Understanding tiers valances and swags is not always self explanatory.  If you are confused about the terms used when describing curtains, you are not alone.

You’ll find that understanding tiers valances and swags can be confusing to anyone, whether male or female, young or old.

Here’s an explanation of what tier curtains and valances are, and how to use them.


Bear Tracks tiers
This is an example of curtain tiers or cafe curtains. These tier window treatment curtains, can be purchased here.

Tiers or tier curtains are sometimes called café curtains. They are hung from the middle of the window, down to the window sill.

Curtain tiers are decorative and provide privacy, while still allowing lots of light to enter the room. They also let you see a pretty view.

Tier curtains are usually made from lighter weight fabrics, like polyester, cotton, or a cotton blend.  They may be sheer or semi-sheer and often are unlined.

However, more expensive and better-made tier curtains are sometimes lined with another light-weight fabric.  This helps them hang nicely and provides more privacy.

Care for Tier Curtains

Most tier curtains are machine washable and can be tumble dried.  However, if your curtains are lined, the manufacturer may recommend that they be dry cleaned, to prevent shrinkage.  And some fabrics simply don’t stand up well to machine washing.

Unless your cafe curtains are all white, you should not use bleach when washing them.

You can usually iron your tier curtain panels, with a warm iron setting.

How to Buy the Right Size Tier Curtains

Each separate tier curtain is called a curtain panel.  You will need to purchase 2 tier curtain panels for each window.

The general rule of thumb is to use tier curtains that measure 1 1/2 to 2 times the width of your window, if your curtains are made of light or thin fabric.  For example, if your window is 30″ wide, then you can use curtains that measure 45-60″ (total width of both panels together).

Knowing the total width of the curtains helps you decide if the window curtains will fit your window.

Almost always, the listing online will give you the TOTAL width of the tier curtains.  The total width is the width of BOTH tier curtain panels, added together.  Or, if sold by the single panel, the width listed will be the width of the one panel that you are purchasing.

So, what about the length?  Most commonly, curtain tiers hang from the middle of a window (top to bottom), down to the window sill.  Simply measure that length, and you’ll know how long your curtains need to be.

Where to Use Tier Curtains

Tier curtains or cafe curtains are most often used as kitchen curtains or bathroom window treatments.  However, they also work nicely in a dining area, breakfast nook, laundry room or utility room.

Consider using tier curtains in a darker room on the north side of your house, as they will let more light and brightness into the room, than heavier and longer curtains.

Remember that log cabins and timber frame homes are darker than conventional homes with painted drywall.  Try to keep your home light, bright and airy, to offset the darkening character of the wood.


Tiers or café curtains are often used with a valance, which hangs at the very top of the window.

Even when tiers are used with a valance, you can still see outside, between the tier curtains and the valance.

Whitetail dreams drapes and valance
Here you see tier curtains, paired up with a matching valance. 

Decorative valances are often used in log homes alone (without other curtains).  They add a bit of color and interest, but they don’t block the pretty views that we all love.

Another way to use a valance, is to use it without curtains, but with a window shade or mini-blinds underneath.

The window shade will fold up during the day, giving you sunlight and views, but you can pull it down at night to block moonlight or street lights, and to give you privacy.

The valance at the top of the window will hide the shade or blinds, when they are not in use.

Summing it up, there are three ways that a valance can be used:

  • With matching tier curtains
  • Alone, without other curtains
  • With a swag.  When used with a swag, the valance is placed in the middle, between the two panels of the swag.


Sometimes called a swag valance, a swag is an ornamental curtain or fabric that hangs so there is a drooping curve.

Sturbridge wine prairie swag
This is an example of a curtain swag set. Note the graceful way the curtain panels hang. 

Curtain swags hang on both sides of a window.  And you can have a single swag which is one piece (connected at the top), or you can have 2 curtain panel swags, like the window in the photo above.

Sometimes a valance is hung at the top of the window, in between 2 swags.  You might do this, if your window is too wide for the swags alone.  The valance acts as an extender, so you can use the swags in a larger window.  Here’s an example of a valance between 2 swags:

Or, the swag can be one curtain, hung at the top and drooping into a curve in the center, with fabric dipping to the middle of the window or lower, on each side.

If you use a swag by itself in a window, you will still have lots of light, and can see much of a pretty view.