On Saturday, I assisted Sara in teaching a class in Japanese paper making at Paper Circle (the paper studio where I work). Sara has such a vast knowledge of paper making - and had even studied in Japan with master paper makers. The class was truly lucky to have such a teacher! (Thank you again Sara)
Pictured above are sheets that Sara and I made in preparation for the class.
Pictured on the left are branches from the Japanese mulberry tree, and dried strips of the kozo fiber. The fiber is the inner part of the bark. These branches are steamed so that the bark can be peeled off. Then the outer, or "black" bark is peeled and picked off to reveal the inner bark.
The kozo fiber was soaked for a few days, and then cooked in soda ash (sodium carbonate), lye, or water strained from wood ash. We used Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda, as it is basically just sodium carbonate. We cooked it for about an hour. Cooking time depends on how long it had been soaking. We had one batch of kozo fibers that soaked for about 6 weeks and we were able to make sheets without cooking! How these sheets will stand up to time, I don't know. It was a good experiment, none the less...
Below is our pot of cooking kozo:
After a good rinsing, we picked some of the remaining black bark, or chiri from the fiber. We did not pick it all out, since we were not going for totally clean sheets. I think a little chiri in sheets of kozo can be quite beautiful.
Then came the fun part: the beating! We beat the kozo fibers with both small wooden bats that Sara had made, and wooden mallets. This is a great activity for relieving stress and taking any aggression out! As you can see, it also can get a little messy...
After all this, and a break for lunch, (the beating made us all very hungry) we finally got to form some sheets. We added our beat fiber to a vat with water and formation aid. A sugeta (su = screen / geta = frame) was used to form the sheets. One Sara brought back from Japan. Two others she made from bamboo place mat and a sushi roll. (I like her innovation!) Unlike western paper making, the sheets are not pulled in one motion. You make many dips into the vat of pulp, swishing the water and fiber in the sugeta to a kind of rhythmic dance... Then the sheets are rolled off the su, one on top of the other.
After a light pressing, we brushed the sheets on to large pieces of ply-wood and set them out in the sun to dry. It had been raining all week here, and was supposed to rain on Saturday. But someone, somewhere was smiling on us with a little sunshine -- and a number of nice gusts of wind!
Watching masters at this craft, they make it look so easy. We had a challenging time getting in touch with the rhythm of the pulp in the vat and keeping our sheets from sticking in some areas to the su. And then there was the wind that day... She kept wanting to blow the sheets down the alley! But all in all, I think it was a great experience and a very fun day for everyone. So to any of my paper friends who were there with me Saturday, I hope we can talk Sara into another workshop sometime soon!