A cool way to keep cool: noren

I’m sure I’m not alone here in saying it’s been hot. And sticky. The humidity and the temperatures both hover near 90 for days on end–weather broken occasionally by impressive summer thunderstorms–but, you know . . . it’s August. What do we expect?

With no central air conditioning in This Old House, we rely on several strategies to keep cool:

  • Sending First Child to work slaving over freezer cases full of cold treats  (his summer job is in a high-end ice cream parlor)
  • Ferrying Second Child (who takes summer vacation very seriously) all day, every day, to and from the homes of friends with pools and to the beach, which is nearby, and free to residents who walk in
  • Keeping a running list of places we can go in the air-conditioned car
  • Bopping between the hyper-chilled local library, the movie theater (I recommend 500 Days of Summer), and the frozen food aisle of the local supermarket
  • Drinking massive amounts of iced tea, of which an enormous urn is always in the refrigerator

There is a small window type AC unit in the den, but there is no door between the den and the rest of the downstairs, and we were losing a lot of usable chilliness, not to mention feeling guilty about our rather inefficient use of the electricity.

I hit on the idea to make a sort of curtain, very plain and flat (no frills or frou frou) to hang in the den’s open doorway. I was inspired by having seen many such curtains in Japanese movies (especially older, black and white samurai movies–I’m a huge fan of The Blind Swordsman series and of anything starring Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, or–be still, my heart–both). These are often hung at shop entrances, or used to hang between two rooms.  I figured they might be just what we needed to help corral the cool air and keep it in the den.

Noren have a simple basic design:  a flat panel with one or more vertical openings to permit coming and going.  They don’t typically reach all the way to the floor (some of my family think this looks a bit odd, but it works for me). They can simply be plain, but they’re often adorned with striking designs. We don’t, obviously, live in a Japanese house, but we do live near the shore, and I thought a simple seaside motif might be appropriate.

Over the weekend the Better Half and I ended up doing some bookstore browsing, and I came upon this on a sale rack for just a bit over $3. The very thing. I brought it home and First Child fastened on a group of cranes standing together–the ones at the bottom right in the book cover above. For simplicity’s sake, I left off the three cranes at the right of the grouping.

And got to work. The curtain practically made itself. The off-white canvas I bought at the fabric store (with a 40% off coupon) was exactly the right width, so the sewing involved was minimal and the whole thing came together and was hanging in the doorway within half an hour. Within 40 minutes we were delightfully cool in there.

But the curtain was painfully plain, so I got back to work and began the decoration.  I was distracted by a small emergency, but finished the design today. I used the freezer paper stencil method to cut out the design I wanted, and daubed in the birds with a pumpkin-y color that sort of goes with the surrounding woodwork. Here are highlights.

Tracing the design onto the freezer paper (shiny side down):

The finished design:

My cutting guide (I used a crayon to help me keep track of the negative and positive parts, and marked the pieces–with letters–that would have to be cut away but then ironed back into place in the finished design):

Cutting the design. I used a variety of tools, including an exacto-knife, a razor blade, and a pair of little Japanese scissors. The cutting was finicky, especially all the little tiny lines that would need to be ironed into place to show where one crane ended and another began. And, oh, those little bitty bird feet were a pain (but also sort of fun):

The image all cut out. At this point it’s still taped to the big sheet of cardboard I’d been using as a work surface:

Here the stencil has been placed onto the fabric and ironed into place. I used a hole punch to cut tiny eyes for the cranes and took care not to iron my fingers as I fixed them in place:

The actual painting went remarkably quickly–15 minutes, tops, using a flat, sponge stencil brush. Nice, after all that painstaking cutting. I used a mixture of several colors of acrylic paint thinned with some stuff from the fabric store that’s supposed to turn acrylics into fabric paint:

Once the paint was in place, Second Child and I had to go out for a while to keep ourselves from peeling the stencil too soon–very tempting. Besides, with the noren drying on the kitchen table, it was hot in the den. So off we went to shop for some school clothes for her.

Then home, to peel away the stencil from the fabric and hang the final work. (Not completely final, actually, because I still need to heat set the paint and we all think it needs a big round coppery sun in the upper right quadrant, but that can wait until tomorrow.)

Let me add a small boast about the cheapness frugality of this project, which, including $6 for a spring-tensioned curtain rod, cost all of $12 to make. I am very pleased and eager to do more freezer paper stenciling:

Some people here still think it looks too short. They just need to sit in the nice, cool den and watch old samurai movies until it looks normal to them.

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6 responses to “A cool way to keep cool: noren

  1. Really like this idea. I am going to try it one of these days.

  2. I want one….have always thumtacked a sheet at the top of the staircase to keep upstairs rooms with AC cool…that crane design would also be so cool on a shower curtain..

  3. Thanks–it was a lot of fun to do. And Marie–great idea. Because the interior of our shower doesn’t get a lot of light, I always try to find a clear vinyl shower curtain–I’ll have to do some experimenting and see what kind of paint would work best, and whether the vinyl would hold up to the low heat of the iron used to hold the stencil in place.

    Hmmm . . . a new challenge!

  4. Beautiful and practical. What more could anyone ask? My Significant Other is threatening to hang quilts over all the glass in our house–those window quilts, I should clarify. Like the idea of conserving heat in winter (and staying cool in summer) but I’ve yet to see window quilt I liked. Hmm. Wondering if the design here could alleviate some o’ that bulk I’m not loving. Nancy, beautiful work. Inspiring!

  5. Pingback: A little down time is a dangerous thing « Floating Ink

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