Friday, April 25, 2008

Making grass into paper (II)

Hamil paper, almost dry

Making paper by hand is surely one of the most inefficient activities I have ever tried. Two huge sacks of grass, or a whole car boot-full of shrubbery, eventually some dozen or so hours of hard physical labour later (not to mention gas cooking, machine processing, chemical additives and ridiculous quantities of water), emerge as a dozen pretty pieces of A4. Madness, it is madness!
But such pleasurable madness, and I slept so very well* afterwards! Helga, Di, Glenda and I spent two full-on days of multi-tasking paper-making at Wallace House** in Noosa. I hardly know how to tell the story, as so many things were happening simultaneously the entire time we were there.

Outside to the left of the roller door there was a big copper boiling up two batches of fresh plant material in separate net bags: the Chinese Burr bark that Helga and I had prepared, and fresh ginger stems and leaves that Di had collected from a ginger root seller at the market (this area is famous for its ginger production).

To the right of the roller door was an ingenious homemade device combining an insinkerator with a hospital trolly, which when appropriate hoses were attached for input and output chewed through the moderately coarse plant matter like ginger and lemon grass, but got hairballs from the Burr bark.

Insinkerator trolly

Inside in one corner was Alph*** the Hollander beater which variously chewed its way through Hamil Grass, lemon grass, ginger, recycled paper, and of course the Chinese Burr. The Alph is horribly noisy, especially when grinding up recycled paper, and particularly in the echoing environment of the unlined tin shed in which we were working. But I can certainly appreciate its talent for fluffing up fibres. The Burr bark went into the beater as tight stringy clumps and emerged much later as a loose fibrous soggy fluff perfect for making paper.

Removing pulp from the beater is a long and labourious scooping out with sives into a bucket. I quite enjoyed this part of it, not least because the beater's motor was blessedly silent, and of course with my well-documented proclivity for long and labourious fiddly jobs. The Burr pulp came out a very dark brown so Helga added some judicious slops of household bleach. Before our very eyes the brown pulp gradually faded to an attractive honey blonde and eventually a clotted cream before we rinsed out the bleach.

Two buckets of Chinese Burr bark pulp, the one on the right with bleach added (it got even lighter after the photo).

Making the pulp into sheets of paper took place on a table in the centre of the room, where the pulp was added to a large trough of water. By the second day we had two troughs being worked simultaneously, one on each end of the not terribly big table. The ratio of pulp to water required to make a standard sheet of paper is almost undetectable to the untrained eye, though with practice I did get better at seeing what was happening in the trough.

As the new girls, Glenda and I had the honour of doing the first batches and we started with the Hamil grass which had come through its long processing still a bright beautiful shade of green. It was a light and fluffy pulp, relatively easy (I realise in retrospect) to pull into relatively consistent sheets of paper.

Glenda draining the mold and deckle with Hamil pulp

Pulling paper goes like this: first you shimmy your spread hand along the bottom of the trough to get the fibres evenly dispersed without sloshing the contents over the sides of the trough. Then your mold and deckle (two wooden frames fitted together, the mold with a screen and rails to hold the screen taut) is dipped vertically into the trough and used to scoop up some pulpy water, lifting absolutely on the horizontal and shaking very gently side to side and back and forth to distribute the fibres evenly as the water drains through the screen. Then you let the mold drain, for as long as you can stand it (or as long as the person waiting their turn at the trough can stand it), before couching (rolling) the paper off the screen and onto the piece of blanket or sheet that is sitting on top of the post (the stack of wet, just pulled paper that you are adding to).

Glenda couching a fresh sheet of Hamil paper onto the post

In the other roller doorway were two home made presses, but only one (car) jack, so we couldn't use both presses at the same time, which entailed a bit of juggling posts every time we added more. The jack exerted enough pressure on the posts (sandwiched between pieces of wood) to squeeze out all the excess water. When sufficiently pressed, the paper was then peeled off its backing sheet or blanket and spread flat on a bit of fibro board to dry. Unfortunately those bits that dried too fast buckled and puckered, but luckily most of the Hamil paper came through smooth. The bright grassy green faded with drying to a greenish yellow (see top photo of post****) which is still quite attractive.

Later we pulled paper from recycled paper, ginger, the lemon grass pulp which made a highly textured brown paper and the bleached Burr bark pulp which made a lovely soft fluffy paper, some of which we added dried (fake) saffron blossoms to, speckling the creamy white with a rich yolky orange.
We finished off the day with a collaborative effort pouring the various different pulps onto a giant mold and deckle in a sort of abstract pattern of green, brown, cream and white which Helga declared to be a representation of the ruined Mary River if the Traveston Dam goes ahead causing rampant weed and algae growth to clog up the waterway. It seemed an appropriate interpretation, and we left the single large sheet of pulp painting to dry on the mold. I'll get to see the finished product when I go back to Wallace House for the Bookmakers Group on Monday.
Glenda and I had no trouble dividing our finished papers between us: she loves the idiosyncratic character of the lemon grass and thinks the Hamil is boring. I love the smooth even surface and cheery colour of the Hamil and can't think what I would do with the coarse lemon grass. My little stack of Hamil sheets is still damp and slightly puckered so Helga, Victor and I spent some time today assembling a beautiful antique book press that Helga has restored (from flood damage). As always, the old equipment requires both respect and creativity to get back into use, and as always I have a huge amount of fun sharing the job with like-minded folk- Helga and Victor fitting the bill perfectly. The first job of the book press in 30 or more years is to flatten my Hamil paper.
Hamil Grass Pulp

*Other chronic insomniacs will appreciate the attractiveness of any activity that induces a rare good sleep.
**Wallace House is a big old homestead used by numerous art and craft groups: while I was there I saw potters, painters, life drawing, water colours, embroiderers and quilters- and every day of the week the centre is booked for these and many other diverse activities.
*** Named Alph-a-beater by Victor the inveterate punster. It's actually what's called a Critter, made by Mark Lander a New Zealander widely credited for transforming papermaking into an affordable and transportably activity thanks to his clever invention.
**** I became momentarily excited imagining some relationship between a blog post and a papermakers post. Victor's puns must be affecting me despite all my eye-rolling groans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, also want to make our own paper from grass. What are the things that we need to have? What are the methods involved? Do we really need equipments?