Why handmade paper?
Much of my recent work involves a combination of traditional and contemporary Asian-style hand papermaking techniques using bast fibers — the strong, woody material obtained from the stems, stalks, or leaves of a variety of dicotyledonous plants.* Paper mulberry (aka kozo), gampi, mitsumata, and abaca are some of the more common plants used for this purpose.
These bast fibers are located between the rough outer bark and the inner woody core of the plant. Once the bark is separated from the stem, the outer layers of green and black bark have to be removed and the inner lighter colored bark is then cooked and beaten by hand before the paper can be made.
As you can see from the image gallery, the creamy "white" inner bark is extremely fibrous—the same living tissue used by the plant itself to transport organic nutrients during photosynthesis. Its strength and flexibility are why bast fibers have been used for thousands of years to make rope, twine and netting. About two thousand years ago, some clever individual(s) realized it would also make a fine paper surface. (More on the history is coming soon...)
While this is a labor intensive process, it’s also rewarding as the natural bast fibers bring a unique presence to the resulting paper, filtering, reflecting and even transmitting light.
*flowering plants with net-veined leaves
The first step is to identify and harvest the raw material. Shown here are leaves from the canopy of a paper mulberry tree.
Woody stalks were harvested from kozo trees (aka paper mulberry) in Gainesville, Florida.
Once steamed the "black bark" is easily removed from the woody stem. The black bark actually consists of 3 layers: a dark brown outer layer, a green layer and finally, an inner layer of white or creamy colored bark. This inner bark is often referred to as the "white bark."
Once removed from the woody core, the bark is hung to dry and stored for later use.
Before cooking the kozo bast fiber, the bark is soaked and the inner "white" bark, which is actually a warm, creamy yellow color is separated from the outer green/black bark.
The green and black outer bark has been removed (scraped) off and the white bark is being soaked before cooking.
The white kozo bark is cooked in an alkali solution to remove the tannins and lignins that are remaining in the fiber.
Once cooked and rinsed, the kozo bark is beaten or "teased apart" with a variety of wooden mallets.
Prepared kozo fiber is added to a vat of water along with a viscous formation aid. Sheets of paper are then made by repeatedly dipping a wooden frame and bamboo screen (called a su geta) through the water to capture the delicate fibers onto the surface. The freshly made sheet is transferred off the screen onto a wet felt, with subsequent sheets stacked on top of it, with no barrier between sheets.