Friday, May 02, 2008

Big Hairy Bananas and Little Peach Pellets

The antique book press so beautifully restored by Helga and reassembled by Victor

Helga and I have been making lots more paper back at the farm. This time we used pulp that Helga had prepared earlier and stored in the deep freezer. Victor's been on at her to use up the pulp so he can fill the deep freeze with a naughty cow, thus he was willing to let us push his sign-painting activities to the back of the shed and take over the table with troughs and cloths and water and pulp for a few days.
As we undertook this over the first really cold days of winter, I discovered that making paper is infinitely more pleasurable as a summertime activity, but that having one's hands immersed in cold water for hours on end is less pleasant on a chilly day. By the second day we'd decided to include buckets of hot water in our trough, and to time our actvities in the warmest middle of the day. And in between I booked a train ticket to Cairns where the daytime highs are consistently around 29.
Victor and his cows

We defrosted bags of agapanthus, mystery garden mix, bamboo, banana and native peach pulp. On the first day we bleached agapanthus and the mystery mix and pulled those plus the unbleached bamboo. We made them into fuzzy edged A4 sheets plus a few little squares (with the cutest little mold and deckle) and after pressing out most of the water, we stretched them onto the smooth concrete floor of the shed to dry over night. This ensured that they came up completely flat and smooth, unlike all the paper I helped make at Wallace House last week which had been taken up too early and is irredeemably rippled.
Agapanthus, bamboo and mystery garden papers drying on the concrete

The agapanthus makes a thick fibrous mat of opaque golden paper which is so tough and strong that I couldn't tear it once it was dry. The mystery garden mix made a lovely versatile paper, smooth and easy to write on, strong and flexible and it bleached to a creamy beige while retaining a pleasant brown fleck. What a shame we don't know exactly what plant(s) went into this pulp because it is so nice.
The bamboo had been pulped complete with the tough green bark and leaves and hard core and came out like a bran biscuit: rough and textured, almost sandy in many shades of brown. Helga says that on their trip to Thailand in January, when they visited many different Thai paper makers, she learned that proper bamboo paper is made using only the part of the stem that lies between the green outer coat and the hard inner core. (She also saw at the Brisbane Craft Fair this week they are selling bamboo wadding for inserting into quilts (instead of nasty dacron) and she reckons that must be made of the same part of the bamboo as good paper).

Helga pulling big banana paper in the wheelbarrow

Next day, we decided to make some of the banana paper into A3 sheets, which required using the wheelbarrow as a trough as it is the only thing big enough to take the A3 mold and deckle. We had a bag of long fibre banana and a bag of short fibre banana both of which we bleached but pulled separately. The short fibre banana was made into the big sheets which came out hairy (strong) and translucent (fine). The long fibre banana which we made as A4 sheets was (unsurprisingly) even hairier. In fact it was so hairy that the edges were often compromised by fibres hanging over the edge of the deckle so persistently that they pulled away chunks of the wet pulp from the molded sheet. And when it came time to remove the paper from the cloths by rolling it onto the concrete, the fibres clung to the cloth and tore rather than stick to the concrete like most wet paper.
The banana paper which Helga had made in the past (and used to make a stunning big paper parasol for an exhibition) had also had a shiny glossy quality, almost like it was varnished, but the banana paper we made this week was mat. We have speculated about whether the freezing process might have removed the glossy quality from the banana pulp or whether harvesting the banana at different times of year may create different kinds of paper (shiny when the sap is rising?), but we just don't know. If any readers have insight into these banana paper mysteries, your advice is welcomed! I am very interested in making more banana paper as I have plans which require its combination of strength and translucence.
We started putting bleached native peach pulp to the trough while there was still some long banana in the water, and the peach added strength to the wet paper being pulled around by the long banana fibres. Gradually the banana disappeared and we were pulling peach alone. The native peach is not a peach at all, no relation in fact, being named solely on the resemblance its leaves have for the original. It actually bears tiny little fruits like peppercorns which the pigeons adore.
Peach paper pulp is made out of the inner bark only. It makes a thick soft creamy smooth paper that I anticipate will be a joy to print on, so I am very interested in making more of this paper as well. As we pulled we noticed tiny balls of peach fuzz in the pulp, which couldn't be broken up by stirring the trough. Helga reckons these are the result of spending too much time in the beater (back before the pulp was frozen). It seems that beating for too long will begin to reconstitute fluffy pulp into a solid mass. Luckily the presence of the little balls of peach are unnoticeable in the dried paper.
Botanical papers handmade on the Sunshine Coast, April 2008

After all the paper was dried it made quite an impressive pile on the dining room table. I went through and tested a sample of each type of paper with different pens and pencil, and for its folding qualities. With these samples and notes in my journal I am only taking as much of the paper as I could squeeze into a single plastic file box for the next stage of my journey.

1 comment:

Alan Roberta said...

Great stuff............