Making Curtains: The Road So Far
Recently I’ve found myself in a predicament where I had to move into my car before I was ready to do that. I’m planning on getting a Ford Transit in (hopefully) a few months, and doing a video series on YouTube and SparkkTV as to how I built mine. For now I have a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited, and I’m quite happy with it as it doesn’t have any issues at over 222,000 miles on it! I took it cross-country a few months back with it in the 200,000 mile range somewhere. This thing lasts, and I need curtains! 😉
NOTE: If you don’t care about reading about my mistakes, and just want something that works, then just read the “Attempt X: SUCCESS!” portions in order and you’ll have a working product.
I keep my posts up to date, so that way you can keep apprised of all of the developments on what went right, and what went wrong.
- Tape printer paper to your windows and to the other papers, such that they cover the full window. Trace the outline of the window with a pencil, and then remove the templates. Trim the template to the outline you traced.
- Buy a couple rolls of Reflectix. Make sure there’s enough material to cover all of your windows.
- Place your templates from step #1 onto the roll of Reflectix so you can trace their outline onto the paper backing of that plastic. Cut the plastic a bit larger than the template (about 1/2″+). This extra padding will make it so you don’t have to be as precise when you put them on your windows.
- Use double-sided “poster tape” to firmly hold the Reflectix onto your back windows. (The front ones you can just push into place and expect them to hold.) Poster tape is meant to be easily removed after a while, so you don’t risk having tape stuck to your windows if you ever decide to change/replace your window coverings.
Measuring the Windows
Attempt 1: FAIL!
My first attempt at creating templates for my windows was to use Cardboard boxes, as a lot of vandwellers do that. I have no idea how they get so much cardboard, but I did scurry up some boxes I had laying around. I have lots of them, but not many are really large. So, I decided to cut them in pieces and tape them together.
The issue with this method is that cardboard is extremely unwieldy to try and cut into the correct shape while holding them in position. (Try working on it from the inside on an 80 degree day, or doing it above your head! Not pleasant.) Cardboard is heavy, so you can’t just tape it to the window with ease, as you struggle to cut the rest of them. The other windows are easier to work with because they’re more vertical and I can do it with the door open.
Attempt 2: SUCCESS!
After a little bit of struggling with the cardboard, I had an epiphany. Why not use paper and tape! So, I did just that. The paper is so thin that I could simply insert it under parts of the door and walls and such, and then tape it in place. It’s also a uniform size, lightweight, easy to cut, and easy to tape to the window and to other pieces of paper.
I broke out a packet of printer paper I had lying around, some scissors, a pencil, and Scotch tape, and I got to work. Once all of the paper was in place and stuck to each other, I took my pencil and drew a line around the edge of the paper as close to the edge as I could get it.
To get the paper template down, I just gently pulled at it and carefully removed the parts that were tapped to the window itself. Because it was only on there for a few minutes, it didn’t bake the tape to the window, so it was very easy to remove without any residue on the windows.
Next up, I just cut the template along the line and I had my template. In my case, the windows in my car are asymmetrical (aka I don’t have a side door or the like), so I could use the same template for both the left and right sides of my car. (No need to waste paper or time.)
Building Window Coverings / Curtains
My original goal was to create actual curtains over my windows. Gravity pulls things down towards the ground, so either I’d have to build a stand for the curtains or mount them to the roof inside my car. I brainstormed for a while on how I could do it. I thought about using a shower curtain track along the inside of my car and just pulling it into place at night, but leaving it open during the day so I can drive more easily.
The issue was that I have a cloth top to my car and I didn’t want to damage that. If I had, then it could make the car harder to sell when I get my Transit. Plus, if I did it wrong, I’d get stuck looking at the mess. So, a track around the top was out. Plus, I don’t know how to build a stand, and it seemed like too much work for something so simple.
As you may have guessed from the fact that we just templated our windows in the section above, we won’t be building traditional curtains that you pull to cover the windows. However, I did see Amazon listings for car curtains that fit into your windows. The issue is that they’re all black. They also don’t cover every window in the car like the rear window and two rear-side windows. I saw some “sunscreen” versions that just tint your windows, but mine are already tinted, but I wanted ones to keep me private inside as well as reflect the blazing 80 degree sun in the summer.
So how did I do it?
Attempt 1: FAIL!
My first attempt at coving the windshield was to get a shiny sunshield for it: the kind auto stores and Walmart sell that folds up. I unfolded it and put it in place, and everything seemed to work well. Well… that was until I tried to put it away. The packaging said to twist and contort the sun shield in Nija-like ways to magically collapse it. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Luckily I tested it in the parking lot and then just ran in to return it. What a mess! Ain’t nobody got time for dat! 🙂
BTW, the one pictures isn’t the one I got, but it’s of a similar design.
Attempt 2: FAIL!
I then got a sunshield that collapses through vertically folding it. It went on easily, and came off easily. The problem is that like the last one, I had gaps near the rear view mirror and the edges that let light in. Plus you can easily see through from the outside. I also made the mistake of being too rough with it and part of the trim fell off! I decided to call it quits and say it does well enough for what I need. In the future I’ll get a different one for my Transit most likely.
When I started living in my Van in the front yard to test it out, I wound up kneeling on the visor, and part of the cloth edging around it fell off. It’s brittle, and it doesn’t custom-fit your front window, so you’re left with large gaps of open window.
Attempt 3: SUCCESS!
Just treat the windshield like the other windows. (You’ll see later on what I mean.)
Side and Rear Windows
Attempt 1: FAIL!
With my templates in hand, I need to get something to cover the windows. My first plan was to get fabric and use magnets to attach it to the window frame. I figured that since the car was metal in those areas, that all I’d need to do was get some fabric, attach some magnets, and away we go. Well… not exactly.
My car had plastic parts around the window, and wasn’t close enough to the metal for a magnet to stick. I made the mistake of buying magnets before hand, but I didn’t have the templates at the time to get the fabric for the curtains. When I tested out the magnets, they wouldn’t stick. That’s how I figured out that there wasn’t any metal under the plastic cover that the magnets could attach to. So, I decided to use velcro to hang them in place.
I bought a $20 box containing 15ft. x 2in. of industrial strength Velcro. It was designed to be strong enough to hold 10 pounds of tools to the wall. At this time I still didn’t have the templates for the windows, so I just looked for fabric and didn’t buy it yet. I found the fabric I needed for this iteration: brown pleather 7 yards long. I went home, built the templates, and then I came back and bought the ream of pleather. (It had a light colored cloth on the other side due to how it was made, so it would reflect the light a bit.)
Building the Curtains
When I came back home, I used the template for the rear hatch to cut the pleather fabric to the right shape, and I left four tabs to sew some Velcro to it. The other side was to stick to the car.
Before sewing the velcro in place, I made sure that the piece I cut would fit. It did. I tried to sew the hook portion of the velcro to the pleather curtains. However, the sticky backing messed up the sewing machine needle. So, I had to use a different one and get some sewable velcro. The only place that sold them was Amazon; not even craft stores had sewable velcro! They only sold the sticky stuff. (Don’t ask… :P)
Anywho, I cut the last of the templates to size and they looked good. I had to make sure the tabs matched the windows properly so I could sew velcro to the tabs and have those attach to the car. Well, the issue had become that the walls jut out significantly from the windows. If I attached the curtains to the walls, the fabric would sag in the middle because I couldn’t use velcro on the fabric ceiling! So, my idea was to use glue on the fabric to harden it into the correct shape. I never got that far, as things just kept going wrong every way I spun it. So, I saved the materials for things I’ll be building when I get my transit instead. (Seats come to mind.)
These curtains just aren’t working, and it’s time for a new plan.
Attempt 2: FAIL!
I stopped work on the pleather idea, and I’ve just ordered some white “blackout” plastic that sticks to your windows using static electricity. I opted for the white version to help reflect the light. Black ones that will almost undoubtedly heat the car. Some people have seen it falling off of their home windows, and they say it comes with a heady plastic smell. I don’t notice any plastic smell on mine, and they repeatedly stay up night after night. (I take them down during the day, and put them up at night, so yes they are very reusable.)
Humid atmospheres reduce static electricity, and that’s what the product relies on to stick. Some people are using the plastic in their home bathrooms. Presumably that’s what’s causing some people to say they fall off the windows. In an SUV that won’t be an issue. I can also “charge up” the static electricity by rubbing it against my bedding.
Installing the Curtains
Right, so to install these things, I got a 36″ x 144″ roll, and had plenty of space to cut out the window curtains. Just trace your templates you made earlier, onto the paper backing of the blackout plastic. You’ll need to shift them into the correct position to make them all fit. You don’t need to add “tabs” like with the pleather version I was making. Instead, just leave room to cut the plastic LARGER (About 1/2″ larger around the edges) than the window size! That’s important, as I wish I would have left mine a bit larger in some places.
The extra material means it’s not as difficult to place them on the windows in such a perfect position every night. Wrinkles and bubbles under the plastic don’t matter, and you won’t have gaps between the edge of the window and the plastic. Plus, the extra material makes it easier to remove them in the morning.
In the morning, I just roll them up and stick them in the pocket for the door they go on. The hatchback curtain goes in a pocket behind the front seats, and the smaller windows in the back get placed in the middle door pockets. That helps me to avoid fussing about with which curtain goes where.
There is a middle piece of plastic between the backing and the plastic that goes on your window. I was shocked that once cutout was the only one with weird wrinkles on the underside of the plastic. It wouldn’t stick at all to my window. The middle piece of plastic was still attached to the window plastic. All I had to do was remove that plastic. I didn’t realize that and cut a new copy of that plastic. Sadly, all I needed to do was remove that middle plastic piece. You’ll clearly understand what’s going on if you’re faced with this situation.
Attempt 3: SUCCESS!
After I tried sleeping in my van in the front yard for a while, I realized that the white plastic just wasn’t going to cut it. It started falling down, and it just let in too much light around the edges the way I cut them. Plus, they were annoying to put up and take down.
Ultimately I wound up using the “duct tape of Vanlife” – Reflectix! There’s a very good reason why Reflectix is the standard in Vanlife, and that’s because it works. Since I started this article, I’ve been living the vanlife for several weeks now, and not once have I had and serious issues with Reflectix. The only issue I had was that due to the extreme 90 – 100 deg. F. heat (probably) and gravity, some of the Reflectix started to sag. I added double sided poster tape to the top and bottoms of my rear Reflectix window coverings and they’ve stayed in place much better.
Poster tape is meant to be removed at a later date, so it won’t mess up your windows with tape stuck to them if you change your window coverings later on. Also, I leave my back curtains up all the time. That way I just have the three in the cabin to put up and take down while driving. I’ve installed a backup camera on my car as well in order to see what’s going on behind me when I back up. If you don’t want to tear your entire car apart, you’ll want to get a wireless backup camera if you don’t already have one. That makes it so you don’t need to dismantle your car and play dodgems with air bags and hope you get lucky.
Another Option for Curtains
There are “grab handles” and clothes hooks on the roof. At first I didn’t want to use those as they just seemed too hackish to consider. However in hindsight I could have used that ream of pleather. I could have put rivets in the pleather, and then used shower hooks to attach it to the car. It would give me total privacy, but probably not make it dark enough in the car during the day. Given how dark the pleather is, it probably would have made the car hotter than the plastic I did use.
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