This information is reprinted from the Beginner Topics column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #74 (April, 2006).
After you make a sheet of paper, you need to couch (pronounced “cooch”) it -- or transfer it -- to another surface. You can lay the sheets one on top of the other, with interleaving felts, forming a pile called a post. The surface you use as a couching stand should be waterproofed or covered with plastic sheeting because it will get wet. You might need to protect your floor too.
A post of paper is very wet, heavy, and can easily be damaged if it is not properly supported. In most cases, you will need to transport your post of paper to a press or drying area, so you will need to couch onto a portable surface -- such as a waterproofed board, or a piece of stainless steel or galvanized metal sheeting -- not directly onto your work table. You can also couch into a tray with a lip (like a cafeteria tray or a baking sheet) -- this will also collect excess water, which you can pour off from time to time. You can even couch directly onto your bottom press board, if you are using a press. Some papermakers couch directly onto their drying surface, such as interfacing or boards.
With most papermaking styles, you will transfer your sheets to felts as you make them, freeing up the mould and deckle so that you can form more sheets. Traditionally, wool felts were used. Papermaking “felts” are woven, but they have the texture and surface of real felts, which are matted. The term “felt” is often used by papermakers to refer to any couching material. If you use true felts, you will most likely have a problem with them losing their shape and not holding up over time.
Old woolen army blankets make great felts, and you can often find them at second-hand shops. If you live near a commercial papermill, you might ask if they have any old commercial felts, which you could cut up and use. Non-fusible interfacing, available at fabric stores is an excellent lightweight material that works well as a felt substitute. It comes in different weights -- I like the extra-heavy weight. There are even ground covering materials (for weed prevention) which work well, and papermaking suppliers also carry an assortment of couching materials. Other materials you can try include old bedding and newspapers (test first, to see if the ink bleeds).
Your felts should be cut to approximately two inches larger than the sheets of paper that will be couched onto them, and small enough to fit into your press. For larger operations, felts can be cut to accommodate more than one sheet each.
Portions excerpted from The Papermaker’s Companion, c 2000, with permission from Storey Publishing <www.storey.com>.
by Helen Hiebert