Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Making Paper from Plants

It is possible to make paper from plants and barks found all over in early spring or summer, when they are tender and easily broken down. Corn husks, cattails, leaves from pineapple, narcissus, iris or daylily plants, wheat straw, and mulberry bark are just a few of the possibilities. Either use them immediately or dry them for later.
Though the supplies for this process are more extensive than the previous technique, they are all available in grocery and home improvement stores. In addition to a mold, vat, couching supplies, and blender, find a stainless steel pot, wooden spoons, a paint straining sock, a few five-gallon buckets, safety goggles, gloves, and a dust mask. Soda ash, used to break down the plants, can be found in the pool chemistry section of a home improvement store, and lye, used for clogged drains, is sold in grocery stores. Make sure it is 100% lye with no fillers. Mallets, which are often better than a blender because they do not cut the fibers, are useful. A hotplate is necessary, as the fumes are hazardous and cooking outside is advised.

1. Measure the dry fiber. Implement a 20% cooking solution when using soda ash: 1 lb. of dry fiber to ~ 3 ½ oz. of Soda Ash is the proper ratio. For lye, a 9% cooking solution works: 1 lb. dry fiber to ~ 1 ½ oz. lye

2. Soak the fiber overnight.

3. Cooking: Fill the pot with water THEN add the proper amount of soda ash to the water (never the other way around). Be sure to cook outside, as the fumes are hazardous, and be sure to use rubber gloves, safety goggles, and a mask (when dealing with the alkaline in powder form). Though it depends on the plant, cook for a few hours, stirring occasionally, until the fibers can be pulled apart.

4. Cool the fibers in the cooking water overnight, and in the morning, put a paint straining sock over a five gallon bucket, and then dump out the contents of the pot into the bucket. Pick up the sock, allow it to drain, and then deposit the fibers into a bucket of clean water. Change the water six times, until it runs clear. Keep in mind that some fibers dye the water, so use Ph test strips and get back to a neutral of 7 or 8.

5. Neutralize the alkaline cooking water using a bottle of vinegar—test it until it gets back to a neutral of 7 or 8.

6. Pounding: It is best to pound many fibers by hand using mallets, as a blender would simply cut the fibers short, whereas pounding merely separates them. Flatten out the pulp, and then turn it, pounding with two mallets of the same size for about twenty minutes.
If this technique is impossible, cut fibers into half-inch lengths, add ½ cup to blender full of water, and blend for thirty seconds. In order to mimic the result of hand pounding, use the blender for varying amounts of time for each blender batch, which will keep the fibers from all being the same length. As a result, the fibers will have a stronger bond when they are formed into sheets of paper.

7. Test the consistency by pinching tiny bits of pulp from various areas and dropping them in a glass jar filled with water. Shake the jar and observe what happens. Clumps might be what you want, but if not, moisten the pulp and continue pounding.

8. Neri: Mix the pulp with water in a small container, and then dump just a small amount into the water-filled vat. These sheets should be much thinner than the ones made with recycled fibers. There is a Japanese sheet forming technique that results in an extremely thin, strong sheet of paper. They us a formation aid called a “neri,” which is added to the vat to suspend the fibers in the water. That enables the production of very thin sheets of paper. Either buy synthetic neri from a papermaking supplier, or use these instructions to make a similar concoction.
Soak okra in water for six hours, then strain it, making sure no plant parts remain. Add the liquid to the vat slowly. It will change the water’s sound. When you lift your hand out of the vat, there should be a thread of liquid that comes off of it.

9. Pulling a sheet: Dip the mold into the vat, pull it up, and let it drain for a few moments, then redip it, making sure that the screen enters into the water at a 90% angle. Dip the screen eight times.

10. Couching: After the mold stops dripping, carefully set the screen paper side down, onto the couching station. Use the sponge to press out excess water, and then carefully peel the screen off. Cover the new sheet of paper with a piece of felt. Continue pulling sheets of paper until the couching stack has up to thirty sheets.

11. Pressing: It might be a good idea to move the stack to a bathtub for this step. Place the other baking sheet on top of the stack of newly made paper, then press down as hard as possible, pouring out any water that builds up. Stack the bricks on top of the stack, and wait for the water to stop pouring out. Gently separate the sheets, but keep them with attached to their felt backing.

12. Drying: There are several ways to dry the paper. Either hang it on a clothesline or rack, lay them out to dry on newspaper, or iron the paper on a cutting board covered with a dishcloth. Set the iron to the cotton setting, and do not use steam. Flip the stack after ironing for a minute, and repeat, flipping and ironing until the paper is quite dry, which should take about five minutes.

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