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Scirpus californicus

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)!

bullrush001a.jpg (4859 bytes)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.

bulrushpaper001m.jpg (8385 bytes)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!

bulrushpaper001o.jpg (11962 bytes)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.

bulrushpaper001a.jpg (4473 bytes)bulrushpaper001c.jpg (10162 bytes)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*

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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.


Klamath Falls Flowers
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Copyright 1998-2008 Colleen D. Bergeron.
Last revised: November 14 2008