom, and then when down, it’s not just a piece of straight fabric hanging. But then, I suggest raising it a few inches from the sill.




Another option is the top-down shades.


I found a tutorial on how to make them.

Otherwise, it is possible as in the Bronxville Bathroom to mount the shades part of the way down as in the lovely room below.


ohara interiors roman shades mounted 3 quarters of the way upMartha O’Hara


This is also a situation where they broke up the long expense with three shades. Really well-done.


Laurel, what about doing a faux Roman shade?


Well, my inclination is to say faux-get about it. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

But, please be careful. A few key points.

  • The money savings might not be that much.
  • You won’t be able to use the shade. It is only a valance
  • If there aren’t enough folds, it WILL look fake.

I’ve never done a faux Roman for all of the reasons above. However, if you do, please have at least 6 folds at a minimum.

When doing a Roman shade with trimming on the bottom of the shade.


It is essential that there’s a flap at the bottom so that the trim will be seen.


Virtual Kitchen Design - Benjamin Moore - Simply White - custom Roman Shades - By Harrington

Here they did make a flap; however, it’s not big enough. I believe the workroom sent instructions so that it could be fixed. They’re still really lovely, no matter.


What about ready-made Roman shades?


Yes, you can find ready-made Roman shades. What this means is that there are a set number of sizes available. If you like the shade and the size works for you, then fine. However, please be careful. You might be able to get a completely custom-made shade for about the same price. Sometimes the ready-made shades are more money!


To close, I have a special treat for you.


Etsy now has dozens of workrooms that make gorgeous Roman shades, curtains (and pillows), and mostly for very reasonable prices. This widget (below) includes a sampling of some of my favorites.

Many of these workrooms do custom work with 100s of styles and fabrics.

Please click on any image for more information.



And, below is a graphic to pin to Pinterest.


30 Seriously Cool Roman Shades on Etsy


And, if you’d like to read about other window treatment solutions and tips, this post I entitled the Ultimate Window Treatment Guide should keep you busy for a while.:]




PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!


28 Responses

  1. I sewed lined roman shades that were also attached to the board with strong velcro. That way if they need washing I can undo the strings and pull them off. I followed instructions from a home decorating book put out by Simplicity. Turned out perfect. I also always prewash any fabric I am using for drapes or shades to avoid shrinking later on.

  2. Laurel,
    You’ve given me the solution to a problem window. Roman Shades!!!
    It’s a mountain condo that’s a vacation house. We bought it with the furniture, which is nice, but it needs tweaking.
    The room is a tight space with a big, king bed pushed up close to the window. Just no room for drapes. Plus, it faces west and gets hot. So, I can make the shade solar-friendly. Since it gets hot here in the mountains every once in a while, I’ll need to make sure the window cranks are accessible. I think the Roman Shade will be great. Maybe I’ll even use your favorite Greek-key pattern. Thanks!

  3. Roman shades are my all time favorite. Personally, I could live without drapes forever. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary though, drapes I mean, as you have pointed out regarding sliding doors (why do we have to have sliding doors instead of French doors? they are everywhere in USA.)

    I also prefer the soft Roman shade; however, I was able to get very nice top down/bottom up Roman shades for the house I just sold. I am missing them and the house, but I had to leave Michigan for my adopted home state of California. I am already happier even in my crummy temporary apartment. Looking at a house tomorrow. Wish me luck, I will need it.

  4. Thank you for the lovely post about my favourite window treatment! It looks like all the blinds are fixed in place pretty permanently, so I wonder about cleaning. With drapes, one can simply unhook the curtain, and wash or dry clean. But what do you do about Roman blinds? I worry that once installed, they’re there forever, and with time would become soiled. Seems to me that the whole darn thing would have to be replaced!
    I once made some lightweight muslin blinds, using just strings and loops…but I attached them to a batten set into the top of the window with Velcro! Clearly not high-end, but they did the trick in diffusing light beautifully when the sun came in directly. At night they offered a modicum of privacy, which was all that was needed. But the great thing was, I could just detach them from the Velcro, throw into the machine, and hey, presto, they came out clean and white, and ready to be put up again. What does one do about cleaning more substantial fabric weights with fancier hardware?

  5. Hi Joni,

    Yes! That is what I meant when I say that fabric changes color in the light. But, I should’ve also stated here, that any off-white fabric needs to be strongly scrutinized as yes, many of them look positively YELLOW when the light of day comes through.

    Compounding that, is when a workroom goes ahead and uses a cream-colored lining to “match” without asking.

    I always had to specify pure white lining for everything, unless otherwise specified!

  6. Hi Irka,

    I am referring to bottom-line prices for everything as one does need rods, rings, finials brackets and a highly skilled installer for drapes. Plus, more fabric. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

  7. This is a really informative post, Laurel. Thank you. I love the look of the relaxed Roman Shades. I know you have done posts about drapes before, but have you done a post about shutters, or are shutters not complicated enough to warrant a post? I happen to love plantation shutters. I also love those shutters you see on window exteriors that open at the bottom. I don’t know what they are called. Thanks again.

  8. This is a wonderfully informative post! I love Roman shades and the visuals you selected are fantastic!

  9. I have woven wood roman shades in one room and love them. I love the look of fabric but can they be cleaned?

    1. Hi Jane,

      Thanks for that info. I researched this and while Kristi did do a post with a similar design, it’s not this one. This photo is pretty old– at least six years or more.

  10. Some lovely pictures of Roman Shades!
    But beginners beware. These may look simple, but are the most complicated treatments in my 35 years of experience. They are also the most expensive as far as labor costs, at least in my area (Tennessee). Yes there is less fabric, lining, trim, etc. But custom labor charges per square foot are crazy…usually more than if you had done full generous draperies! So don’t assume they are a budget option in custom fabrication.

  11. The Advantages of Roman Shades Over Drapes

    yous listed the advantages of shades over drapes and one item was “less labor”. I beg to differ. Drapes are a WHOLE lot less labor than shades. I’ve done them all.

  12. What a wonderfully informative post, Laurel!! Thank you! I especially love the Etsy links, as I never thought to purchase shades on Etsy before, but having those reviews is so helpful.
    I was wondering if you’d ever ordered from the shade store before, and if so how you feel their pricing compares with your workroom. They seem to be extremely expensive but lead times are so fast!
    Also, the strings on the back of Roman shades scare me because my two year old always manages to get tangled up in them. Any idea if there are companies that sandwich the strings between the fabric? Pottery barn carries them but only have limited sizes.

  13. Laurel, I recently added new window treatments to two small window in my bedroom, I did woven woods on top and plantation shutters on the bottom half, the window are 60 inches long. They look perfect in my British Colonial bedroom. I close a color of wood that would match my new Ethan Allen furniture.
    Thanks for the decorating inspiration.

  14. Hi Laurel,
    Just wanted to share a bizarre experience with Roman shades that neither my drapery workroom nor I have ever encountered. During the drapery installation yesterday we hung flat, soft white romans with a privacy lining in our southeastern facing study. We were stunned to find that our lovely white shades appeared GOLD when hung! Have never seen such a dramatic change in appearance driven by natural lighting. We are reworking with blackout and interlining to attempt to mitigate. This phenomenon did not appear when viewing samples in the room, so just another cautionary tale of weird and unpredictable stuff that happens in design!

  15. Thank you for such an informative post Laurel! Have you ever considered writing a book. I haven’t bought the rolodeck or the other guides, as I am in UK, and USA sources for buying things wouldn’t be very useful for me, but if you summarise all this incredible knowledge you share with us in the blog, and put it in a book, I would buy it immediately. Actually I am going to print some of your posts to make sure I can refer to them if at some point you decide to close the blog.

    PS – it is amazing that so many important topics are not covered in the design schools. Sometimes I see mistakes that other designers have done just because they don’t know some of the things I learnt here.

  16. Love this article. I am a roman shade fan. I am making them for our Florida condo. The windows are 75 inches wide and for most fabric I need to have seams. I don’t want to add tape over the seams. Would it be strange to take a fabric and seam it horizontally so that the seam is in a fold? The shades will be up 95% of the time. The fabric has a vertical pattern but not really a stripe.

  17. Laurel, thanks for a great article, especially all the Etsy sources! I have a similar situation, with French doors on the same wall as a double window. There’s also a single window over the sink. I was thinking drapes for the doors and Roman shades for the windows, since there’s not enough wall space to gather all the drapes when fully open. Laurel, as you have recommended to hang drapes high and wide, I have done that everywhere else-including the LR room open to this area. Please help us out. Are Roman shades on sliders or French doors possible? Desirable? Like Baila, I’m concerned that drapes & shades on the same wall will look off.

  18. I have windows and sliding patio doors on the same wall in my kitchen. I’d like to treat them the same way, with Roman Shades on both. Is there a way to do roman shades on sliding patio doors?

    1. Sliding doors, are difficult. The only way it could work is if they are hung as high as possible and when open just come a couple of inches below the door frame. But, if you’re using the doors a lot, I don’t recommend this, because the shades will not be useable.

      Otherwise, I recommend curtains/drapes and you can also do sheers behind the drapes for more versatility. I like linen sheers the best. Wool sheers are beautiful, but wool is quite expensive and it rots in bright sunshine. And, synthetics are okay as long as they aren’t shiny and cheap-looking. But, most of them do look cheap, IMO.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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