Adventures in Papermaking

I was thrilled when a friend gifted me with a papermaking kit! I had always wanted to try it out but never got to it. I love paper. I love the feel of it, its textures and smells — I love the very idea of it. It represents a blank slate, waiting to be filled words and pictures, with ideas and experiences. Making some of that would be just awesome!

So… here we go.

The way I understand it, papermaking can be reduced to three main processes:

  1. Creating a suspension of pulp and water.
  2. Straining this suspension through a screen, and draining the water from this accumulation of pulp fibers.
  3. Pressing and drying the sheets.

Paper was first made in China as early as the 2nd century B.C., and the principles and techniques have largely remained the same. And it tickles to have this wonderful connection with eras past.

My papermaking kit contained a screen, 2 wooden frames attached by a couple of hinges, and several pieces of felt cloth and some dried pulp.

The dried fibers that came with the papermaking kit: on the left is abaca, also known as manila hemp; on the right is cogon, a species of grass.

The two frames and the screen form the mold and deckle.

Another look at my mold and deckle. This is small, only 4 x 6 inches. I have seen other versions that are bigger, and they aren't hinged together, and the screen attached to the top of one frame, forming the mold. The deckle then is the other frame.

Other equipment required, as per the instruction pamplet, are:

  • 2 pieces of okra (I know, this is kinda strange, but it somehow works out in the end, promise)
  • a blender
  • 3 basins (2-liter basins, and one larger one that the frame can fit into)
  • water
  • a flat surface for drying

To create the pulpy water (which I learned is called the slurry), quite a bit of prep work is required.

  • I first had to soak the pulp overnight, to soften up the fibers. Then in the morning I blitzed this up in the blender. I had to do this in small batches, and with quite a bit of water because the blending expands the fibers three- or four-fold. I filled up the blender 2/3 of the way up with water and added a small handful of rehydrated pulp, then blended until a fine slush is created. But since I figured I wanted some texture on my paper, I varied the blending times. I blended a couple of batches only until they were loose, with bits and strands still visible.
  • Now, the okra. Instructions stated that I had to puree this okra in 2 cups of water. I ended up with this soft, slippery liquid. This is said to help the fibers stick together.

I’m ready now to make paper!

  • I put some water in the large basin and put in a couple of cups of the pulp, and around 1/4 cup of okra “juice”. I agitated this with my hand until it’s all mixed up. That’s the slurry.
  • I placed the screen in between the two frames. This forms a unit called the mold and deckle. I dipped it in the slurry, lifted it, and watched in fascination as the water drained off, and a wet sheet of paper is formed.
  • I removed the screen and pressed it on a piece of felt, and then gently removed it from the wet paper sheet. Another piece of felt is then placed on top of this.
  • Repeated the steps until a pile of alternating layers of wet paper and felt cloth is formed.
  • After a few sheets have been formed, the slurry will feel a little thin. This means that it needs more pulp and okra juice. Add a cupful of slurry and 2 tablespoons of okra juice at a time until the desired consistency is once again achieved.
  • After I ran out of felt cloths, I placed a weight on this pile — a small slab of wood with a rock on top.
  • After half an hour, I took the weight off and separated the sheets, and placed everything on the drying board.
  • I waited a couple of hours for the sheets of paper to dry, and voila! Paper!

The screen gathers the fibers together as it drains the water. A wet sheet is formed.

When the deckle is lifted, the wet sheet of paper is revealed.

The sheet is pressed to a piece of cloth and the screen removed.

After the sheets are pressed to drain out most of the water, they are arranged on a board to dry.

The resulting product was everything I hoped it would be. It was kinda rough with lots of visible fibers. Awesome! The experience was wet and messy but so worth the effort. It was also quite relaxing — once I got going, there arose soothing rhythm in the process. I lost track of time and it seemed to just fade away, and I was left living in the moment — very therapeutic. And I got all that paper to boot.

Anybody can make paper, really. A mold and deckle set is easy enough to make — one just has to find a couple of same-sized wooden frames and cut a screen to size too. One can even do without a blender and just use mortar and pestle.

But what about the materials for the pulp? Not everyone has access to abaca and cogon fibers — even I may not always have access to them. So I tried making pulp out of a book that I hated. I followed the same procedure – soaked the pages overnight and blitzed them up in the morning. Check out these results!

Paper recycled from a book. I still wanted some texture, so I varied the blending times. You can see larger bits of paper with some letters and words still visible.

With this one I finely blended the pages. All you can see of the old print are just some flecks of black.

The three kinds of paper that I made

All images by Nathalie Mariano

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

4 Responses to Adventures in Papermaking

  1. Midori says:

    Amazing: I am loving the paper where the letters are still visible – it’s nice to know even hated books can bring such pleasure and inspiration. Gorgeous post!

  2. Marla Quiaoit says:

    Wonderful! I never knew you needed okra to make paper.

    • I know! It surprised me too! But in my readings I’ve learned that it’s actually a pretty old and common practice to add some kind of a slippery plant solution. In ancient China, they used birch leaves.

      And thanks again for the papermaking kit! It made this post possible.

  3. Pingback: Brush With Serenity | The Design Tree by Greentea Design

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