Timeout for Art: Papermaking III

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Oh, my! I’m still working on this looong, extended papermaking blog. And I totally missed posting a “Timeout for Art” last week, and the week before. What’s going on?

Well, the news, for one thing. With all that has happened in the last two weeks, I’ve had a hard time turning away from the news. Not for meals, not for sleep, and not to finish this papermaking lesson!

On top of that big distraction, this has turned out to be hard! When I teach papermaking, I am normally in person, talking and demonstrating. Though I have long pages of notes, I have never tried to write out the entire process as a lesson, until now. It is a longer, more complicated explanation than I expected. I planned to give it one post, and it has now gone to three! I’m hoping to be able to wrap it up today!

In the last post, when talking about materials needed, I neglected to mention pitchers. You’ll need at least one; two or three will save steps and time. Each will need to hold at least 8 cups of liquid. You’ll also need a few good sponges.

Set Up

To one side of the sink (or vat or tub), set up an area for dealing with your sheets of paper after they are formed. Cover that surface with a good layer of towels and absorbent materials; have the sponges nearby. Stack the couching cloths and felts within reach, but in a place where they will stay dry. Add water to the sink to a depth of two or three inches.

Set up another area for stacking your sheets of paper, after they are removed from the molds, and sandwiched between couching cloth and felt. If you have secured a couple patio blocks to help press the moisture out of the paper sheets, have them in this area.

Set up your blender, and get the pulp ready. If you’ve stored your balls of pulp in the freezer, it will need to be thawed enough to pull apart and use, so plan at least a couple hours ahead. If you have additions for your paper sheets (see the last papermaking post for ideas), have them close by, too. Have your pitcher handy.

Blending

Take a portion – about one tablespoon – of boiled pulp from its storage bag, and place it in the blender. Add two to three cups of water. Do not fill the appliance completely, or it will likely overflow when processing. Do not attempt to blend larger amounts of pulp, or your blender will have a very short life. Set the blender to Liquify, or the highest setting. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds. Watch for signs of overheating: a burning smell or whining noise. If any of these overload symptoms occur, cut back on the amount of pulp, or blend in shorter spurts. After the pulp is thoroughly blended, you can add small amounts of flower petals or other additions, and blend for a short spurt, just to incorporate the ingredients.

Forming the Paper

There are two methods for making paper: the pouring method. and the vat method. The vat method is most like the way the very first papers were formed. It’s simple, so I usually demonstrate this method first. It is easy to do when working alone, and the one I’m going to describe today.

For the vat method, add your blended pulp to the water in the sink or tub. No, in fact, when you’re using the vat method, use a basin or tub that you can lift up and pour out when you’re finished. You don’t want leftover particles of paper pulp going down your drain. Repeat the blending process, adding each to the sink. Three to five blender loads of pulp should be sufficient. You can make a simple sheet of paper using only the mold, or you can add the deckle for a thicker sheet of paper with a more regular edge.

In either case, swirl the liquid in the tub so that the pulp is well distributed through the water. Holding the mold (or mold and deckle together) in both hands, start at one end of the tub and (as I describe the process when teaching), “dive the mold down to the bottom of the tub, slide it across the bottom until it is level, then lift it straight up out of the water bath.” You’ll feel the suction as the pulp is drawn down onto the screen. If using a deckle, lift it off and set it aside. Tip the mold slightly, so that excess water can drip away, then set it on the towels you’ve set up for this purpose.

Congratulations! You have made a sheet of paper! If you have more than one mold, you can jump right in and make another, and another, blending more pulp and adding it to the tub as necessary. If you have just the one mold, it’s time to learn how to remove the paper from the screen.

Couching

Couching (pronounced kooshing) was developed in France, where, because they ha invented a printing press, they had a need to speed up the papermaking process. The French word, couche’ means to tuck in between covers, and that is basically what we’re going to do.

Begin by laying one of the couching cloths gently over your sheet of newly formed paper. It will absorb water from the sheet, and stick to the surface. That will allow you to pick up the mold, keeping the couching cloth over the paper, and turn it upside down onto the towels. Take a sponge, and blot the back of the screen, squeezing out the water and repeating as necessary. Be careful to blot, not rub, as we don’t want to draw the paper through the screen, but just remove the water.

After a few moments, you’ll be able to pick up a corner of the mold, to peek. Sometimes the sheet of paper will easily drop off the screen on its own; other times it takes a little more sponging, a little encouragement by starting a corner of the sheet with a fingernail. Eventually, the paper, still attached to the couching cloth, will come away from the screen. Cover the sheet, then, with one of the squares of felt. You now have one sheet of paper, sandwiched between one couching cloth and one felt. You can pick this up by diagonal corners, and move it to your drying area.

As you make more sheets of paper, couch them in the same way. You can stack them up, one paper, couching cloth and felt “sandwich” on top of another. If you have a couple patio blocks, You can use one as a base for your stack, and put the other on top, to help push the moisture out, and to keep the sheets flat.

I wish this was the very end of this papermaking saga but, alas, there is still more. Next week (barring another assault on the Capitol or some other wild news) I’ll describe the pouring method of forming sheets of paper, give you a few ideas for embellishing your sheets, and explain how to dry them.

About cindyricksgers

I am an artist. I live on an island in northern Lake Michigan, USA. I have two grown daughters, four strong, smart and handsome grandsons and one beautiful, intelligent and charming granddaughter. I live with two spoiled dogs. I love walking in the woods around my home, reading, writing and playing in my studio.

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