Friday, April 27, 2012

Papermaking part 3 – floral inclusions

The Richard de Bas paper mill in France is well known for its floral papers. Less well known are the latest floral papers from Decorah, Iowa.
 Petals from violets and dandelions and young fern frond tips were added to the Zerkall & milkweed pulp. The violet petals were inclined to float to the surface, which made it difficult to incorporate them in the paper. However peristance prevailed and the effort yielded an interesting paper due in part to the contrast between the yellow and purple hues and the different shaped petals and the ferns.

This detail shows the tangled web of fibers and a fragment of dandelion petal. 

Some new fibers have been gathered: bast fiber from old milkweed stems which will be processed separately; and fiber from some hemp which self-seeds itself on the farm, no doubt a remnant of the wartime crops that were once grown for rope.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Papermaking part 2 – milkweed & recycled zerkall

The milkweed experiments demonstrated that the woody stems, if they were to be of any use, needed mascerating. There were plenty of desirable long, bast fibers in the milkweed pulp but they were too long, they needed to be shorter. The solution as exemplified everywhere is to used a Hollander beater or, in this case the kitchen blender.

To pulp the woody stems the blender was run for longer than was necessary and chopped the bast fibers too short. In future I will not use the woody stems and devise a less harsh method of pulping (the fibers were first beaten with claw hammers).

100% milkweed paper
Nevertheless the milkweed pulp made an attractive paper.

I have accumulated many offcuts of paper over the years, including at least two tons of German Zerkall mould made – an acid free paper whose "standard furnish is composed of a mix of cotton fibre and high alpha cellulose" – and decided it was time to recycle. Transforming the Zerkall into pulp in the food blender yielded a neutral white base to which I added some of the finer milkweed fibers. 
Milkweed & Zerkall paper

The results were at once more paper like than the first experiments – magic. These pieces of paper are formed on a 4 x 3 inch piece of fly screen and couched onto plywood, glass or rigid insulation to dry in the sun. The fly screen leaves a distinctive mesh pattern on the "wire side" of the paper.

The plywood yielded the smoothest surface. The glass (of the greenhouse) was not clean and the paper stuck. All the sheets possessed a characteristic "rattle" when dry, the thinner the sheet, the more pronounced.

The paper seems quite durable and a fold test (creased and folding 100 times) showed only slight degradation of the surface along the fold. Rubbing did not raise any fibers. Tear strength was not very good, which is not surprising as the fibers were too short as a result of too aggressive blending.

Next experiments will try different plants.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Milkweed paper: first steps in papermaking from plants

All you need is imagination. This is the very first sheet piece of paper I have made from wild plants growing here on the farm in northeast Iowa. In fact it is only the third piece of paper I have ever made in my entire life! But can you see the potential.

Inspired Russell Maret's visit here this week and the report of his visit to master paper maker and McArthur Fellow, Timothy Barrett at the University of Iowa, I decided to pursue the idea that all the materials needed to make a book were growing here on the farm. I have been looking for a niche market crop we could grow and wondered if kozo, or Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) might be possible. The common Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) grows here readily and when clearing branches I have noticed the bark is very tough – perhaps it also could be used for paper.

A quick re-read of Washi by Suki Hughes, was further inspiration, except for the description of the pot of warm water into which the paper maker will occasionally plunge his "red, numb hands".

This led me to investigate paper making from plants and as a first step I collected some dried stalks of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The stem fibers are long, strong and silky, while the seeds are attached to downy hairs. Soaking and boiling the stems in lye made from wood ash (we have a wood stove) and then rinsing before beating yielded a curious lumpy pulp. Couched out onto a plywood sheet to dry, translucent fibers connect the woody straw pieces to make a suprisingly strong paper – the magic of paper making.

More beating is clearly necessary and perhaps some mucilage in the "vat" or pulp will help separate the fibers. But I think there is potential.

Podcast: David Esslemont on the history of the Gregynog and Solmentes Presses

Gregynog Hall Nigel Beale aka The Literary Tourist , came to visit and recorded our conversation in which he asked me about the history...