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A curtain call for window treatments

Windows bring sunlight, a view and an interesting architectural element into any room. The impact of a window should be gently enhanced, never overshadowed, by curtains, blinds or shades.

The number of window treatments available is staggering and can be intimidating. When making your choices, look for simple, elegant designs and let the window itself and the decor and feeling of the room lead you.

Don't be afraid to make curtains and shades yourself. It's the best way to get exactly what you want. Also, window sizes and shapes are not standard, so it's not easy to find a store-bought curtain or shade that will be an exact fit.

Here are ideas to consider:

Begin by asking yourself what you want from your window treatments. Are you looking for privacy? Do you want to hide an unattractive frame or play up a beautiful one? Do you want to invite light in or keep it out?

For example, if you have a large window with a wonderful view, don't hide it behind heavy folds of fabric; choose simple curtains that are easily opened to reveal the entire window and its frame or use blinds or shades that are virtually invisible when open.

Always use the best-quality fabric you possibly can. It will show in the flow of the fabric. Linen, cotton, silk and wool are all excellent choices; natural fibers generally last longer and fade less than synthetics.

Plush or satiny fabrics, such as silk, velvet and brocade, are better as full-length curtains than sill-length. For tightly gathered curtains, use something with a nice drape, such as raw silk or velvet. Plain-woven cotton or linen, such as chintz, canvas or poplin, is very versatile.

Stiffer fabric offers sculptural folds; looser weaves drape more softly. Sheer fabrics, such as muslin, voile and lace, allow light in while reducing glare.

For shades, the fabric needs to be sturdy enough to withstand constant tugging. Canvas, linen, chintz and silk taffeta work well.

Use light- to medium-weight fabrics with a tight weave for roll-up shades in which the fabric is laminated to a shade backing. Heavy- or light-weight fabrics can be used for Roman shades, which draw up into pleats.

Lining a curtain or shade is not essential, but it does have advantages. Lining protects fabric from sunlight and helps block drafts and dust. It also adds body to thin fabrics, such as silk.

Plain white lining fabric isn't your only option. You can also use a contrasting color or the same fabric as the curtain or shade. If you don't want to allow much light to show through, use heavy, dense, tightly woven fabric as a lining.

Before buying yards and yards of fabric, think about how you will clean it. For kitchens, bathrooms and children's rooms, it's smart to have curtains that can be machine-washed. Remove dust from your curtains, blinds and shades regularly using the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner.

The hardware can be the most important part of a window treatment. Look for antique or new finials, poles, brackets and curtain rings in unusual designs. You can buy unfinished wooden hardware and paint it, gild it, stain it or leave it natural. Instead of curtain rings, install grommets (available at hardware stores) along the top of the curtain and thread them onto a thin curtain rod.

Sometimes, though, you want the hardware to disappear. Hide the hardware of blinds or shades with wooden cornices. Available in many styles, they add another architectural element to a room.

Be creative. Embellish store-bought window treatments at home: Hang plain curtains from fancy rings or use decorative tiebacks. Use a hot-glue gun to attach a decorative pull to a simple white shade. Tie big beads to the end of a shade cord.

If you have oddly shaped windows and decide to have blinds custom made, make sure you measure the window at the top, middle and bottom. These dimensions can vary.

Send questions to Martha Stewart, c/o the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E 42nd St., New York, NY 10168, or