Well - a good thing or not? They are everywhere, they vary in price from quite inexpensive to very costly. We can find a good assortment of styles - grommet tops, tab tops and even fake pinch pleats. We now have access to longer length panels and an astounding assortment of fabrics. They offer a very quick, relatively inexpensive solution - you can buy the panels and a rod and install them yourself . If what you want is a quick fix they are great. No doubt about it. But they do have limitations and because I work on these panels more and more often, I thought you might like to know what my experience with them has been so you can make an informed choice.
Please please please be aware of lining. You are simply throwing your money away if you buy a natural fiber panel with no lining; silk should also be interlined. I promise you will see sun damage (even in a North facing window with blinds) in as little as one summer season. Check the seam stitching; hems should be blind stitched- you shouldn’t be able to see the line of stitching from the front. The side seams should be secure and not roll toward the front. Check the cleaning instructions, if they can not be dry cleaned or machine washed, you will have to wash them by hand- and iron them. Could be quite a chore. In order for the drape to hang correctly there needs to be a weight in each bottom corner. Often these panels are folded and packed so tightly that even with an industrial iron and a professional de-wrinkle spray the creases can not be removed.
Very few pre made panels are meant to be opened and closed. Picture this: you open the curtains by pushing the panel all the way to the side of the window. To close the drapes you pull on the leading edge and drag it to the center of the window. The extra fullness stays squished at the side, all you did was pull the drape flat across the window. In order to make it look good it is necessary to go back and move the fullness along the rod bit by bit. Which leads me to rods that expand. If you are trying to pull the drape over the expansion joint the drape will snag at this point every time - and the drape on the side with the smaller diameter rod will hang lower than the other side.
Of the 12 panels from 5 companies I worked on in one 3 week period, there was a variance in length from one side to the other in 9 of the panels, from 1/2 inch to 2 inches. Only 2 of the panels were actually the same measurements as the package stated. None had blind hems and none had corner weights. Eight panels were longer in the center than at the sides.
I am a member of an association of people like me across Canada who operate drapery construction businesses and the general consensus is that the price of pre-made panels does not indicate the quality of construction, lining or fabric. Most of the panels we see are made in the Orient and with altering and replacing in a few years there isn’t that much cost saving between these panels and custom made to start with.
So buy these panels with the understanding that you will be replacing them soon - use them as stationary panels in the kids playroom or the spare bedroom. Get your sewer to add some trim to customize them and perhaps pleat them so they function better or look a bit more individual. I recently delivered some shortened panels to a client and as I drove down the street I noticed the same panels in another living room as well. I hate going to a party and seeing someone in the same dress as me.