By PPA member Sue Bradshaw
Diary Notes –
I cut enough leaves from the super-mature plant in my front garden to fill the metal cooking pot (about $12 from Target). It can’t be aluminium because you’re using caustic soda.
For this cook I’ve decided to use both the stems and leaves. You can see how much lovely fibre is just waiting to become paper in the stems. The main leaf stem has a lovely boxy cellular form that I capture in a photo to use as part of the collage.
To the pot I add the leaves that I’d chopped into rough finger lengths and then fill it 2/3 with water. Now I am ready to start the cook! Now is the time to put on your boots and gloves and long sleeves or pants before you use the caustic soda – if it touches your skin it burns!
Add a generous serve of caustic soda and light the gas. When getting out the caustic soda from its storage place also get out the white vinegar that you’ll use for neutralising. Leave the white vinegar next to the cook so that you don’t forget to neutralise it after the cooking is finished. I’ve only forgotten to neutralise once … never again!
It takes about 15 minutes before it comes to the boil so I keep an ear and eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil over.
You can also smell it cooking, I love the smell that means another batch of paper is being prepared. It’s clean and fresh and slightly acidic and I’m really quite addicted to it. Just smelling the leaves cooking makes me really happy.
Once the pot has boiled, turn down the heat and cook for about 3 hours. This may vary according to your setup but it’s a good guide.
When the gas bottle finishes after about 3 hours, I check the status of the leaves and stems. The leaves have a slimy texture and they break apart easily in my gloved hand. The stems can easily be pushed apart by my fingers in the same way.
This means that cooking officially finished at 4pm. I usually leave the cook to cool before neutralising, but it probably doesn’t matter.
I must buy some Okra! I’ve found a prickly pear growing wild in a back lane in Chatswood but I didn’t have any gloves with me when I saw it so I will go back for it soon. I’m very keen to test its ability to create mucilage which is the formation aid you need to bind the fibres when you pull sheets of paper.
I start by giving the cook a gentle stir. Then I add some white vinegar and stir it again gently. I put the vinegar back with the caustic soda for the next cook.
A couple of days pass – I don’t think this affects anything, as it happens to me frequently!
Washing – This is a long-winded task and can be very messy, it also uses lots of water. The goal is to pummel and squeeze the cooked leaves and stems until only the fibre remains.
I prepare a bucket by lining it with an old pillow case that is pegged around the top. Into this I pour the cooked leaves and stems making sure that it doesn’t splash. The liquid is very dark and dense and capable of staining; a future project could use this liquid as a plant dye.
As I wash I can see how the lovely long and pale fibres reveal themselves from the leaves and the stems.
The water becomes paler, but I need to keep going until it’s clear. This is a critical stage because unless I’ve cleaned the fibres completely from the cooked leaf debris, it will be present in the paper.
Now it’s time to blend the fibre. Placing small amounts of plant fibre with water into the blender I create the fibre that will be used to make paper.
Below are the components for paper making using fibre, paper pulp and mucilage from Okra as the formation aid, and you can see the mucilage that I created from the Okra.
I add the combined plant fibre, blended cartridge paper and Okra to the vat and pull the first sheets. I place them into the post and leave them overnight.
The next day I take them out and place them on various surfaces to dry.
Once the paper is dry I print an image from my printer. It’s one I created using Adobe Lightroom by combining Strelitzia photos I took at the beginning of the project.
Here is the result!
It achieved ‘Highly Commended’ recognition in the creative photography section of the Bellinger Agricultural Show 2018.
Webmaster & PPA committee note: We would like to congratulate Sue on her achievement and thank her for sharing her creative process with us by explaining in detail how she came to produce this unique piece of work.