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More Basic Editioning

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #94 (April, 2011).

In the July 2010 issue of Hand Papermaking Newsletter (91:7) I discussed techniques for editioning imagery within your handmade paper, including some stencil techniques that took their inspiration from contemporary watermarking techniques. In this issue, I take a step back to consider editioning handmade paper at its most basic. What does it mean to edition a blank sheet of paper?

Any time a papermaker sets out to create multiple papers that are the same, we might use the word “editioning.” This skill can come in handy to create a consistent batch of papers to use in making a book, as the base for a print edition, or in considering a product (e.g. a handmade paper business might rely on editioning to produce a type of paper that a customer might choose to order repeatedly over time). Practicing editioning can also hone the papermaker’s technique, as it requires acute mindfulness as to the density of pigments and additives, as well as of the pulp in the vat.

So how does one achieve this consistency?

1) Pulp, pigments, and additives. Using a scale for weighing not only your fiber, but also your pigments and additives, along with keeping scrupulous notes in a paper recipe notebook, will allow you to reproduce your results when making another batch of pulp. (Be sure to attach a scrap of the finished paper to the recipe!)

2) Sheet formation. To maintain a consistent sheet thickness, you must continually monitor both your wet sheets and the density of pulp in the vat as you form your paper. As you pull sheet after sheet, you will establish a regular rhythm for replenishing the vat, likely adding more pulp every 1-3 sheets. The frequency and amount of the replenishing will somewhat depend upon the size of your vat relative to the size of your mould, e.g. you will notice a rapidly diminishing sheet thickness pulling 12 x 18-inch sheets from a small table top vat as opposed to pulling postcard-sized sheets from a large vat. (And of course one hopes that if you set out to pull postcard-sized sheets from a large vat of pulp, you are using a deckle that allows you to pull multiple postcard sheets at once.) How much pulp do you lose from the vat with each pull? You may try measuring by pulling a sheet and then gathering the pulp from the mould into a measuring cup while it is still fairly wet. Add a little bit of water until it approximates the consistency of the pulp from which you are pulling. Also, the amount of water in your vat will change over time. You might change whether you allow your wet sheets to drain over or away from the vat to help control the water level in the vat.

3) Predictable behaviors. And of course the more consistent you are in the way you form your sheets, the materials with which your paper comes in contact (couching felts, drying materials, etc.), and the methods you use to press and dry your paper, the more consistent the resulting paper will be. That wet sheet of paper takes the impression of every thing that happens to it along the way.

So how do watermarks play into all of this? The watermark is a design in your paper that is primarily visible when the paper is held up to light. It is created through applying a dimensional drawing to the mould, traditionally made of wire sewn onto the mould. When the sheet is formed, the paper is slightly thinner where the wire is, thus creating an area where more light can penetrate the paper. One use of watermarks, historically and today, has been to identify the provenance of the paper. Dard Hunter added to his watermark, the bull and branch, with each project he worked on, thus using the watermark to identify not only the paper’s creator but also its edition. Contemporary papermakers use a variety of materials to create watermarks, some less of a commitment to the mould than the sewn-on variety. Adhesive backed vinyl and magnetic sheeting can be used. Cut your design from the material using an X-ACTO blade or a laser cutter, if you can access one. Adhere the design to the surface of your dry mould, exerting even pressure from both sides. These materials can stay on your mould for repeat use. I’ve found that magnetic sheeting can be removed and re-adhered to the mould for repeat use, while thinner vinyls will not stand up to such manipulation. A note on watermarks: you will find that certain pulps better lend themselves to creating beautiful watermarks than others. I first learned to create watermarked pages using a short-fibered, well-brushed cotton rag pulp.

Practice makes perfect, and the practice of editioning is one of the finest ways to finesse your sheet forming techniques.

by Mary Tasillo