Curtain heading styles: How to choose the right one for your home

Many things define the design of your curtains – from the shape and size of your windows to your choice of fabric. But one of the most overlooked factors is the impact your choice of curtain heading has on the look of your window treatments.  

It’s maybe not the most obvious design element, hiding at the top of the curtain or even behind a pelmet. But while it’s a functional part of your curtains, it has great potential as a decorative element as well. 

So, let’s have a look at the different curtain heading styles you can choose from!

grey silk curtains with cartridge pleat heading
Sleek and elegant – curtains with cartridge pleat heading

How to choose the right curtain heading style

Several factors help you decide on the right curtain heading for your window:

  • Style: Do you have a more formal or informal style in mind? Are you going for an opulent or more understated look?
  • Property & Windows: Is this for a traditional or a contemporary property? Are you dressing dormer windows or big picture windows?
  • Fabric: Do you prefer a plain, elegant fabric or do you want to show off your favourite pattern?
  • Fitting: Can you fit a wooden or tracked pole or is a curtain track a better choice?

Curtain headings have a big influence on the look and feel of your window treatment. For example, they can help the fabric to hang in luxurious folds or they can create a more minimalist look.

It’s also important to take your choice of fabric into account, especially if it has a pattern. For example, a regular vertical pattern looks better when it fits the pleats (similar to a kilt) to avoid a random, unbalanced placing. But not all curtain headings can be pleated to a pattern.

Other factors are the type of property you’re living in, the size and style of window as well as the suitable fitting.

Let’s look into the most popular curtain heading styles and which style, property, fabric and fitting they suit best.

Single pleat curtains

  • Style: Understated & elegant, sleek & tailored
  • Property & windows: Contemporary with any size windows
  • Fabric: Mostly plain fabrics
  • Fitting: Pole, tracked pole & track
  • Variations: Cartridge pleat, goblet pleat

A single pleat curtain heading is where you have just one finger (or fold) at the top of your curtain:

It’s a very smart look and the resulting sleek and tailored curtains are very much in keeping with a contemporary property.

Unsurprisingly, this heading style is mostly used with plain fabrics to create an understated, elegant look for your home. They also stack back neatly and work very well for softer fabrics.

The single pleat heading also suits windows of any size – from sash and dormer windows to big bi-fold doors and tall windows. It also suits any fitting, from a wooden pole and track to a tracked pole.

Additionally, this style works very well under pelmets, whether in a contemporary setting or a traditional bay window.

Variations of this are a cartridge pleat and a goblet pleat. A cartridge pleat has wadding added to give it a slightly more luxurious look. It is a great choice for large and distinctive patterns but ill-suited for very short windows.

Goblet pleats are gathered at the bottom like a triple pleat but they’re stuffed which gives your curtains a very classic country house look.

Double pleat curtains

  • Style: Classic, sleek
  • Property & windows: Traditional and contemporary, esp. small or dormer windows
  • Fabric: Plain, patterned or geometric fabrics
  • Fitting: Pole, tracked pole & track
  • Variations: Closed double pleat

Looking for a classic look with a bit more volume than a single pleat curtain? Then the double pleat heading is for you:

This heading style works for both traditional and contemporary windows. It’s also the perfect choice for a small window or a window with a deep recess like a dormer window.

Using more fabric than the single pleat, this heading adds more volume and weight to your curtains. But it can be easily fitted with a pole, track or tracked pole.

A double pleat heading style is a great choice when you’re aiming for a sleek but stylish look.

A variation of this is the closed double pleat where the pleats are closed at the top. It’s a very contemporary twist that keeps the fullness and opulence of the fabric while delivering a modern look.

Triple pleat curtains

  • Style: Luxurious, opulent
  • Property & windows: Traditional with bay, sash and tall windows
  • Fabric: Plain or patterned fabrics
  • Fitting: Pole, tracked pole & track

The perfect choice for your Edinburgh period property, this classic heading creates a great formal look:

A triple pleat curtain holds the fabric in beautiful folds. No surprise, then, that it’s the best heading for opulent and voluminous curtains.

Great for traditional sash windows, the more formal pleat emphasises the folds in the fabric which is great for taller ceilings. While this design doesn’t lend itself well to small, dinky windows, it works particularly well for interlined curtains.

Whether you want to use cotton, linen, wool or silk fabric, this heading style is a great choice for both plain and patterned fabrics.

Good to know: A triple pleat curtain takes up a lot more room on the track or pole than a single pleat. This is because more fabric is put into each pleat to create fullness in the folds.

This can look luxurious, though you may lose more light when your triple pleat curtains are open as the extra fabric takes up more space. 

Wave pleat curtains

  • Style: Pared back, understated, minimalist
  • Property & windows: Contemporary with big picture windows or bi-fold doors
  • Fabric: Mostly plain fabrics, often voiles
  • Fitting: Track or pole specifically for wave heading

Wave curtains are ideal for giving modern homes a contemporary, clean minimalist look:

They look great across a big expanse of glass such as bifold doors in a contemporary property and stack back tightly onto a small wall space.

This very regular, almost geometric shape works well with plain fabrics and can be used with a track or pole specifically for a wave heading.

It’s often chosen for semi-sheer curtains (or voiles) and not the best choice if you want to reduce light leakage in your home. In that case, you would need to add a pelmet or choose a single pleat curtain instead.

Cottage heading

  • Style: Relaxed, informal, playful
  • Property & windows: Traditional with small, cosy rooms and windows, no large, dormer or recessed windows
  • Fabric: Light or medium-weight fabrics with small prints
  • Fitting: Track or pole

Cottage headings are perfect for, well, small cottages but also a good fit for young girls’ rooms:

The frill at the top of the curtain adds a relaxed and informal look (without looking twee) and you can easily keep the curtains when your children’s bedroom becomes a guest bedroom.

It works best with light fabrics and small, playful prints. So don’t pair this heading with wool or velvet curtains and choose a different heading if you have a blocky, geometric pattern in mind.

As the name says, it’s a great fit for traditional properties with small cosy rooms and it looks great on a pole or track. But it doesn’t work well on large or recessed windows like dormers.

Pencil pleat curtains

  • Style: Relaxed, informal
  • Property & windows: Contemporary or traditional
  • Fabric: Works for most fabrics, no pleating to pattern possible though
  • Fitting: Track, wooden or tracked pole

A pencil pleat tape heading is for you if you’re looking for a more informal, less streamlined style:

The heading uses tape, which is machine sewn on. The strings in the tape are drawn up to create pencil-like folds – hence the name!

This heading is very unobtrusive and so is used a lot for voile curtains, particularly when the voiles sit behind the main curtains. It works for most fabrics although it can’t be pleated to pattern.

The only thing to keep in mind is that with pencil pleat tape, it’s difficult to get elegant folds in the curtains. So it’s not a good choice for longer windows (unless you use holdbacks) and is best used with a track or tracked pole.

Euro pleat curtains

  • Style: Smart, tailored
  • Property & windows: Traditional and contemporary
  • Fabric: Plain or patterns
  • Fitting: Wooden or tracked pole

This softer version of the double or triple pleat heading style looks very smart:

Very popular in the US, these curtains are pinched at the top (instead of gathered at the bottom), giving them a classic, tailored look.

They work for traditional and contemporary properties and are best used with a pole or tracked pole. (Because the pleat sits underneath the pole, there’s no point in using a track.)

It’s a versatile look that comes with the same pros and cons as the double/triple pleat heading and makes it suitable for both plain and patterned fabrics.

Inverted pleat curtains

  • Style: pared back, understated, minimalist
  • Property & windows: Traditional and contemporary with big windows without recess
  • Fabric: Plain and patterned fabrics
  • Fitting: Pole or tracked pole

Another understated look for big windows, inverted curtain headings are exactly that: Inverted. Instead of the pleat coming forward and the fold backwards, it’s the other way around which creates a flat look at the front.

With the curtain still coming down in regular folds, this style works well with patterns. Although a busy pattern might take the emphasis away from this tailored, unfussy style.

Good to know: Because the pleat sits back towards the wall, inverted pleat curtains can’t be hung from corded poles as the pleats would prevent the cord from running freely.

It needs a decent length, so it’s not a good fit for small or recessed windows. Choose it for traditional or modern big windows with a pole or tracked pole instead.

Add a little extra

Ever thought about adding trimmings? There are a lot of possibilities to add interest to your curtains.

From contrast sewing, pinching the top of the pleat, adding buttons for contrast at the bottom of the pleats or embellishing the curtains with a narrow contrast border at the top of the pleats, there is something for every taste.

Want to find out more about the ideal curtain heading style for your windows? Get in touch for a free, no-obligation consultation!