Old pieces of cloth can give us a powerful connection with those we love. They have a patina and a story to tell — maybe about the person who used them or created them in another time.
From old neckties and embroidered tea towels to garments and tablecloths, I am drawn to old fabrics, and folding them into my sewing is one way to keep the connection with family and friends intact, especially while celebrating the holidays.
My Christmas box used to contain a very used and worn tablecloth that belonged to my Mormor (grandmother in Swedish). It still reminds me of holiday gatherings, and all the stains recall memorable smorgasbords on Christmas Eve. I used to take it out each year and remember her, then put it back in the box.
This year I made a noren from that cloth to hang in my kitchen. It makes me smile as I enjoy memories of being in the kitchen while she cooked for us.
A noren is a short curtain with a slit in the middle that invites a peek inside and passage through a doorway.
This small curtain originated in Japan as a cloth that was hung outside of a shop to indicate the store was open. The design, still used today, feels welcoming and is very easy to make.
It can be made of sheer or densely woven fabric, and it can be any length from 9 to 48 inches, covering just the top or most of the doorway opening.
Creating your own noren
Materials: Embroidered tea towels and napkins have beautiful edges, and would make lovely norens. A tablecloth can be used, as well, incorporating any holes or stains. After all, they are part of the charm. If you want to work around the stains, you can add more design elements by stenciling, stamping or appliqué. A special piece of fabric from travel adventures might be a perfect piece for your noren. I love the idea of using the skirt of an apron with a curved bottom. Small fabric treasures can be pieced together, then made into a noren.
Tools: scissors, fabric, ruler, needle and thread, sewing machine (optional)
Measurements: The width of the doorway plus 1 inch (1/2 inch for hemming on each side); the finished length of your noren, plus hem.
Directions: The noren will be made as two rectangles. Include enough fabric to the sides of each piece to allow you to fold the edge over twice and sew. One inch is good along the sides.
To your desired length, add a 2- to 3-inch hem for the bottom and the same for the top. It will hang better with more weight on the ends.
You are ready to start:
1. Cut and press all the edges (toward the back side) to the finished size of the noren (illustration 1).
2. Fold the raw edges under on the sides first, then fold the top and bottom edges. It is easier to get a great-looking noren if you do all the pressing first. (illustration 2)
3. Sew up the sides of each piece first (illustration 3). The edges can be machine stitched or hand-sewn. (Hand-stitching with a contrasting-color thread can be a way to add your own mark as these fabrics pass through your life to another generation.) Fold over and sew the header and the hem last.
4. Tack the two finished pieces together at the top inside corners (illustration 3). I like adding a small tie to the center edge. This can be a folded piece of fabric, yarn or string. If you don't make a tie, top-stitch (or bar tack) the two curtains together in the center, 5 to 7 inches from the top edge (illustration 4).
5. Three to four small tabs can be added along the top edge for attaching to the doorway. Press after sewing and tack the noren to the top or inside of the doorway (illustration 5). Push pins or tacks will hold a lightweight noren, or a tension rod can be slid inside the fold across the top. Your new family heirloom can also be placed along the top of a window or displayed as a wall hanging.
You may want to create norens to welcome each season or holiday during the year.
Diane Ericson is an Ashland artist who teaches workshops and retreats. She is the designer and illustrator for a line of sewing patterns and art stencils; she makes jewelry, clothing and accessories and stencils chairs in her studio in the Ashland Art Center. Visit her Web site at www.dianeericson.com.