This week a group of us got together to prepare plant material for paper-making. There were people who had never done it before and had gathered plant stems and leaves, others who were very experienced and happy to work more independently, some members who had already gone part-way through the process and were up to forming paper sheets and yet others who had completed their paper and were there to help and give advice.
Note: A more cohesive group you couldn’t hope to find. Knowledge, experience and specific topic-related tips are readily passed around to ensure everyone gets the best experience at whatever we are working on at the time.
Above: a range of plant materials being prepared – kangaroo paw, banana leaves and stalks, and other dried stems and stalks.
Most, but not all, of the plant fibres brought along were old dried leaves and stems. Each part of the plant cooks and softens at a different rate so this is taken into account when preparing. The dry banana leaves were roughly torn up but the thicker more woody stalks and veins were chopped more finely so they could be cooked together.
On the left is a bucket of prepared fresh Strelitzia stalks that were cut, sliced and chopped in advance and pre-soaked for a couple of days.
Nylon (or similar) bags were used to separate each type of plant material. These were placed into the boiling, water filled, copper. This large electric pot, with a low-placed tap, cooked our items ready for later pulping. Caustic soda was used to remove (dissolve) everything except the cellulose, which is what we need to form our paper.
Above: stirring the copper to ensure everything remains submerged and cooks evenly (a bit like you do with a stew!) and using the paddle to squash some of the fibres, testing if they have softened enough to use.
You can see the amount of colour that comes out of the plant material. I’m sure some of us wished we had dumped some fabric in and dyed it. We left the bags for well over an hour in the boiling water and then removed them for rinsing.
Above: rinsing and undoing the packages.
Above: the Strelitzia parcel after rinsing. The close-up clearly shows how the original plant stalks have broken down, lost most of the green outer colour and softened into a ‘mush’ ready for pulping.
So, the next step will be to see what everyone comes back with next year when they have produced their various papers. Luckily, on the day, Jill brought along her completed Strelitzia paper – an outcome for us all to work towards.
Above: finished Strelitzia paper, fairly lightweight (webmaster estimates around 50gsm). A variety of shades has been achieved with yellow pulp added into some sheets to create a further colour variation.