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How to Make a Reed Curtain for your Door or Window.
First a little warning. Making a Reed Curtain (hasira in Maltese) requires some patience, but once ready you'll be proud that you did it all by yourself. It is cheap to make, blocks direct sunlight, offers privacy (in the daytime you can see outside without being seen yourself) and lets in fresh air. It is still very widely used in Gozo. Some people only use it to protect their main door from direct sunlight, for example. Others use the reed curtain as a kind of awning for their terrace or to keep their plants in the cool shade during the Summer months.
Reed Curtain Diagram 1 - reeds divided into slats and the skeleton...
How to Proceed: First step is obvious, measure the Door or the Window. Suppose the door is 93 inches high and 33 inches wide. The Curtain needs to be 97 inches x 37 inches so that it overlaps the aperture by 4 inches at the top and 2 inches on each side.
Materials needed: we need 2 poles or rods of any softwood 1 3/4 inches x 1 inch of length 37 inches.
A very sharp knife to divide the reeds into thin slats.
7 needles, one for each standing rope. See needle in Diagram below.
A ball of thin strong twine or string.
A piece of 6 mm nylon rope, preferably grey in colour of length 18 meters (yellow in the diagram).
Reed Curtain Diagram2 - - Setting up the Skeleton (picture above)
This job is more demanding in its preparation stage than in its execution, but very satisfying in its completion.To divide the reeds into slats you need to spend several hours, paying very careful attention since you are working with a very sharp knife and the reeds themselves cut like a razor too.
For a large curtain of this size you would need about 480 to 500 slats. You would therefore have to 'divide' from 40 to 50 reeds. Tip 1: the thinner the slats the more professional and attractive the end result will be. Tip 2: Reeds have a 'straight grain", so they are not difficult to divide, especially after some experience.
Choose reeds of about 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches diameter with knuckles about 10 inches or more apart. Our first task is to divide the reed in two down the middle. Begin from the head, stick the blade on both walls of the reed, push down a little at a time and "open", push down and "open". When you come to a knuckle, the reed does not open, so bring the knife on the knuckle and open. To open just twist your knife/wrist gently from side to side. Divide each half into as many slats as you can.
An experienced person can make 16 slats out of 1 reed, but we do not need to concentrate on that. We only need to remember, that the thinner the slat, the better the end result will be. After cutting, the slats would need a light touch with a fine sandpaper to remove their sharp edges.
How to make a needle.
Cut a piece of reed of about 6 inches. Divide it in 2 halves, lengthwise. Shave off the sides so that it flattens quite a lot. Now we need to cut an oblong hole in the back of the reed of about 5 cms and of 1 1/2 cm width approx. Start at 1 cm from the end and make the cut shallow. You have made an eye for the needle. Do the same at the other end. This could be a little tricky so if you do not succeed at the first go, try again.
Next carve the underside of each eye so that it is round and tapers towards the point and looks like the pincers of a scorpion. Finally make a cut in the nose of the needle so that you can wind some twine or string around it (lengthwise). To make a clean cut, it is best to hold the needle point down on a piece of wood and press down with your sharp knife.
If making the traditional needles proves too difficult, you can use small pieces of wood like dowels about 5 inches long and wind the twine around them. Finish with a half-hitch so that they do not come undone. This is much easier and quicker.
Making the Reed Curtain (hasira in Malta)
First we work with the rods and drill holes in them. Hold the rod with the 1 inch side facing upwards. Mark 2 holes 1 1/2 inch from each end. You have now a space of 34 inches to divide by 6. Make 5 marks at 5 2/3 inch intervals inside the existing ones so that you end up with 7 pencil marks in all.
Copy the Marks on the second rod by holding them side by side and drill the holes straight through with a 6 mm bit.
Now cut 7 pieces from the nylon rope each 97 inches plus 6 inches for the knots. Pass through the holes in the two rods and make a good knot at both ends but do not tighten at this point, lest you would need to make slight adjustments. Consult above diagram and remember, in our example the curtain is 97 inches long including the rods.
To adjust the length exactly, it would perhaps be better to hang the curtain skeleton to a nail high up on the wall. Just tie some rope to the mid-point of the top rod and hoist it up. When you are sure about the length, squareness, etc. tighten the knots and you're ready to start placing the slats.
Reed Curtain - - Tying on the Slats
Now this is the easy part and the most enjoyable since you will begin to see your curtain coming along with every reed you add. Tip: Try to match the knuckles as much as possible while you work, for example use up all the slats that were cut from one particular reed and tie them in one above the other. This makes your work more ordered and professional.
Your reed curtain is hanging from the nail. The bottom rod should hang about 2 feet from the floor so that you can sit on a low chair and work in comfort. You may need to wind part of the standing ropes around the top rod to make this possible.
First tie the twine of a needle to the bottom of each of the seven standing ropes, that is, above the bottom rod.
Hold the reed slat in place with your left finger and thumb on the first standing rope on the left. With your right hand pick the needle, the twine passing over the slat. Go behind the standing rope, pass the needle around to the left, bring it forward and pass it to the right through the loop. You have made a simple half-hitch at the place where your fingers are holding the reed. Tighten well and move to the second standing rope. When you have completed all seven knots, start again with a second reed slat. At this point you are well on your way.
Tip: To make the work less tedious, You can alternate between cutting the slats and building the reed curtain. For example after dividing a couple of reeds you may choose to tie in the slats to the curtain right away.
Reed Curtain - - Other Types of Curtain
Instead of splitting the reeds into so many slats, some people use whole reeds. This kind of curtain looks much more rough, so it depends where you need to use it. This is mostly used when the curtain is being used as an awning. The reeds last much longer since they are left whole and offer more resistance to the weather.
Other people use wooden slats which are cut by a special wood-working machine. The slats are about 1cm wide and thin like the reeds but a strong wood is used such as oak or ash. To make the curtain stronger and also more attractive, a coat of boat varnish is sometimes applied.
All reed curtains may be painted from inside and out to make them stronger. However reed curtains are known to last for years and years. Their worst enemy is mould which penetrates the reed and causes rot. It is important to stow away the curtain when not in use and when you are sure that it is thoroughly dry.
Reed Curtain - - How to Hang above the Door
Required: 3 fairly large hooks
1 simple pulley with a ring in the underpart
Nylon rope which is roughly 3 times as long as the curtain, in our case 25 feet or 8 meters. It is important that the rope is a good fit for the pulley.
This is not complicated at all. First tie 2 pieces of nylon rope to the top rod from which to hang the reed curtain. Tie them at about 3 inches from each end. Fix two hooks in the wall about 6 inches above the door and in line with the nylon ropes that you have just tied on the rod. When hung, the bottom rod of the curtain should just graze the floor. Use the nylon ropes to get the curtain just right.
Now fix a small pulley about 2 inches above the hooks and exactly in the centre of the door. Tie the rope to the ring in the pulley and let fall at the back of the curtain. Pass from underneath and take it up and pass through the pulley. Let fall at the back again.
Haul the curtain (hasira) up by pulling on the rope. It should roll up easily. When it has gone all the way up, calculate where best to fix a hook to take the rope and keep it out of the way.
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I may decide to make Videos when I find the time.
#1: Diving the reeds into slats and making the needles.
#2: Making the Reed Curtain and tying on the slats.
#3: Hanging the Curtain in place.
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