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Wet Work

29 Jul

Paper has taken over my life. Maybe those of you who interact with me on a regular basis are nodding your heads. I talk about paper when I am not in the studio. Sometimes I start conversations out with people, “Do you follow our blog?!” It is probably obnoxious but I am just so excited about what we are doing in the studio that I want everyone to know about it. One night last week, I had a dream I was in the studio. As I was doing laundry tonight, I paused as I was loading my tshirts into the washer and wondered to myself what sort of color they would all come out if I put them into the beater. If I were on the show True Life, it would be subtitled, “I’m Obsessed with Paper.”

Besides my fixation, this is what has been going on recently.

Today we had one of the art professors come in for the first time and see our set up. He walked around, asked questions, and appreciatively touched the paper. He even took some with him to experiment on– wishing to draw and paint on it. It is exciting to finally see the next stage of this project. Once we are done with these piles of paper, it will appear on a wall as an installation piece. It will find its way into the drawing studio and painting studio. Student pencils will dance across its surface and the paintbrush will give its greetings.

My previous post about drying under restraint can now be applied to our cotton paper as well. Even the cotton paper has a tendency to curl, but when dried under restraint, it forms perfect and flat sheets. So, out came the flock of litho stones this week. Litho stones everywhere.

We put the lake grass in the beater. We added flax to some of it and cotton linters to portions of it. Some of the lake grass we kept pure and the results will make your heart stop. The straight lake grass is stunning. Every three or four sheets we pulled, either Jillian or I would comment on how nice the paper was. Decide for yourself.

Straight lake grass paper. While by no means the best sheet of paper I have ever pulled (hello air bubble!), it does give you a sense of the color and consistency of the paper.

In addition to the fun new paper we have at our fingertips, we introduced a new press into the studio. It can handle a larger post which is super helpful. The new press is orange and quite the sight, but we’re all about it. Its only downside is that the excess water goes everywhere – mainly the floor- which causes some issues when walking around the studio. Jillian recently commented that papermaking is known as “wet work.” After working in the studio with water day after day, I nod my head. Papermaking is wet work.

Other events happening in the studio:

The iris going into the beater!

A new assistant, TR, in the studio. He came in on Friday and helped clean and cut more fibers. Look at how great he made Holly look.

Our faithful crockpots are looking a little worse for wear. They are champions at cooking fibers. Hopefully, they continue to do their job.

Finally, we tried drying our paper outside one day. Jillian said it was what they did in Thailand. Sounds cool, enough, right? In my head, it would only take an hour or two tops. In reality, after about four, the paper was still wet. Jillian reminded me that we weren’t actually in Thailand and our climates were a bit different. Such a disappointment!

These have been the most recent happenings in the studio. Enjoy!


All in Due Time

27 Jul

A longer, better post will be coming soon, I promise!

But until then, here are some images of what we’ve been doing recently. Comment and let us know what you think each picture is or represents!

What are your thoughts? What interesting materials and techniques have we been experimenting with in the studio recently?

I Heart Grey

24 Jul

Hello Friends!

Half of the fun of this project is never quite knowing what the pulp will come out to be. We start with something like this:

And when the paper is finally pulled, it comes out like this:

Notice the warm grey on the right of the picture. The light/cool grey on the left and the dark blue on the bottom were from the cotton we pulled at the beginning of the project. Over the weekend, we prepared the pulp that you see in the first picture and then today pulled the grey ovals.

Our collection of paper is slowly amassing! We have more plant paper than I was anticipating. When we were collecting the fibers, it seemed outlandish to me that we could ever make very much paper with what we had. But, I am quite pleased to say that the daylily and hosta were good to us and made beautiful, strong paper…and lots of it! We finished cooking the lake grass today and I anticipate that we will put it into the beater tomorrow.

We haven’t yet talked about how the daylily and hosta paper has to be dried under restraint. Without doing this, the paper curls and even calendering can’t quite fix it. We place absorbent sheets between each piece of daylily or hosta paper and then place a litho stone on top. On goes the fan and then we wait. It’s quite the process.

My favorite moment of learning about the restraint drying technique was when we were moving the stones and Jillian said, “Don’t hurt your back and don’t break my stones.” Litho stones are expensive…really expensive. To date, I have heeded her warning on both accounts.

As I was trying to think of how I wanted to end this post, I decided to include other facets of our days in the studio that don’t necessarily relate to paper-making but are still intrinsic to what we do. Here goes:

Self-explanatory, I think!

Fresh blueberries made an appearance today in the studio. They taste like summer. I wonder if they would dye the paper? Hmmm….

Rocco. Jillian’s dog who is super loving and always super excited to meet new people. He is our mascot in some ways.

There you have it! Our day in the studio and the little things that make this job so wonderful. Thanks for reading!

This Week At A Glimpse

21 Jul

The past few days in the studio have included:



-cooking lake grass.


-pulling circles and ovals.

-finding a bug in our daylily paper! This was actually super cool. Don’t be grossed out by it.

-writing on our paper. A few of you have been asking if the paper we are making can be written on. Of course! This is what it looks like.

So, that’s what we’ve been doing. We wish you a wonderful weekend. See you back here on Monday!

The Draw of Paper and Ink

21 Jul

I have a wonderful friend, E, who reads the blog. She is incredibly intelligent and has spent her summer studying for the MCATs. In a recent email from her, she said amusingly,

“i have been reading your blog. it is delightful and i can hear you talk and motion with your hands when i read it. your custard blog asked for comments, thoughts but i thought mine was too nerdy, so i will send it, privately, to you from me:  ‘no way – i have just been reading/studying about cellulose! not cellulite, ew. cellulose is a polysaccharide, which is a group of saccharides, or sugars = carbohydrates. and this stuff is pretty strong, because it’s got those D-glucoses linked by 1,4’ beta glycosidic bonds!'”

While I have completely disregarded her wish for privacy (don’t worry, I asked for permission), I wanted to share with you her words because this is what I find so entrancing about the project. It can draw people in from all walks of life. Of course, E is very well-versed in both art and science, but it is her bridging of the two that I appreciate most. While she sits in her cubicle studying for her MCAT, I stand in the studio pulling sheets of paper. These activities could not be any more different – literally on two different ends of the spectrum – yet, we understand each other on some base level because she is studying about the components that I am trying to remove from my beloved paper pulp.

As Jillian and I have talked to friends and colleagues about the project, eyes brighten and faces warm. People find the project fascinating. Probably because it is such a foreign idea to most. We are a society that gravitates towards technology and screens. We like texting rather than writing and watching rather than reading. Gross overstatement? Maybe to a certain extent, but by and large, I stand by these statements. There are, of course, still some of us out there who still love, need, utilize the written word. Paper. Ink. Cursive. Recently, a friend wrote me a letter where he said, “After a day at work so full of screens and bright LCD lights, it’s calming and lovely to write letters to my lovely friends while I let the radio hosts chat…”

I understand that feeling. I understand the joy and vitality that comes with sinking my hands in a vat of pulp and feeling so close to the process. I feel removed when I use a keyboard but I can think better, write better when I have a pen and ink.

Does anyone else feel this way? Do you think or write better when you can hear the pen scratch against the paper? Or do you gravitate more towards the clack of the keyboard? We’d love to know!

As always, thanks for reading!

Minor Catastrophes

18 Jul

The beater exploded today.


Earlier this morning, we traded out the daylilies for hosta. Except that Holly (our beater) decided she didn’t actually like hosta. So…we cleaned up the mess and added in some bamboo fibers that we had in the studio. That alleviated Holly’s stress and she merrily continued to beat our fibers.

Other adventures today included drying the blotters that absorb the extra water in our paper during the drying process:

(Sidenote- I love this photo so much. Great lines.)

Also, trying to find iced coffee. It was 90 degrees today and by 3 PM, paper-making was nearly unbearable. Eventually we found some and found the energy to continue pulling paper.


The photo on the left is Jillian pulling a sheet of daylily and linen paper and the photo on the right is the hosta after being drained from the crock-pots. After this photo was taken, it went into the beater after which you know what happened…

Quite the day. Phew! Hopefully you stayed cool today! Stay tuned for more adventures in paper-making.


13 Jul

Who doesn’t like a good pair of linen pants (or, for all you UK readers out there, trousers)? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask — ironing linen can definitely be a killer. Thankfully, we don’t encounter any of that when we are making linen paper. What we do encounter is heat.

The studio can get insanely hot. Remember, it’s summer, it’s a studio with no windows that open, and we have three crock-pots on high blasting out the non-cellulose materials from our daylilies. There is definitely some sweating that happens. Which brings me to today’s title “Custard.” Jillian and “the littles” (her two wonderfully, lovely children) went out for custard today in the hot heat of the afternoon. The beater was churning away and the crock-pots were doing their thing, so we escaped for some much needed cooling off via some pretty tasty custard.

I bring all this up because “the littles” often come into the studio to help us. No really, they do. They stand next to Jillian and me, one on each side, and aid in the process of papermaking. Sure they can’t mine for the pulp gold in the vats, but they can put pellon down and wipe the excess water away with a sponge. They happily chat and throw out words and phrases like, “pulp!” and “Let me make paper!”. And it’s all I can do to not marvel. “The littles” are doing their part to move the project forward, to learn and experience, to grow. I am constantly amused and encouraged by their enthusiasm and excitement towards the paper we make. Plus, when they go to school someday, they will show all the other kids up in art class with their knowledge of fibers. So rad.

Remember how we talked about calendering paper yesterday? Here’s a before and after of a sheet of calendered paper. The left side has not been calendered while the right side has. Notice the smooth and silky surface of the right side and the more rough texture on the left. I made it extra large so it was very apparent.

I wish you could feel it. Wouldn’t it be the greatest if the world of Willy Wonka semi-existed (no oompa-loompas, please) and we could transport items through the television waves (well, in this case, the internet waves) so that you could experience how glorious this paper feels? That would be really excellent.

We beat and strained the daylily fibers today. It looked a little something like this:

 After we took the daylily out of the crock-pots, we had to rinse it. All the non-cellulose material had to be removed from our precious pulp. This is a two person job, involving a large strainer, a large bucket, and the silk used for silkscreening. Super cool stuff. Once it was in the beater it looked like this:

and later like this:

Isn’t the beater incredible? That’s after just a few hours. Later it was time to pull some daylily paper. You are probably thinking that it would be difficult to pull the paper because of how thin and delicate the pulp is. You would be marginally right. I would say it was harder than the cotton for sure, but Jillian was right in that eventually, you just get the hang of it. Tonight we came back into the studio after dinner and after two hours, I nearly had the hang and the feel of the daylily paper.

Take a look from start to finish!

The fibers on the mould.

Formed into a sheet of paper and now drying.

Dry sheet of daylily paper.

This is a closeup of the paper. Look at the amazing intricacy of the fibers.

I think it’s remarkable that these leaves made that paper.

Sometimes during the day, I stop and think about what I am doing. Each morning, I mix the old and the new; I use electricity to beat these fibers to a pulp and then manually create sheets of paper. It is such an odd dicotomy of using technology to my advantage, but then laughing in its face as I create handmade paper so I can write letters instead of emails…so students can develop a photo on it, rather than printing it. It’s something I have talked abut before here, but simplicity is something that I am drawn to more and more. This project feeds that urge in my heart – the one where I want to purge my closet and unplug my computer for awhile. Bring on the hammock, the books, the live music. But then I am brought back to the convenience and honestly, the necessity of the modern world and its accouterments.

So, for now, I will find solace and joy in the hours that I spend in the studio, surrounded by water and fibers and ultimately, paper. While I can’t completely go back to a simpler time, I can work towards a project which takes invasive plants and makes them desirable (more about this soon!). I can learn from a woman who is passionate about paper and about making a difference. I can take time each day to sit, write, and share about this amazing project.

Thoughts on the project? Questions about anything? A friendly hello? We welcome all of these! Leave us a comment and some love.

Until next time!