HOW TO MAKE PAPER BY HAND
Handmade European and American paper begins its life as linen or cotton rags, or cotton linters (sheets of the shorter cotton fibers that remain after the linger ones have been ginned for textiles). The rags must be cut up and reduced to pulp, accomplished through hours of beating and macerating the rag pieces in a beater filled with water. The pulp is ready when it hangs evenly suspended and milky-looking when shaken in a jar of water, with no visible threads remaining. Handmade papers from cotton or linen rags are stronger than common papers made of wood and chemical pulps, as the fibers are longer and have tiny interlocking tendrils. Handmade papers are produced without a grain, because the mold and deckle on which sheets are formed get shaken both forward and back, and from side-to-side. (In machine- made paper, the fibers line up like logs going down stream as the pulp rushes through the machine. The resulting grain is what makes newspaper clippings tear easily in one direction but not the other; stiffer papers crack when folded against the grain.) Paper without a grain is not only stronger, but it shrinks uniformly without distortion when wet; paper with a grain will shrink more in one direction.
The wood pulp used in machine-made papers is acidic and requires time-consuming, costly and environmentally harmful treatment to be rendered acid-free. Cotton and linen fibers, on the other hand, do not. (Several fibers used in making Japanese papers are not only pH-neutral, but have natural insect-repellant qualities as well.)
The pulp is further diluted before it goes into the forming vat. (Paper thickness is determined by the proportion of pulp to water, so the pulp must be periodically replenished as sheets are dipped and formed.) The sheets are made on a screen-like mold on a wooden frame, with a removable deckle that fits over the frame to "fence in" the pulp. The mold, with deckle in place, is dipped into the vat and pulled straight up. As the water begins to drain away, the mold is shaken to prevent a grain and help the fibers weave.
With the deckle removed, the wet sheet is transferred to a wet felt on a table by a procedure known as couching (rhymes with smooching). The process of filling or "Charging" the mold and couching the sheet is repeated until the supply of pulp (or the paper maker) is exhausted, building a stack of alternating wet felts and sheets called a post. The post is put into a press in order to squeeze out the water; a second pressing is done with dry felts in between the sheets. The paper is further dried before being sized, calendered or left as is.
In Japan, the mold screen (called a "su") is made of thin bamboo and is flexible (somewhat like a placemat). It is rigid while in the mold and deckle; when the sheet is couched, the su is curled at an angle to remove the sheet. Japanese papermakers fill the mold, slosh the pulp across it, and toss the excess over the edge into the vat several times in the process of forming each sheet. The very long fibers of Japanese paper enable the sheets to be couched without the use of felts. The sheets stick to but do not bond with each other, and can be peeled apart when partially dry. The fibers are prepared making by a process of soaking or steaming, stripping, cooking and washing followed by a short beating time.
Almost any plant fiber that has enough cellulose can be used to create paper; if a bit of cotton linter is added to the pulp, the range of suitable fibers expands even more. Paper has been made out of such oddities as carrots, pine cones, banana peels, artichoke hearts and lint from clothes dryers. A variety of inclusions can be mixed into the prepared pulp in the vat for added interest; various paper makers have used dyed wool or rayon fibers, flower petals, leaves, feathers, sand, seeds, glitter, dried algae, crumbled tea, gold leaf, shredded corn husks and cat hair, to name just a few! Paper can also be created in various shapes - hearts, circles, stars, rectangles - by using a template with shapes cut into it that fits over the mold. Paper dried against burlap or rough wood picks up those textures, while paper dried against metal is very smooth.
Textures may also be created with inclusions. Two recent paper acquisitions at Kate's Paperie in New York are from a Southwest Papermaker who uses natural materials from the environment. One paper called "Adobe" derives its color and texture from desert earth and sand. Another, called "Grape Wine" acquires its color from grape skins and its texture from crushed grape seeds left behind from wine production.
But it is the Japanese who win hands-down for the most mind-boggling array of papers. No other culture regards paper with as much reverence or has done up with as many applications for it. For centuries, the Japanese have used paper for lanterns, fans, room dividers, screens, wallets, wrapping, umbrellas, and clothing - even a murder weapon! (A sleeping victim is suffocated with a damp sheet of paper draped over his nose and mouth; the sheet is peeled away with no evidence of foul play and once dry is perfectly serviceable for letter writing!)
Of great beauty and diversity, Japanese papers are endlessly fascinating to Westerners but are often misunderstood. They are different from Western varieties in every aspect, from the fibers used and the method of production to the resulting characteristics of the paper. The commonly used term "rice paper" is a misnomer, originated by the Western merchants who first brought paper out of the Orient. The fibers of the rice plant are much too short and weak to be used in paper, although a powder made from the outside of the rice kernel is sometimes used as filler to smooth out a sheet. Nearly 80% of the paper made in Japan is of kozo, a fiber derived from the mulberry plant. Mitsumata is another plant fiber used in paper making, although not too much of this paper gets exported - most of it goes into Japanese currency.
Both Kozo and mitsumata can be cultivated; a third fiber used in papermaking called gampi only grows wild in mountainous regions. As the wilderness disappears, Japan is depending increasingly on China and Korea for its supply of gampi.
Even though they are usually thinner, Japanese handmade papers are stronger and more flexible than Western versions because the fibers are longer and softer. A slippery formation aid derived from a root called tororo-aoi is added to the pulp to keep fibers from clumping, but it also prevents water from draining quickly - the reason Japanese paper must be made so thin. Because they have no internal size, most Japanese papers bleed profusely when watercolors or inks are applied. Strong, soft and absorbent, they are ideal for molding or papier-mâché, and are also used in a printmaking technique called chin-colle in which a sheet of thin Japanese paper if backed with thicker western paper and put into the press, capturing a beautiful impression with superb detail.
Taking advantage of their paper's thinness, the Japanese have created exquisite effects by laminating sheets together. Some papers are available with leaves and butterflies sandwiched between the layers. Others combine a filmy white layer backed with colored paper, or luminous colored fibers backed with opaque paper.
One of the most astonishing Japanese papers is lace paper, created by spraying jets of water through a stencil at newly formed sheets of wet paper. Some, but not all of the fibers within the holes are displaced; when the stencil is removed, a lacy pattern of maple leaves, squares, shells or waves is revealed. This paper is sometimes laminated to opaque paper.
In the West, various techniques are used to hand- decorate paper that is not handmade, providing another wonderful category of paper for artists to explore. Marbled and other decorative papers are increasingly in demand. Collage artists frequently ask for painted papers. Styles of marbling vary widely, from the intricate combed designs traditionally used by end papers in the bookbinding trade to more open and freeform patterns - some of which resemble wood, fabric, tortoise shell, veins, whorls or zebra stripes - achieved with a variety of inks and techniques. A form of Japanese marbling called suminigashi is done in one color only, and resembles the rings created by a pebble tossed into a pond.
Marbled papers are created by floating pigments on a water bath and manipulating them into the desired pattern. A sheet of paper is then rolled onto the surface of the water and rolled off picking up all the pigment - so the entire procedure must be repeated for each sheet. 'The process is a delicate one, affected by such variables as water and air temperature, humidity level, pollution and dust; marblers who can achieve consistent effects are true artists. (Machine-marbled and printed papers are now available that offer a similar effect at a reduced expense.)
Paste- paper, another traditional form of decorated paper, utilizes a technique similar to finger-painting. Acrylic pigments are added to a wheat-and-rice paste, which is painted onto the paper. While still wet, it is combed, sponged, brushed or stamped, then left to dry. Designs are often geometric, and metallic leaf may be used for striking effects.
Virtually any technique commonly applied to fabric - from batik to tie-dye - can be used to decorate paper, providing it is strong enough to undergo the wetting and manipulating involved. Paper may also be laminated to very thin veneers of real wood; light, flexible and easy to cut, these are used for model making and inlaid designs as well as collage, framing and matting.