Paper making is an ancient craft now practised in many parts of the world. In China its manufacture goes back to before AD 105 where it was made in a rudimentary way from cotton rags, inside bark from mulberry trees, hemp and various other plants. Artists of today will use recycled denim, linen, used paper and plant fibres of all types to produce an immense variety of practical and decorative papers. Recycled paper must be torn or shredded and soaked for about a week, then processed to pulp in a domestic blender, with the addition of a sizing agent, such as cornflour or starch to help the fibres come together and to make it suitable to produce a fine sheet. Flower petal inclusions (dried or fresh), fine threads, glitter or confetti will add interest to the paper sheets. The finished paper can then be written on, dyed, decorated or marbled, and used to make beads or covers for cards and books. Depending on the thickness of the sheet, one can make boxes, gift wallets, and structural objects or collage pictures.
Making paper from plant fibre is a far more intense process where any fibrous part of a plant, like the stems and leaves, the inside of bark, and fungi, can all be used. After chopping or tearing the plants, they must be soaked; rain water is preferred as it helps break down the fibres. The pulp requires cooking to remove non-cellulose substances, with the assistance of soda ash to help break it down, so that it can absorb more water during the beating process. Plant fibre paper makes strong, pliable, tactile sheets not suitable for writing on, but it accepts dyes and inks, can be printed on, and is ideal for books or for sculptural objects. Books are made using the thicker paper for the covers with the finer sheets as inserts. With the right finishes such as shellac, wax or boot polish, sheets can be made to resemble leather.
The Paper Group at the Plant Craft Cottage
was first started by a talented group of enthusiastic artists, including Hedi Reich, Don Harrison, Una Allen and Valda Quick. Later they were joined by Gail Stiffe and others, some of whom went on to form Papermakers of Victoria but participating for many years in both groups. While paper making is very labour intensive, it is a creative, social and fun activity for young and old, and it is free.
The Paper group is currently in recess, but would like to meet on the fourth Wednesday of every month at the Cottage from 10.30 am to 2.30 pm.