Operable Roman Shades: A Tutorial

If you read yesterday’s post and guessed I was finally making some window treatments for Stephen’s studio, you were right!  It took a long time to find the right fabric and window treatment style for this masculine room.  I found the perfect fabric on our trip to Ikea this spring but only recently got around to studying up on the best way to make operable Roman shades and actually DOING it.

Shade Installed Up

I used a few tutorials to get started (found here, here, and here) and figured out a few things on my own along the way.

1 set of mini blinds the width of your window (lots of widths available HERE)
Fabric of your choice
Iron-on hem tape
Fabric glue
Paintbrush (optional)
Sticky back Velcro

1.  Open your mini blinds and lay them out on a flat surface, extended as long as they will go.

Mini Blinds Spread them out

2. Cut away the thin ladder-like strings by running your scissors along the top of the mini blinds.  These strings are typically used to turn the mini blind slats to let more or less light in – but you won’t be needing them.  Don’t cut the strings that go through each slat (used to lift and lower the blinds).

Cut the ladders

Remove ladder strings

3. Completely remove all the ladder-like strings so you are left with 2 lift strings and slats floating freely on those strings.

Pull Strings Left

4. Decide how many folds you want in your Roman shade.  My window was approximately 60″ tall, so I decided to have 6 folds, 10 inches apart.  Pop off the plugs on the bottom of the weighted bar at the end of your mini blinds.  Untie the lift strings and remove all the extra slats (leave one slat per fold, counting the bottom weighted bar as a slat).

Remove Plug

(Note: In this photo I have 6 slats plus the weighted bar.  I should have only had 5 slats plus the weighted bar to make my 6 folds.)

Remove Slats

5. Set aside the blinds and lay out your fabric.  Cut a rectangular piece of fabric to these dimensions (width of your window + 2 inches  x  length of your window + 5 inches).  My fabric ended up being 37″ x 65″ since my window was 35″ x 60″.

Cutting Fabric

6. Using hem tape or your sewing machine, hem the long edges of your fabric.  My hems were all 1″ wide.  I chose not to hem the top and bottom edges of the fabric during this step, but if I did it again, I would also put a 1″ hem on the top and bottom at this point.

Hemming Fabric Fabric Hemmed

7. Lay your mini blinds on top of your hemmed fabric.  Place a mark about 2 inches from the top edge of your fabric on each side.  Then continue down both sides, measuring and marking the distance you want between each slat.  I made 6 more marks on each side, 10 inches apart.

Laying out blinds

Marking Slats

8. Brush fabric glue on the convex side of your slats, flip them over, line them up with your marks, and glue them in place.  Make sure to smooth out your fabric and press hard to get good contact between your fabric and the glue.  Don’t get any glue on your lift strings!

Slat Glue

Gluing Slats

Drying Glue

(I realized when I got to the end that I had left one extra slat on my strings.  The solution was simple.  I carefully snipped the slat where the lift string went through it and removed it from the strings on both sides.)

Extra Slat

Remove Extra Slat

Slat Removed

9. Before gluing the bottom weighted bar in place, tie big knots in the ends of the lift strings, pull them tight, and replace the white plugs.

Tying Knot


Here’s a look at the shade once all the slats were glued in place.

Back of Finished Shade

10. On the top edge, line the top bar up with the marks you made on the fabric, fold the fabric up and over the bar, and glue it in place on the back of the bar.  I left about 5 inches of fabric free on each end of the bar, since I still needed to be able to slip the bar into the brackets that suspend it from the window frame.

Left an opening

11. To keep the fabric from looking droopy on the sides, add a piece of sticky velcro to the back of your brackets and to the flap of fabric that didn’t get glued down.

Bracket in Place

Velcro Bracket Demo of Velcro

12. Time for the installation!  Take a trip to the lucky window.  Install one bracket on each side, drilling the screws into the sides of your window frame and not the top (if you choose to have the fabric go up and over the brackets and velcro to the back, like I did).

Window Before

I offset my brackets about 1.5″ from the front of the window frame, and about 1/4″ from the top, to allow room to sneak my fabric through later on.  Can you see the black velcro on the back of the bracket in the second photo?

Bracket Installed See Velcro

13. Lucky Step 13.  Slip your top bar into the brackets, push the fabric on the sides through towards the window, sneak your arm up behind the shade and velcro the fabric to the brackets. Congratulations!  Your Roman shade is done!

Shade Installed Down

Probably a good idea to test it out – go ahead and pull those strings to make sure you didn’t accidentally glue them to anything. 🙂

Shade Installed Up

Here’s a close up of the Roman shade.  You may have to train your fabric to fold nicely for the first few pulls, but after awhile it should fold up nicely on its own.  One lesson I learned was to make my shade just a teensy bit narrower next time.  This one fits almost perfectly, but still touches the sides of the window frame and doesn’t “fall” as nicely as a set of mini blinds would when I lower it.

Up Close Shade

Overall I’m really happy with how this Roman shade turned out.  Start to finish, it probably took me 3 hours.  I have one more to make for the other window in this room, but it will probably only take half the time since I know what I’m doing this time around.

One last look for good measure.  I never thought Roman shades could be masculine, but I think these pull it off.  What do you think?

Shade Installed Down Shade Installed Up

Update! For more tips on making these shades, check out my second post:

Operable Roman Shades: More Tips!

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