Ever since seeing a friend pulping banana leaf & stalk and then later turning it into wonderful textural paper sheets I’ve been wanting to have a go.
Mandy made two colours, that I saw. One was a beautiful rich brown, sounds boring but you really had to see the amount of shades within each sheet to appreciate how the fibre broke down and the variety of colour throughout. Absolutely gorgeous.
She later dyed some of the fibre a rich deep burgundy red. I was enthralled. The red still maintained a brown tinge throughout, so eliminating the harshness of a solid bright colour.
I wanted to have a go myself. I mentioned it to my husband and a few days later, lo and behold, what did he come home with? Two tropical dwarf banana trees!
How fast do you think it took me to plant them? They were in before the end of the first day!
One sits in a very sunny spot close to a brick wall which holds the heat in summer. The second is in a more shaded area, overhung by larger trees, close to a stone wall which doesn’t got so much heat. It’s going to be interesting to compare their growth speed.
So here we are 7 weeks on.
On the left is the tree that sits in direct sunlight and heat all day. It has gone from 4 to almost 7 full leaves in the past 7 weeks. On the right is the second tree which hasn’t grown as tall and has a little less leaf growth. Just look at the grassy weeds that are coming up. Obviously they prefer the shade more than the banana tree does!
Anyway, as is clear, I can’t really get any paper happening out of these for a while yet. So I turned my attention to some swiss cheese plants (Monstera Deliciosa) growing on my property.
I collected all the dead leaves and stalks, shredded them into a big pot and left them to soak overnight. This morning, using the banana fibre ‘recipe’ I got from Mandy, I mixed up a solution of caustic soda with cold water, added it to the pan and started the heat.
OK, here’s the thing. I don’t really know what I’m doing but have a vague idea of why I’m doing some of it. The caustic soda is to break down the fibres into a slime so that they can then go through a blender and be turned into pulp ready to make paper sheets. What I’m not sure about is if what Mandy sent me will work with my plant material. I know you need plants that are fibrous so the pulped mush will ‘entangle’ (so to speak) and then will form into sheets. So I’m just having a mess about to see if I can produce anything that is usable.
The recipe says to check after 1/2 an hour boiling but it could take over an hour until the fibres are black and slimy (that’s for banana fibre of course). So, 2 hours later, and after checking multiple times, I decided enough was enough. It wasn’t slimy but the fibres had separated and the whole lot was super soft.
Out it came into an old pillow case and it was rinsed (don’t worry about the sink, most of the caustic soda had been rinsed out elsewhere before these photos), and rinsed, and rinsed. It seemed very soft and I was hopeful about the blending even though it wasn’t slimy. My thinking is that maybe swiss cheese plant doesn’t go slimy like banana fibre.
Into the blender it went, for 15 seconds – until I could smell the motor burning!!! Opening it up and pouring out the water I found that the fibres had wrapped themselves neatly around the blades and were ‘strangling’ them. Oops, and I only bought the blender yesterday!
So it hadn’t worked. I squeezed out a lot of the water from the pillow case and took a good look at what I had produced. Here’s a close-up:
Well, at least there is no leaf or stalk structure left. The fibres have completely separated but obviously they are still too tough to work with. So, what’s the next step? Back into the pot, more caustic soda and another long boiling is currently underway. Now it might be time to actually do some on-line research and see what I can come up with.
Result: Sorry, no paper today, not even any usable pulp, but I’m tenacious and it will all work out in the end – whenever that might be. Meantime, this is fascinating stuff and I’m having the best time.
Hi Claire how much caustic soda to a litre do you use? Very interested in all this paper making and using it for sculpture as well.
Hi Chris. I have a 15 litre pan which I half filled with cold water. To that I added 1/2 cup of caustic soda and stuffed in as much fibre as would fit easily submerged. I wore protective clothing, gloves, glasses and mask because the fumes weren’t great.
love your can-do approach – more of that!
Thanks Inger. Don’t know where I’ll end up with this but it’s currently a fibrous mess drying in the garden.
Thanks Claire hope to catch up soon.
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