So as part of my MFA thesis, I’m recording the highlights and follies that occur along the way. My thesis is a handmade book, designed, printed and illustrated by me. Part of making this book from beginning to end means that I’m making the paper by hand. This, I’ve learned, requires one to get her Zen on and adopt the following mantra: “Beat. Pull. Cooch.” (This is somewhat akin to the volleyball mantra that was beat into my head in high school, the old “Bump. Set. Spike.”

I like papermaking because it allows me to feel better about my relationship with my old clothes, which is somewhere between “thrifty” and “hoarder.” If I’m making paper, then it’s okay to keep all those ratty t-shirts in my closet in the box marked “summer,” because eventually I will transform them into luscious paper.

It’s a magical process, really: Cut t-shirts into tiny squares. Soak in water. Beat with a roaring machine until they become fluffy pulp. Pull sheets with a mold and deckle.

Papermaker’s Tip #117: It’s important to be fully awake when operating the beater. I am reminded of this when some of the half-beaten cotton rag becomes tangled around the blades. I try to pull the fiber free, wiggling the blades back and forth. When it finally comes loose, the blade takes a chunk out of my thumb. My lovely ivory fiber is quickly turning pink, and I curse myself for never asking my grandmother what that verse was in Ezekiel that she recited when my mother cut her hand on a mirror and started bleeding all over her new rug.

A couple of band-aids later, and I’m pulling sheets. The pulp is pigmented green and tan, so no one will ever see those tiny red specks. But a little of the artist goes into every part of the process, I suppose.