On the papermaking list the gang was talking about cattails (Typha latifolia). The folks from Oz (Australia) call cattails Bulrush. Over in the States, bulrush is an entirely different species: the Scirpus family! And - the bulrush around Klamath Falls, Oregon, Scirpus californicus, is also known as Giant Bulrush and Tule (pronounced TOO-lee)!
But - it got me to thinking. Gee - folks have made boats outta bulrush (Scirpus). I wonder if it has enuf fiber in it to make paper. We have enough around here a couple dozen stalks won't be missed. So I stopped by the road, checked the plant for fiber (See A. and B. at left - just click on the image for a closer view) and harvested some fresh, green bulrush from the canal. I took them home and sliced them in half down their length. I was going to scoop the pith out, but as I began, I noticed the pith had some beautiful fiber to it, too!! (See C. and D. at left) So I split all the stalks (cuz the stuff floats like crazy) and cut them into about one inch pieces leaving the pith intact with the stem wall.
I placed a bunch of the chopped up stalks into 6 quarts of water with 1/2C Arm and Hammer Washing Soda (one tablespoon per quart) and boiled them on medium low for about two and a half hours. I kept doing a "finger" test: pull out a piece and see if I can pull it apart with my fingers. When it finally became soft enough for me to tear, I knew I could whirl it without burning my wife's blender out!
I drained the boiled pieces through some fine netting, saving the tea - which makes a lovely, soft red/brown dye - and rinsed them thoroughly until the water ran almost clear. Filling the blender container three quarters full, I dropped a couple small handsful of the plant in and whirled them on Liquify for about three minutes. I had moved the netting to a bucket and poured the beaten fiber into it. I squeezed as much of the water out of the pulp as I could and plopped it onto some freezer paper. Wax paper would've gotten soggy and any residual dye would have gone through to the work surface (my wife's kitchen counter - if I dye her counter, I die). I continued blendering and squeezing until all the cooked plant was processed and now a dark green blob of beautiful and fibrous pulp.
I placed four handsfuls of pulp into a small tub with approximately two gallons of water, gave it a stir, slid my screen and deckle to the bottom and raised it up slowly (See picture at left). The water poured through pretty quickly making my sheets a bit uneven, but I found that to be quite attractive and the differences in thickness were not significant enough for me to worry about (See picture at right). There is still quite a bit of long fiber in the pulp and, probably, I could have reduced the amount by longer blendering, but didn't want to risk the rath of Wife. I'll wager, though, if I had access to a Hollander, this fiber would be reduced to pulp as well.
The water wicked out rapidly when I couched the pulled sheet onto my cotton terry cloth towels. After sponging thoroughly to remove as much excess moisture as possible, the sheet still clung to the screen. I picked an upper edge with my fingernail and gently pulled it to get it started, then let the weight of the pulp pull itself the rest of the way. I ironed the sheets dry on another bath towel and got a lovely, crisp paper that handles beautifully. The wet paper was a dark, camouflage green while the dry paper became a delicious red/brown - the same color the tea dyes a white cloth! See the pictures below to view the wet and dry sheets and a backlit closeup of the dry paper! I am quite happy with this decorative paper and can hardly wait to get some bleach to see what I get with the next adventure! Stay tuned! *big, silly grin*
I now have some of last year's bulrush which has retted nicely. Stay tuned for what that yields as well as the bleached papers!
During the months of September/October 2002, I cobbled up a few packets of cooked plant fibers into home papermaking kits and offered them for sale at my booth in the local Farmer's Market. I took with me the sample papers I had drawn from all the papermaking experiments. I found these papers lost their lovely color when exposed to the sun.
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Last revised: November 14 2008