One of my Hobbies is DIY. Lots of maintenance at home and in my Guesthouse and flats that I rent - carpentry, plastering, electricity, etc.
Reeds and their Uses
The reed grows wild in Gozo wherever it finds the trace of water. The Climate is dry for most of the year and the only rainfall is during Autumn and Winter. However the blue clay layer beneath the soil catches the rain water and prevents it from escaping to the sea.
Indeed, the blue clay is a blessing for the Island and the reason why Gozo is so green. The reeds are abundant in the valleys, especially Xlendi Valley and on the rocky hillsides in the east where water continues to seep through for long months after the rain. I refer to the rugged hillsides of Xaghra and Nadur especially Ramla Valley which separates these two villages..
Man has from time immemorial learnt to make use of the natural material surrounding him and the more scanty the natural resources the more ingenuous and thrifty he had to be. At first glance, reeds are like giant weeds growing wild and good for nothing, not even for fire-wood since they burn too easily and give out an unpleasant smell.
When cut down and left to dry they turn yellowish and become relatively strong. They have the advantage of withstanding the weather, that is the sun and the rain when used in the open. Many farmers in Gozo use whole loads of reeds to build wind-breakers to protect their fruit trees.
The wind-breakers are very easy to construct and last for years since the reeds are used whole as in their natural state. They are cut approximately to the same length and tied to cross-bars made of reeds as well. The cross-bar is made by tying several reeds together to achieve the required length and thickness. They are most commonly tied with galvanized wire and the wind-breakers are kept in place by supports and props made like the cross-bars.
Womenfolk use the long dry leaves of the reeds to weave large sunhats and baskets but the most common use of the reeds is the reed curtain, which is still very popular in Malta and Gozo. I have had the advantage of watching our old neighbour (God rest his soul) making one many a time and I have learnt when quite young how it is done in the traditional way. It costs next to nothing and it is fun to build. All you require is patience.
The reed curtain is very practical and offers privacy in the daytime, shade and lets in fresh air. It rolls above the door to about 10 inches and stays out of the way until required.
See photo at the end of the article.....
Reed Curtains as an Awning
The reed curtain sewing method is more elaborate ( though not difficult) than the construction of a wind-breaker but both products may be used for other purposes, such as an awning over the terrace or the swimming pool.
The photo above shows a reed curtain for a window. I keep it in a room on the roof of my house when not in use.
Step by Step Instructions
First we need to make a 'frame' or skeleton. We need 2 lengths of wood 3 inches wider than the door or window on each side so that if the aperture is 42 ins the lengths would be 48 ins. The wood is 2 ins wide by 1/2 or 3/4 ins. thick.
Use a drll to bore holes in both pieces from the 1/2 ins side right through. First mark both lengths of wood with a pencil for the holes. Begin from one end and mark the first hole 1 1/2ins from the tip. Do the same on the other side. Next measure the distance between the marks and divide by 6.
Example: the length of the wood is 48 ins. The distance left is 45 ins. Mark the remaining holes 7 1/2ins apart.
Next measure the height of the door or window and cut lenghts of nylon rope of a thickness that can pass easily through the holes in the wood.
Measure carefully here.and start by cutting one rope initially to see how it goes. The length of the ropes should be about 10 ins longer than the door because the curtain has to be 2 ins higher than the door, has to reach slightly lower than the doorstep or windowsill and we have to tie knots at both ends.
When all the ropes are passed through the holes of the top and bottom pieces of wood we should have a 'frame' similar to the photo....
Wood Slats ....
Some people use thin strips of wood instead of reeds sometimes with beads in between. In my opinion reeds look much more rustic and natural. Furthermore the wood-strips have to be cut by an experienced person using an electric saw or at a carpenter's.
How to Cut the Reeds
The reeds have to be dry. If still green one has to leave them to dry in the sun till they become yellow.
First the reeds are cut to a length equal to the wood strips. To use for a reed curtain ( or a cage for example ) the reeds have first to be shaved and cleaned. The reeds are then cut in half lengthwise. WHEN CUTTING BE CAREFUL. THE EDGES ARE VERY SHARP AND IT IS VERY EASY TO CUT YOUR FINGERS.
Each half is again cut in halves. Repeat until you have eight or more thin slats. The thinner the better because the curtain looks best when fashioned with thin slats.
Sandpaper the slats after cutting.
Hang the frame on a nail to a height where you can sit and work comfortably and in a way that it can be raised and lowered accordingly. Start tying the slats from the top placing each one under the other as close together as possible.
Start the tying when you have about 20 slats because cutting is somewhat tedious and one would be kind of impatient to start the construction of the reed curtain. Therefore cut, sandpaper and tie is the best way to go about it. Tie all the knots in each slat before tackling the next one. Work across and down.
TIP: keep the reeds in batches, that is if you make 8 slats from one reed keep them together so that when you tie, the ‘knuckles’ in the reed are in line. This way the reed curtain would look more professional.
Tying the Knots
It is IMPORTANT TO USE THIN STRING that is STRONG and NOT SLIPPERY.
First Step .. tie a length of string about 10 feet to each standing rope. Tie them tightly at the top just under the wood strip.
Step 2 .. wrap the string from the loose end round a clothes peg and finish by snaggling it in the jaws of the peg so that the string cannot become undone. It is best to leave about 8 ins free to work with. This step serves to make the work more organised and easier.
Step 3 .. start from the Left side and pass the reed slat under the strings. Hold the first reed against the rope with the first finger and thumb of your left hand as close to the top as possible.. Hold the clothes peg in your Right hand.
Step 4 .. the string is hanging down loosely over the reed. Pass the clothes-peg back and around the rope. Bring to the front and through the loop, that is under the string passing over the reed.
Step 5 .. tighten the knot on the under-side of the reed. Move to the next standing rope and repeat until all the knots for each reed are done.
Step 6 .. do the same for each slat. Quite a job. Looking at the photo of the frame above there are 7 knots to each reed/slat. However one becomes more proficient as the work progresses.
Watch the Video before you start. I think it takes about 2 minutes to tie each slat..
As stated above, one needs patience here but when completed, apart from the satisfaction of having fashioned it yourself, the curtain adds ambiance and benefits to the house or cottage.
Learn how to Make the Knots in a Reed Curtain
Hanging the Curtain
To hang the reed curtain over an aperture some bits of hardware is required ........
1 ... a stout 3 inch hook
2 .. 3 other smaller hooks
3... a pulley that can contain the rope in 4, that swivels and with a ring at the top.
4.. a length of rope a bit thicker than the ropes used for the curtain frame. This needs to be approximately 3 times the length of the curtain, maybe 2 feet shorter.
TAKE A LOOK AT THE DIAGRAM BELOW BEFORE STARTING....
First drill a hole in the upper wood strip on each side about 1 1/2 inches from the tip. Insert a rope or wire and make a small loop On each side.
Mark and drill a hole about 6 ins above the center of the aperture. Screw or hammer in the large hook.
To hang the curtain by the loops, drill a hole on each side of the aperture about 4 inches above the door and screw/hammer the hooks in place. Before drilling ensure that the reed curtain would be positioned centrally and covering the aperture from the top, bottom and both sides.
The hole that takes the hook for the pulley is drilled below and a little to the right of the hook at the top.
Finally drill a hole on the left side of the aperture for the remaining hook. This hook would be behind the reed curtain to take the extra rope when the curtain is pulled up.
NOW THE EASY PART
The reed curtain is in place.
Tie the long rope to the hook at the top. Let it fall behind the curtain. Take the loose end from the front and pass it up and through the pulley. Let it fall behind the curtain.
That’s it. You are done.
Stand inside behind the curtain and pull on the rope to roll up the curtain (Photo below to see how the curtain should look when rolled up). Bring it down again and coil the extra rope round the hook on the side.
TIP: when it is very windy pull it up because the wind acts on it like a sail and may well damage it.
Hooks to Hang the Reed Curtain
Reed Curtain rolled and out of the way
When not in use, during the winter for example I keep it in a small room on the roof terrace of my house. It is hanging there for the photograph :))
© 2011 Joseph Attard
First Comment by myself the Author
Joseph Attard (author) from Gozo, Malta, EU. on March 16, 2021:
I hope that the readers find the article interesting and that some even try making a reed curtain for their home.
I invite the readers to add their comments and air their views. I will also try to answer any questions that they may have.