Last week I had the pleasure of working at Longwood University in Farmville, VA (or “FarmVegas” as my art peeps call it). Not only is the studio state of the art and filled with light, but it has my pal Kerri Cushman, who is an uber-talented book artist and papermaker.
Kerri and I are in an upcoming Fall show down in Atlanta and are both preparing to make pieces from handmade paper. She, however, is much further along in the process than I am. My goal at Longwood was to hammer through three days of solid papermaking and make as many sheets as possible from the fiber I took with me. I’m planning to make wall pieces and tunnel books for the show, but could also use some paper for upcoming broadsides.
I love the feel of handmade paper. This cotton blend is soft and easy to print on. I typically like to add abaca and do a 2:1 or 3:1 cotton:abaca ratio. This time, most of the paper is 100% cotton.
The first time I made paper from blue jeans and shirts was in my MFA program at the University of Alabama. One student brought a tee shirt that was 5% or so spandex, and the threads separated differently from all the other fibers. The cotton fibers expanded and blended, but these lime green spandex-infused fibers popped up like little neon caterpillars in the finished sheets. Everybody loved it, and that bot of chemistry had always stuck with me. I threw in a few cotton blend tee shirts into this batch, hoping to replicate that look.
I started on Day 1 by pulping a laundry basket full of old tee shirts and jeans (perfect for making cotton/abaca blended papers). After grouping things mostly by color, I tossed in squares of contrasting color just to add a little spice. Blue and green mixed nicely in the beater, not quite two pounds of cloth at a time. In the end, I beat about 16 pounds of cotton.
After beating each load for about 45 minutes, I had several buckets full of pulp. The colors were wild, so I wasn’t sure what I’d have when I was finished.
I don’t know how I ended up with so many magenta tee shirts, but here we are. My intention was to get a few earth tones–maybe a gray-green, a steel blue–I was not aiming for pink. I mixed the pink pulp with green and got a gray that wasn’t bad. The colors won’t actually mix like paint, but rather blend into a kind of chromatic gray with flecks of green and magenta (a little like granite looks). But a gal can only take so much gray in her life.
On Day 2 I moved on to pulling sheets, first with a mold about 11 x 17 inches. I pulled 75 sheets that day, went to bed awfully tired, and woke up sore. Papermaking muscles went sadly unused for a long time…I would love to trade some sheets for a massage right now.
I had to pull a few sheets of this crazy pink to see how it turned out. Usually you can bank on colors being 5-6 shades lighter when they dry. The end result was quite bright–like Barbie dreamhouse bright. It would have been perfect for valentines, if I made such things. But I think I have a broadside idea that this will work nicely for.
I rallied on Day 3 and used a larger mold and deckle (work through the stiffness, walk it off, rub some dirt on it). On Day 4 Kerri showed me some killer broadsides she had done using handmade paper. One was a cloud paper (white on blue) and one used the same method with kozo (brown on white), which gave the illusion of soil and sky. I’d never made cloud paper before, so I gave it a shot. The result looks a little like night clouds.
As I was pulling these sheets, I started daydreaming about the summer I spent in New Mexico, where the sky was so crisp and blue, and the clouds looked different every day. I remember thinking that I could spend all day lazing around watching different shapes of clouds and taking pictures of them, like portraits. (Horribly romantic, right? But who has time to lie around and watch clouds all day? Maybe Rachel Carson and John Muir…but what if we did take the time to relax and watch the clouds?) And that’s when I was struck with an idea for a book. Stay tuned…the paper is cut and the words are coming together. I’m planning to print some text at Penland and put the cloud book together in a few short weeks.
In the meantime, here are some finished sheets (see the speckling?) Some colors blended better than others, but I find I like certain papers that have bursts of color in rogue threads (even the wily spandex). Some clothes pulp better than others, of course, but I like the idea of recycling my wardrobe into sheets of paper. It’s perfect for this upcoming project that draws from our connection to land and memory––it made sense to pulp my clothes as a way to incorporate an additional layer of personal connection. (I’m certainly happy to donate my old clothes to thrift stores, but let’s be honest: some items they just wouldn’t want, and folks down south are usually too nice to turn you away. I know some of my donated items have gone right to the dumpster behind the store. You have shirts that I’m talking about. You know who you are.)
Next: I’ll share my pattern for making a fabulous papermaking (waterproof) apron for studio use. You can buy them, of course, but isn’t it more fun to make one yourself? I’ll show you how to recycle a plastic shower curtain into a custom-fit apron that will keep you dry and stylish.