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Couching and Drying Surfaces

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #95 (July, 2011).

Once you’ve mastered the papermaker’s shake, and pulled a nice even sheet, what is the ideal surface to transfer it to? Your wet paper will take on characteristics of everything it touches, so keep this in mind as you decide what materials you will use as surfaces for couching and drying. In many cases, there are no right answers—only preferences. In other cases, there are some things to look out for.


You will be likely to couch every sheet of paper you pull and provide some type of pressing, be it a light hand pressing or a high-pressure hydraulic treatment of a post of wet sheets. Remember that the more pressure your paper receives in pressing, the more noticeably it will absorb characteristics of your couching materials. Your couching materials should absorb water and provide slight cushioning to help in the transfer of the wet sheet from the mould, which has some give, to your post. Historically, wool felts have been used in Western style papermaking and are still used by papermakers today. As alternatives, many contemporary papermakers use cut up wool blankets, such as those available from a military surplus store, synthetic chamois such as those marketed for cleaning a car exterior, and heavy-weight non-fusible interfacing such as that used in sewing. Cut up bed linens and canvas cloth are other possible alternatives. A paper couched onto a wool felt will have a rougher texture than one couched onto interfacing. Experimentation, and a thought to the use of the end result, is key in deciding which material is ideal for you, as is accessibility and cost.


Again, your drying surface will affect the surface of your finished paper. Paper can be stack dried, interwoven with materials such as cotton blotters or paper towels, and placed under weights. Your interweaving materials will have to be replaced with dry materials periodically. A fan-based drying system incorporating corrugated boards can lessen the labor involved and speed up the drying time. For a discussion on creating a drying box, see Claire van Vliet's article in Hand Papermaking, Volume 2, Number 1, Summer 1987.

Alternately, restraint drying involves air drying the paper more rapidly while it is adhered to a flat surface on one side. This surface might be the screen of the papermaking mould, or another surface such as a wooden board, a piece of Plexiglas, a window, or a Formica tabletop. Glass surfaces create the smoothest surface, creating a sheen on one side. Wooden boards leave a more natural surface on a sheet. Perhaps counter intuitively, boards should be untreated, rather than coated with polyurethane, for the best results; paper has a tendency to stick to treated boards.

continued in the next issue

by Mary Tasillo