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Setting Up a Studio

March 16, 2021

This information is reprinted from the Beginner Topics column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #70 (April, 2005).

If you get serious about papermaking and decide to dedicate a space to it--whether it be in your basement or garage, or in a special place--here are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years as I’ve visited other studios and worked on setting up my own.

There are several steps in the papermaking process, and you might choose to do them all in one location, or, you may prepare your fiber in one location and make paper in another. In either case, make sure your work area is free of electrical hazards. If possible, install your outlets up off the ground to prevent them from being exposed to water. Keep extension cords well above the floor and far away from faucets and hoses. Always cook fiber in a well-ventilated area. Beating can be done anywhere--just be aware that the pounding or blending can be noisy. Take the time to plan a layout for your papermaking studio. There is a certain order to the process and it is well worth it to set up accordingly.

You do not need a very large work area for the actual papermaking. You just need access to water and a table and floor that can get wet. One easy solution is to work outdoors. Keeping your work area clean can be tricky outside, especially if it is windy, buggy, or sandy. “Stuff” tends to end up in your pulp or your paper. You can reduce this by covering your buckets and vats with mesh or plastic when they are not in use. If you want to work inside but are worried about damaging your floor and table, cover your table and the surrounding floor with newspaper and/or plastic. Duct tape is strong and waterproof and can be used for securing plastic. Wherever I work, I line my strainer or drain with a fine mesh or muslin cloth to collect tiny fibers and prevent clogging.

Set your vat on a table surface at a comfortable height. Place your couching station right next to it, so that you do not have to carry your wet mould and sheet of paper very far. Keep additional felts nearby, where you can grab them as you need them. Work near your water supply to avoid lugging heavy buckets of water back and forth. A garden hose with a spray nozzle is a papermaker’s best friend.

Plastic buckets of all sizes come in handy in the transportation of water and pulp. Extra pulp can be stored in a bucket under the table for easy access when you need to replenish the vat.

If you wish to remain dry when making paper, wear a rubber apron and waterproof shoes or boots.

Finally, it is very important to properly care for your papermaking equipment to assure that it will last for a long time. Paper pulp sticks to everything and is easiest to remove when still wet. Thoroughly clean your mould and deckle and let them dry out after use. Avoid spraying water through the back side of the mould, because it could force fiber deeper between the layers of mesh. Store moulds and deckles flat to prevent warping. Rinse your pellons or felts to remove bits of pulp that might stick to the next sheet couched onto them. Rinse out buckets, vats, etc., so that the pulp residue does not dry stuck to your equipment. Wait until your buckets are dry before you stack them together--they stick to each other if stacked when wet and are practically impossible to separate.

Portions excerpted from Papermaking with Plants, © 1998, by Helen Hiebert with permission from Storey Publishing. <>.

by Helen Hiebert