Unique Window Treatments: Rice Paper Window Shade Ideas

Rice paper shades are created by stretching rice paper over a wooden frame. These shades provide a simple, elegant solution for hard-to-cover windows.

If you've got a window with an unusual shape or in an awkward location, a rice paper window shade can provide a simple, attractive, and inexpensive alternative to drapery. These traditional Japanese shades, called "shoji", are made by stretching rice paper over a wooden frame. This frame can then be attached to the window frame or hung from the top of the window frame. Although the word "shoji" means "something that blocks the way", rice paper shades don't block out light, but diffuse it. These shades create a feeling of light and space much better than cloth curtains.

Types of frames

The window shade frame, called a "kumiko", may be one- or two-sided, depending on whether both sides will be seen or not. False cypress, Japanese cedar, and Aomori white cedar are the traditional woods of choice, but outside Japan, linden and spruce are also frequently used. For shades that will reach the floor, a kickboard, called a "koshita", can be added to protect the paper from children and pets. If you're considering creating a shoji, but don't feel your carpentry skills are up to building the frame, a garden trellis cut to fit your window can work just as well as a custom-built frame. For a shade that can be rolled up for storage, dowel rods or rattan are used to connect the sheets of paper horizontally at regular intervals. In this type of shade, the horizontal bars are not connected to vertical bars. Traditionally, the shoji frame is either painted black or left unfinished. To protect the wood yet retain an unfinished look, a German wax finish can be applied.

Types of rice paper

True rice paper is a very thin, translucent paper made from rice grass (Oryza sativa). Much of what is sold as "rice" paper is actually made from the bast fiber of the mulberry tree and is more properly called unryu paper. This paper will have a coarser texture and more visible fibers than pure rice paper. Both types will work well in a window shade. Rice paper is available raw and sized, with the sized type being thicker and better suited for use in a shoji shade.

Formerly, the paper was replaced every Japanese New Year. Today's treated papers, however, can last for years if handled gently. Warlon paper, one of the most commonly used varieties, is rice paper reinforced on both sides with a PVC resin. This paper is quite durable and will stand up to gentle cleaning with a damp cloth. Kinwashi paper, made from hemp and mulberry fibers, is another favorite, often chosen for its durability and golden color.

When choosing a color, keep in mind that sunlight will fade any dyes used in the paper. If your window is in a sunny location, white or off-white tones will stay looking good longer than strong patterns or deep colors. Acid-free paper will also last longer than papers with acid content. The ragged edges that are so popular in paper crafts can be achieved with rice by tearing the edges of the paper with a deckle ruler. This will create a look similar to that of watercolor paper and handmade paper.


The shoji frame can be hung from the window frame using either hooks and eyelets or twine loops. For the first method, screw two eyelet screws into the top of the window shade frame at even intervals. Then screw two hooks into the underside of the top of the window frame in line with the eyelet screws on the window shade. The second option is to loop twine around the top of the frame and use these loops to hang the frame on the curtain rod hooks.

Rice glue is the traditional adhesive used to attach rice paper to the shoji frame. This glue is prepared by boiling ground rice or rice flour in water. The benefit of rice glue is that if the paper comes loose, the glue can be softened with heat from a hair dryer and the paper can be reattached. If rice glue isn't available, household starch or glue can also be used. The frame is painted with a light coat of adhesive and the paper laid down and gently pressed into place. If two sheets of paper must be connected, the seams should be placed over one of the bars of the frame. Once all the sheets of paper have been placed, the shade is left to dry overnight before being installed.

Decorating ideas

While rice paper window shades are traditionally left undecorated, by adding a few unique touches before the paper is attached to the frame, you can create shades that fit perfectly with your home's decor. Chinese calligraphy is one of the most popular decorations to add. Even if you don't feel skilled at calligraphy, templates can be found that will help you add this distinctive writing to your shades. For an authentic look, try painting with a combination of Sumi-e ink and watercolor paint. If complex symbols aren't your thing, rubber or sponge stamps dipped in ink provide a faster and simpler way to add style to the shades. For a three-dimensional design, use rice glue or starch to attach rice paper cut-outs or real leaves and flowers to the outer side of the shade. The leaves will show through the transparent paper. Another authentic decorating option is mizuhiki cord. This cord, made from Japanese washi paper rolled into strands and covered with colored paper, can be attached to the shade to form pictures or abstract designs. If you want to add real class to your shade, attach brocaded silk around the edges for the look of a Japanese or Chinese scroll painting.

Rice paper window shades provide an elegant solution for hard-to-cover windows and can be made inexpensively in less than a day. Add your own decorations and you'll have a classic yet original way to let in the light without sacrificing your privacy.

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