Pulping fibres

Last week three of us met at Primrose Park to pulp a variety of fibres to be used to create paper at an upcoming workshop we’re teaching. As there will be several participants it called for a more industrial approach than my normal method of soaking and putting through a household blender. I’d have been at it for days trying to get the volume we require!

I’m not very experienced with the Hollander beater and this was a great opportunity to use it several times to ensure I know what to do if I’m ever on my own with it.

Essentially it’s a mechanical water bath, into which you put cut fibres which travel around the machine. Under the domed section in the photo – which is a guard – there is a water wheel with blades. This turns and the fibres are forced under the wheel between it and the base of the machine. It macerates the fibres as opposed to chopping them as a blender does.

Over time the fibres soften, stretch and start to break down. The wheel is adjusted so it sits closer to the base plate, giving less space for the fibres to get through, causing them to be further beaten.

The process of tightening/lowering the wheel continues until the fibres resemble fine pulp.

You can choose how long you run the machine for and this will create finer or courser pulp, depending on the effect you’re after.

The machine is particularly effective with pre-boiled plant material which can be extremely fibrous, dense and difficult for a blender to manage as it tends to wrap itself around the blender blades and blow the motor.

I provided 2 types of fibres for pulping. As a printmaker I have many failed prints which can be recycled. I cut the printed portion away from the plain surrounding paper and shredded them into individual batches. We should get good quality new paper from these as I always print on 100% cotton rag paper.

The beater was filled with water and set running as we added the white shredded paper handful by handful.

Beater in action and close-up of semi-pulped paper

Once this was pulped to our satisfaction the machine was drained into buckets, then cleaned ready for the next fibre.

Jill had cut up a pair of denim jeans. Denim makes great paper as long as it is not elasticized.

Above you can see how small Jill cut the denim up in readiness for the machine. I don’t envy her, that would have taken ages. Imagine cutting up a whole pair of jeans into 2cm squares!

It’s also obvious that the warp and weft are different colours – one blue, the other white. In the first image of the working machine the fibres have started to break down but are still recognizably blue and white. In the second image, which was some time later, they have broken down sufficiently to merge into a uniform pale blue.

The third fibre we pulped was some upholstery hessian. Again Jill had cut it up, but this time into larger pieces, before pulling out the individual strands so it would travel more evenly around the machine.

Little did we know that the hessian pieces would swell as they travelled and join together in ‘woolly’ clumps. So we spent time separating these and gradually lowering the wheel to break them down.

In total it took around 4 1/2 hours to create pulp from these 3 materials, plus additional time cleaning the machine. It’s a labour intensive pastime but it’s definitely the way to make large quantities of even textured pulp.

Next will come the class, then after that – assuming there is some pulp left over – we get to use the rest and make our own paper.

About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
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4 Responses to Pulping fibres

  1. kathrynkerr says:

    Fascinating! I’d never seen a Hollander beater. Thanks

    • Claire B says:

      Thanks for commenting Kathryn, it was so interesting seeing these fibres transformed into pulp ready for paper-making and you can see how fabulous the machine is. Depending on what you’re putting into it you can add up to a kilo of material. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, a kilo of shredded printing paper is 2 large buckets full, a huge amount. When it came to the hessian, once we had started putting it in we could see it swelling and stopped at around 280gms as the machine was full enough. You have to be on the ball and watching what’s going on so you make sure not to overload.
      Not only that, but the volume of pulp varies between the materials you use. Despite the enormous difference in weight between the paper and hessian we got 2 gigantic containers of pulp from each. We used about 500gm of denim and the volume of pulp was more than the other two.
      Such a good day. Now I need to make some paper.

  2. artsofmay says:

    So interesting to see the whole process. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Paper from pulped fibres | TactualTextiles

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