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Design, Draperies, and Math

Updated: Feb 11

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


Parents and grandparents, do you have young family members who find themselves sitting in a new math class this school year? Are they loving it or complaining? Are they asking the age-old question, “When will I ever need to know algebra, geometry, or trigonometry?”? This column may be just the answer to impart.


I was a fortunate kid in that I always enjoyed math. In fact, the first degree I ever received was in math. I even taught it in public high schools for a time. But I never thought math would be so intertwined with interior design. I use it to draw three-dimensional spaces, design cabinetry, tile layouts, and space plan in an aesthetically pleasing way.


Math was on overdrive recently while designing draperies. I’ll describe the situation but don’t worry about following it precisely. The idea is to pass along to your students that there are many surprising ways that math can be involved in their lives.


My challenge was to dress four sets of adjacent French doors that had five different widths of wall space between them. This was further complicated by wall sconces in the middle of each space. It’s not important to visualize this but to know that lining up drapery rods above each pair of doors, along with their finials (the decorative pieces on the ends) wouldn’t leave much room for the drapery panels to stack back when opened. This would mean less space for sunlight to shine through when the draperies were open. So, to save about seven inches per window, I decided to forego the finials and connect multiple rods together making it look like one rod measuring 32 feet.

Without math, I could not have known where to put the connectors (pieces that connect two rods) and brackets (pieces that hold up the ends and centers of the rods). I also had to account for the widths of sconces minus their wall space divided by two. I had to calculate the width of each drapery panel so that they would open as far as the sconce. But each rod would be longer than the panels because they extended over the sconces. Clear as mud? My point is that math was a crucial piece of this puzzle. But there’s more to the puzzle.


Once I knew the widths of each panel, I had to calculate how many 54-inch fabric widths I needed per panel. To do this, I had to decide the style of pleat, how full each panel should be, and how wide to make the overlap (to cover the small gap when two panels meet). This would also tell me how many pleats there would be and how many rings I’d need.


I next had to specify the panels’ lengths. It’s not as straightforward as measuring the distance from the floor to the rod. There are the rings’ inner and outer diameters to consider as well as the distance from the top of the panel to where the pin hook in the back would be. And, in the end, I’d subtract a half inch so that the fabric didn’t drag on the floor. My answers were “3 widths, triple pleat, 2 ½ times fullness, 1 ½ inch overlap, 1 ¾ inch interior and 2 ¼ inch exterior diameters on a 1” rod with a ¾” pin set”. Oh, and I’d need 96 rings.


Parents and grandparents, feel free to pass this column along to any of your artsy student family members who ask, “When am I ever going to use math?”

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