On recent visits to the papermaking studio I’ve been exploring laminating paper. In papermaking terms this means layering multiple pulled pieces together into a single finished sheet.
I started with white: as much as possible recycled cotton rag printing paper offcuts I’d prepared by shredding, soaking and putting through a blender.
My next layer was to be some sort of plant fibre and as this was an experimental exercise I wasn’t too worried about what that fibre was, so I scoured the studio for buckets with leftovers. I found one labelled ‘plant ground cover’ which looked like a good colour for what I wanted.
We were lucky to have been donated a whole lot of semi prepared plant fibres from the family of a member no longer able to continue making paper so we weren’t 100% sure what each of the plants were but as she had been very successful over many years we were confident that whatever the plants were they would do the job.
Before applying my plant fibre pulp to the surface of the white I laid some threads and string over the first layer to see if I could achieve some textural elements.
The mold (I never know if this should be spelt mold or mould – feel free to advise me in the comments if you wish) and deckle were partially dipped into the pulp and then applied over the first layer.
Not a bad start and quite landscape-like, so I continued.
When these came out of the press the texture of the cords and threads remained very evident which was what I wanted, but the paper surface itself was very flat. I took them home to dry along with another piece where I also incorporated some ripped up scrim (a very lightweight cotton muslin). Three dried beautifully flat, one (above right) buckled a little and the final one dried and popped off the drying surface and dried very misshapen.
Such a nice idea but so disappointed in the end result. I re-dampened and tried flattening it over several days but as soon as it came out from under my pile of books – completely dry – I watched it slowly return to this severely curved shape.
I went back to the studio for another go, making some changes. I started with a thicker, more robust, white sheet, laid out my string and placed the plant fibre pulp on top. This time, to create more texture, I added more pulp by hand. I plucked fibre from the vat and squeezed some of the moisture out before pressing it onto the surface. It reminded me of making sandcastles on the beach as a child!
To retain the texture I decided not to compress this piece through the nipping press but to gently apply dry couching cloths to the surface by hand and hope that would be enough for it to form a sheet without becoming too flat. I took it home to dry and the same thing happened – 5 days later it looked like a poppadom! Not happy.
In desperation I ran it under the tap and laid it out to dry again. This hadn’t worked with my previous attempt but I couldn’t think what else to do. I put down 3 couching cloths, placed my fragile wet paper on top, another 3 couching cloths, then a thick piece of sponge foam, and finally a rigid board and some heavy books. The foam moulded into the texture without letting the weight of the board and books flatten it out. Every day for 2 weeks I changed the couching cloths for dry ones and remade the stack.
Finally I achieved something usable.
So why hasn’t this been working for me very well? I suspect it’s to do with the variation in thickness across the sheet. The top is only a single layer of white but the lower portion has string and threads inserted and at least a couple of layers of plant fibre pulp – with the last sample having even more hand-applied pulp. The drying rate over multiple layers (thicker areas) will be different/longer than that of a single layer and because fibre shrinks as it dries this will have happened unevenly causing the thinner sections to lift from the drying board whilst the rest remained damp and still stuck down.
This is the only explanation I can come up with and it seems quite logical. The only way to remedy this, that I can think of, is to do exactly what I did the final time and leave very damp paper under weights for a significant length of time to ensure it’s flat and encourage it to stay flat.
What about ironing it? Well that would be fine if I was happy to forgo my carefully created textural paper surface, which I’m not.
Obviously more to work on here but now I need to decide what I want to print on this barren looking landscape.