Timeout for Art: Papermaking IV

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Here we are again, still with the papermaking. This has been a long process of explaining what is actually a pretty simple procedure. I hope that I haven’t made it seem harder or more complicated than it actually is. And I hope I’ve been clear enough in my descriptions that someone, reading this, could learn to make their own paper. I have often been asked for written instructions for the process as I teach it. From now on, I’ll direct people to these pages!

Forming the Paper: The Pouring Method

The pouring method of making paper gives you more control over the thickness of your sheets, and allows you to make several sheets of uniform size and thickness. If you have plans to make sets of matching notecards, or a few hundred wedding invitations (as I have done more than once), this is the process for you.

Through a bit of experimentation, you can determine the amount of pulp it will take to form a sheet of paper, in the size and thickness that you want. One generous tablespoon of pulp – measured prior to blending – with result in an 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper thin and manageable enough to fold easily. I used almost that same amount of pulp for making postcard-sized wedding invitations, as I wanted them to be heavier, more like card stock.

Once you have the amount of pulp figured out, blend it as usual (one tablespoon of pulp combined with two to three cups of water, on the highest setting, for about 30 seconds), and pour it into a pitcher. Place the deckle frame on top of the mold frame, with the screen of the mold on the top side. Forgive my crude little sketches; I feel like I can’t make it clear with words alone.

Now, if you have a helper, this is where a second pair of hands will really be beneficial. There are a lot of things to manage all at once. Still, I’ve been making paper all by myself for years, and it is certainly possible.

Hold the mold and deckle tightly together, so that the deckle will prevent the water/pulp solution from escaping over the edge of the mold. Partially submerge it in the sink or tub, so that the screen is covered by an inch or so of water, and the deckle sides create a kind of “bathtub.” Pour the pulp mixture into this area; the water in the deckle box will help it to spread out over the screen. When the pulp seems evenly dispersed in the water, lift the mold and deckle out of the tub, using both hands and keeping the unit level. You’ll feel quite a bit of suction.

Lift the deckle box off, and set it to the side. Hold the mold at a slight angle to let some of the water drain away. Avoid the urge to bounce or shake the mold. Finally, move the mold over to the couching area, and proceed to couch and dry the paper, as before.

Drying Papers

Earliest papers were simply set out to dry in the sun. The sheets would lift easily off the screens when dry. That is still possible, but it slows the entire process down. The papers, stacked between layers of couching cloths and felts, especially if pressed between weights, will dry in a few days time. The stack can be placed near a register or other non-flammable heat source, to speed things up. Left to dry this way, the papers should be rearranged in the stack regularly, so that all of the sheets will dry at the same rate, and to avoid any issues with mold.

The drying process can be sped up by using a regular household iron, on the cotton setting. Do not touch the iron to the paper, but rather press the couching cloth, then flip it over, and press the felt. If your felts are made of synthetic materials (test them first!), cover the felt with another couching cloth before ironing. There will be a lot of steam! I never iron clothes, but have spent quite a few evenings ironing papers while watching a movie.

Special Effects

There are dozens of ways to make your papers unique. I’ll share some of my favorites:

  • When boiling your papers to make pulp, add part of a package of clothing dye to the water. This is especially effective when your papers are various shades. The dye will color all of the paper, but you’ll still see variations in tone.
  • After blending the pulp, add a pinch of other materials to the blender, and swirl it just enough to incorporate the additions. Some ideas (mentioned in a previous post) are dried grasses or leaves, flower petals, onion skins, dryer lint, bits of thread or yarn, and feathers. Keep in mind that a small amount goes a long way.
  • When using the pouring method of papermaking, after the pulp is dispersed in the deckle box and before lifting it out of the water, lay pressed, dried flowers or leaves onto the surface. As you draw the paper out of the water, the suction will draw the items onto the surface of the paper.
  • Old lace tablecloths and doilies can be laid onto the surface of a newly formed sheet of paper, before adding the couching cloth. As the paper is pressed to dry, the texture will be embedded in the surface.

These are just a few suggestions. As you become familiar with the process, I’m sure you’ll come up with ideas on your own.

I hope this is helpful, and that you find papermaking as enjoyable as I do!

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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