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3D Work from High-Shrinkage Pulp

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #86 (April, 2009).

This technique focuses on the use of highly beaten flax fibers processed in the Hollander beater. If you do not have access to a Hollander, it may be well worth your while to commission some pulp from a lucky Hollander owner in your area or to purchase it from a fiber and pulp supplier to experiment with the translucent strength and the potential surprises of flax prepared this way.

Fiber Preparation: If you are preparing the flax yourself, you first must decide whether or not to cook your fibers before beating. Cooking the fibers in soda ash will make the fibers archival and will lighten the color. (For more on cooking fibers, see “Paper From Iris and Daylily” by Bobbie Lippman in Hand Papermaking Newsletter, Number 24, October 1993.) It will also add a few hours of labor to the project. Whether you cook the flax fibers or not, they should be soaked overnight before processing begins. An eight- to ten-hour beat in a Reina beater is ideal. Aim for a long beat time, but keep the roll bar fairly high to avoid cutting. Keeping the fibers long is key to the strength and the shrinkage capacity.

Pulling the Wet Sheets: The resulting pulp will be slippery and will drain very slowly. Set up a sheet pulling station, and bring your patience to the project. I will address two variations on casting the wet sheets of paper. I usually cast the paper over the form as I pull the sheets. After I have couched one sheet, I place a felt over the top of the sheet and lightly press it by hand. Then the paper is ready to cast.

Technique #1: Hanging Forms The first method involves creating a form from knee-high stockings filled with Perlite, which can be found in any place that sells gardening supplies. The Perlite is in the form of tiny pellets and allows you loose control over shaping the form over which you will cast your fibers. As you add the Perlite to the stocking, you can coax the shape into a more elongated or rounded form by manipulating the Perlite-filled stocking with your hands as you go so that the stocking stretches more to create a rounder form. You might experiment with further controlling the form by tying it at certain points with string or rubber bands. Just remember not to cinch the form too tightly or you will not be able to remove your form from the cast paper. The stocking should be tied together at the top; there will be an opening in the final form at this spot. Hanging the stocking allows you to create a form with a bottom.

Once you have shaped the form, wrap the wet sheets around it. Where the end of a sheet overlaps another, use the flat of your finger pads to tap the edge into the fibers behind it to bond the fibers and make the seam disappear. If strength is important to the vessel, use at least two layers of fiber to create the form. Keep in mind that if your layers of fiber are thin, you will be able to see the spots where overlapping occurs due to the translucency of the flax. You might experiment with this effect. Pulp paint can also be applied to the wet sheets. Experiment with leaving open areas. Having finished your creation, simply leave it hanging to dry. The Perlite will help absorb water from the inside as the air dries it on the outside. Once your paper vessel is dry, simply untie or cut the top of the stocking, pour out the Perlite, and remove the stocking. The materials can be reused. I’d like to thank Winnie Radolan for sharing this technique with me.

Technique #2: Casting Over a Form I have also used this technique to cast over a clay form. Sculpt an object in clay, avoiding undercuts, or areas where the negative space cuts behind the object. The clay form can then be covered in plastic wrap, and the wet sheets of paper can be cast over the form in the same manner described above. The paper will take longer to dry this way, as no moisture is being pulled from the inside of the form, but one can better control the base form.

Things to Try: With either style of form to cast over, one can further exploit the potential of this high shrinkage pulp by building up the paper in certain areas, or casting around rigid objects such as sticks or wire. Both the clay and the filled stocking provide a solid form around which the pulp tightens as a drum. Building up ropes of flax fibers in certain areas or casting loosely over sticks or wire grids opens the project up to embrace the unpredictable qualities of the drying process. Be bold. Experiment.

by Mary Tasillo