Paper making with plant fibers
|All plants have cellulose, and any plant is worth trying.
Plants with the longest leaves or stalks will have the longest fibers,
and will make the strongest paper. Smaller, heavy fleshed foliage will
work well, also. Small leaves and grasses have less cellulose;, but may
be added to other fibers for variety and color. Mixing fibers can make
unusual and interesting paper. Fresh or dried plant material may be
used, or even a combination of both.
When gathering dried material, it may be stored as is, or cut up and bagged. All plant material should be labeled, as many are similar. In collecting fresh material, it may be cut up, soaked and cooked immediately, air dried or may be frozen for later use. The plant material may be cut in half inch or slightly larger pieces. Thick stalks and wide foliage should be split before cutting into pieces. Flower petals may be pressed, air-dried or dried in the microwave for a few minutes.
Either fresh or dried, the plant material should be soaked in water for 24 hours after being cut up. Very heavy material, like bark, may be soaked first, to make the cutting that much easier. It should be soaked again, however. This water is drained off and the pulp placed in a stainless steel pot, cover with cold water, measuring the number of quarts, and Soda ash or Arm & Hammer Washing soda added, 1 Tablespoon for each quart of water. Stir to dissolve the soda ash or washing soda. Soda ash, a non-caustic alkali, may be ordered from any of the papermaking companies. Cooking should be done out of doors, as the odor is very heavy. An electric hot plate is handy for this. Simmer for at least two hours, and perhaps more, depending on the weight of the plant material. Stir every half hour. The pulp should be soft and mushy when rubbed between your fingers. Allow to cool for safety.
Place a small amount of the cooked pulp in a strainer or colander, and rinse with running cold water, until the water runs clear. Keep turning the pulp over as you rinse. Cooking breaks down the fibers and separates the cellulose from the other plant tissue. Have containers ready to hold these washed fibers.
A kitchen blender works well for processing this pulp to fibers. Pour water up to at least one half of the blender jar. Add a small amount of the plant fiber, and blend for a short while, beginning on medium, then high and back to medium before shutting the blender off. Use a spoon or fork to remove a bit of this fiber, to see if that is the thickness you wish. Continue blending if finer fibers are desired. The blender must never be overloaded or the motor will burn out. Pour the pulp and water into a strainer, and place the pulp in a container. Continue to blend all of the pulp, or just the amount you think you will need. Place in plastic bags and LABEL. If you do not plan to use the pulp immediately, it should be placed in the refrigerator for no longer than a week, or in the freezer indefinitely. I may also be air dried, or dried in the microwave, but will never rehydrate as well. However, the dried fibers are easy to store. Be sure to label!
Most plant fibers do not have sufficient cellulose to make a piece of paper. A "filler" must be added to the plant fibers. This may be a commercially prepared sheet of high-cellulose cotton linter, flax, abaca, hemp or others. These may be purchased from a papermaking supply company. Soak a piece of the paper, tear into small pieces, and with the blender about half filled with water, place a small handful of this in the blender, and process until you can see that the pieces have been broken down. Strain and place in a container, and continue blending the amount you wish. If not used right away, this should also be placed in the refrigerator or freezer.
Any high quality paper may be used as the filler, as envelopes, paper bags, computer paper and scrap paper. If heavy textured paper is your desire, you may use heavier stock as paper plates, scrap art paper, and old manila folders. Slick magazine pages are not recommended, and newspaper is not used due to its poor quality. Tear this into one inch pieces and soak for 24 hours. Blend to pulp as above.
For the papermaking, you will need a tub of some sort, a dishpan, or kitty litter pan;, 2 pieces of couching (pronounced "kooching") cloth, as wool felt or other fabric, a sponge, a rolling pin, and an electric iron nearby, and 2 pieces of cotton sheeting. The mould and deckle are used to form the sheets of paper. The mould is a frame with an attached screen, and the deckle is an empty frame of the same size. The deckle is placed on the screen side of the mould. The vat will hold the water and pulp, and must be large enough to have the frames fit with ease.
Along side of the vat, place the 2 pieces of damp couching cloth, a sponge, the rolling pin and an iron nearby, with 2 pieces of cotton sheeting. To begin making the paper, fill the vat about half full of water. Fill the blender about half full, and put about 1 cup of whichever "filler" you are using, and add a small amount of the blended plant fiber. Blend to mix these two completely. Pour this into the vat, and prepare another load., and pour into the vat. Stir this, called "slurry" with your hand before each sheet is formed. Wet the mould and deckle, and with the deckle held firmly against the mould, dip them into the vat on an angle from the back, right to the bottom. Give the frames a slight shake from side to side, to set the fibers. Bring the frames straight up from the water, and hold them flat for just a few seconds, then tilt them to have as much water as possible drain off from a corner. The more that drains, the easier it is to dry the sheet.
Rest the frames down, and remove the deckle, and couch the sheet by turning the mould face down on the damp cloth. Sponge the back of the mould, by press and squeeze the sponge until no more water can be removed. Remove the mould, and cover the sheet with the 2nd couching cloth. And roll with the rolling pin, with medium pressure. This will remove more water and set the fibers. Remove the top cloth, and place the wet paper face up on the ironing board between 2 pieces of cotton sheeting. Iron the paper dry. I leave the iron in one place at a time, rather than back and forth. Stack the papers under weights as you make them.
There are many other ways to dry your paper, if ironing is not an option. Since I teach at schools and classes, and demonstrate papermaking, having the paper dry right at that time is a must for me. I can make 40-50 finished pieces of paper in a morning this way. You may decide to dry yours in some other way.
If your first piece has holes or tears, "kiss it off" by placing the mould face down on the top of the water, and stir the vat to distribute it. If a piece is finished, and has holes , put it back in the blended with some of the water from the vat, and blend just a little, Pour it back into the vat. You want your first piece to be perfect, and others to follow, so never save a piece with holes or torn. You will be proud and happy with your perfect pieces. If the first piece is too thin, then you must add more of the "filler" pulp. If it is too thick, scoop some of the pulp out with a strainer. The first piece will be thicker than the following ones, so more pulp and plant fibers are added every few sheets. When adding more pulp, take the water from the vat, not keep adding more water.
Hand made paper is rich and highly distinctive. Each new plant fiber will bring new excitement and interest. The paper with plant fiber has great depth, and the slightly musky odor is pleasant to work with. Keep a Journal right from the beginning, with the name of the plant and how you used it. This will be valuable and interesting reading as you progress. Saving a piece of each new venture, labeled and numbered as in the Journal, is of value for later information and interest. Experimenting with the plants from nature will lead you into a fuller appreciation of the world around us.
A variety of techniques can add color, texture and pattern to your paper. Dried flower petals may be added to the blender or the vat. Glitter, clippings of yarn or thread may go into the vat. Do not put those in the blender. Stir the vat before making each sheet, and squeeze the water out of the couching cloths between making each sheet. Your blender will last forever if you are very careful not to overload it, or run it for too long a time.
Donít put the fiber down the drain. Strain the water from the vat, and save or discard the pulp that is left. If saved, either air dry it, or put it in the refrigerator or freezer. Do not let any fiber get in the disposal, or it can blow out the motor (personal experience).
Moulds and deckles may be purchased at craft stores or papermaking companies, or be made from wood or picture frames. Round paper may be made by using 2 sets of embroidery hoops. One set will hold the screening, is the mould, and the larger ring of the 2nd set is the deckle.
And lastly, some precautions. Be careful when you gather your plant material, to be aware of poisonous plants and the ones on your State Conservation List. Also watch the ground for ants or other things! Do not use your papermaking utensils for food preparation, because of possible food contamination. Most of all, enjoy your new papermaking experience and have FUN!
This tutorial was submitted by: Frances Groves