I’m often asked how to determine the number of overlapping swags and of what size to use on a window. It’s especially tricky when there is more than one window in a room, and they each are different widths. For example, one of our students was working in a room with three windows—one was 93 1/2 inches wide, another was 69 1/2 inches wide and the last was 45 1/2 inches wide.
An important guideline to use that assures the swag treatments are
as aesthetically pleasing as possible is to keep each individual
swag as close to the same width as the other swags in the room.
This is far more important than trying to use the same number of
swags from window to window. Knowing that most swags are between
30 and 50 inches wide, here’s what I’d typically do.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
To make the calculation easier, I round off the measurement fractions
in the window widths. Slight adjustments can be made in the width
of the swags later to compensate for this adjustment. Let’s
start with the window that’s 70 inches wide.
It is easy to see that two 35-inch swags would butt end-to-end to
cover the width. Another 35-inch swag would be needed to cover up
where the other two butt together; therefore, we’d use three
35-inch swags as shown in Illustration 1. The single swag would
be placed on top of the other two to provide a complete swag as
a focal point in the center of the treatment. If it were placed
behind the other swags, only a small portion of it would show. This
is OK if it is the desired style, but it is not very common.
The 45-inch window could be covered with one 45-inch swag, but that
would be a lot different in finished width than the three 35-inch
swags on the first window. Three swags used on a 45-inch window
would be another solution, but that means the swags would be 22
1/2 inches wide. That is quite a bit out of our desired range of
30 to 50 inches in width. A better choice probably would be to use
two swags cascading in one direction (Illustration 2).
The best way to determine the size of swags that cascade in one
direction is to think of them in terms of half swags covering the
full width of the window. Typically, only half of each swag would
extend out from underneath the previous swag. The one swag at the
beginning of the cascade would be completely seen, so be sure to
count it as two half swags.
In our case, we’d have a total of three half swags covering
the width of the 45-inch window. To determine the exact width of
the swags, divide the window width by three. You get 15 inches.
Remember, this is the size of a half swag, so double it to get 30
inches. This is very close to the 35-inch swags used to cover the
Now, let’s tackle the 93-inch window. Three 31-inch swags would
butt end-to-end and be very close in size to the other swags. Two
more swags of the same size would be needed to cover where the other
three meet (Illustration 3). Again, we’d use the odd number
of swags as the top layer in order to place a full swag as the center
focal point. Therefore, the two swags would be mounted first and
the other three on top of those.
The 93-inch window also could be covered in two 46 1/2-inch swags
butted together with a third covering where the first two meet (Illustration
4). These swags would be much larger than the other swags in the
room if we chose to use the 30- and 35-inch swags on the other windows.
But remember, we could have decided to use only one swag on the
45-inch window. Now, these last two windows would have swags that
were very close to the same size (46 1/2 and 45 inches). So, let’s
go back to the 70-inch window and see if there’s another solution
that would put us just as close.
How close would the swags be in size if we used two swags cascading
in one direction on the 70-inch window instead of three overlapping
swags? Two cascading swags would mean three half swags, so we divide
the window width by three and get approximately 23 inches. This
is the measure for a half swag, so the complete swag would be a
total of 46 inches. Bingo! Almost exactly the same size as the others.
So in the end, we could go with swags approximately 30-inches in
width on all three windows or swags approximately 45-inches in width
on all three windows. The choice is up to you and your customer.
HOW TO DECIDE
As you can see from this exercise, there are almost always multiple
choices for any given window. How do you choose which option would
be the best? There are several criteria you can use to help you
decide. Sometimes only one of these will apply, making the decision
simple. Other times several will apply making the decision more
In that situation, you will have to do the best you can, trying
to determine which is the most important consideration and which
is your customer’s preference. Let’s take a look at the
various elements I use to help me make a decision. Let’s use
a 90-inch window as an example.
• Style of Treatment. Do you or your customer want typical
overlapping swags, overlapping swags that cascade all in one direction
or butted swags (Illustration 5)? The desired style will affect
how many swags would be used.
• Design Theme. Often there are multiple options, even when
using the same style of swag. For example, five 30-inch overlapping
swags or three 45-inch overlapping swags could be used on a 90-inch
wide window. Using design as the criteria to decide, you may want
to follow this guideline: Usually, the more swags on a window, the
more formal and plush the treatment. Not always, of course. It also
would depend on the type of fabric and trimmings and the style of
• Type of Window. What if your 90-inch window were made up
of three 30-inch windows? If using overlapping swags, I would use
five 30-inch swags rather than three 45-inch swags because it would
place a 30-inch swag at the center of each window (Illustration
If, however, I wanted to use butted swags, I would use only three
30-inch swags. Again, that would allow for a swag to be centered
over each window.
• Other Windows in the Room. But what if you had another window
in the same room that was 44 inches wide with one 44-inch swag on
it? Then I would seriously consider using three overlapping 45-inch
swags. Remember, we like to keep all of the swags in a room as similar
in size as possible. Using 30-inch swags would be too different
in look from the 44-inch swag. But using three 45-inch swags would
not allow for a swag to be centered over each 30-inch window. In
this case, you would have to decide which criterion is more crucial.
• Usually, Use an Odd Number. Using odd numbers is key to pleasant
interior design, no matter what we are working with. Three pillows
on the bed, not two, for example. This guideline also applies to
swags. If an even number works out better following some of the
previous guidelines, then it is OK to use an even number.
Typically, overlapping swags will nearly always work out to an odd
number, but calculations for the number of swags that will cascade
in one direction can result in an even number.
• Cost. Most swags require 1 1/2 yards of fabric each, and
most workrooms charge per swag for labor. Therefore, five 30-inch
swags would require more fabric and higher labor charges than three
45-inch swags. If five overlapping swags are desired for the look
but won’t fit into the budget, a very similar but much less
expensive look could be created with three overlapping swags.
• Fabric Type. If a heavy or stiff fabric has been chosen for
swags (a poor choice, by the way), the fabric will hang best if
used in as large a size swag as possible. So, I would choose to
use three 45-inch swags rather then five 30-inch swags. Besides,
if I’m working with a fabric that is hard to work with, I’d
much rather have to make only three swags than five!
• Design in the Print. If the chosen fabric is a print and
has a large design, the design would show better in a large swag
than in a small swag. The design could be completely hidden in a
small swag, showing only the colors.
• Width of Fabric. An important quality guideline for swags
recommends not using seams because they show and detract from the
beauty of the treatment. The width of the fabric will determine
how wide a swag can be made without using a seam. Thus, five smaller
swags may have to be used rather than three larger ones.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? How do you handle all of
these elements at the same time just to make a decision on how many
swags to make? My advice is first to determine which elements apply.
Next, decide which are most crucial. Discuss the mater with your
customer and do your best!
Strickland is owner of Professional Drapery School, Swannanoa, NC,
and is an internationally acclaimed speaker with 20 years experience
in the window coverings industry. She is the publisher and editor
of Sew WHAT?, an international monthly newsletter for professional