Making a lamp out of twigs and paper I pulled out of the ground and made myself is a wonderful way to spend a few days. The lamp used for this tutorial is made from Corkscrew Willow (Salex matsudana) branches for the frame, bleached cattail fluff paper and ultimately a Kozo/Gampi mix. It was interesting working with the cattail fluff. I had to get the sheets a little thick to keep the paper from tearing and, with the millions of seeds, it felt like working with corn meal!! But that comes later and I digress.
I am offering you technique on the lamp building - specifically, how I put one together. This tutorial is only a guideline and I encourage you to start right off using what you have around you. I hope to enable you to work with your own Muse, taking my techniques and making them your own and adapting them to your talents and skills.
- A base to connect the branches to and to hold the light
- Light cord. If you plan to sell your lamps, make sure the cording us UL approved. The cord from Aftosa is not UL Approved. You can get UL Approved candelabra lights from Kirks Lane .
- Hot glue with several glue sticks *Caution* Getting the glue on your fingers or skin can give you severe burns. If you are doing this with children, please supervise them or glue for them.
- Wet, freshly pulled paper.
- A small bowl of water for your fingers
- Spray bottle of water
- Lots of time and patience
I used a small block of wood for the base. (See picture on the left) I purchased a hardwood board about an inch thick - give or take - and cut it into roughly four inch squares. I chose hardwood and the thickness of the board because it's heavier to give some weight to the base should I care to make a free standing lamp instead of a wall sconce. If you decide to make a free standing lamp, you can hot glue some heavy washers to the wood block and then cover those with paper. To accommodate the light cord (see picture on the right), I drilled a one inch hole into the middle. For the sake of paying attention to details, I should have covered the block with paper or painted it before I started gluing branches to give the lamp a more professionally finished look. I like my work to be complete inside and out, but it's a little late to accomplish that step after I've glued on the branches.
I was very generous with the hot glue when attaching the branches. I almost needed three hands to hold the base, glue and then hold the branch until the glue set. I will be covering the glue joins with paper, so I didn't hesitate to make sure the joins were very strong. By nature, this kind of paper lamp is quite delicate, so I shore it up wherever I can.
Once I have the frame built, I pull paper. Once you begin to pull paper, you are commited to finishing the lamp the very same day. The chemical reactions and bonding that happen in newly pulled paper only happen once until you break it apart, pulp it again and start over. If you just dampen a sheet made a day or more before, you will not get the shrinkage you need to hold the paper to the twigs.
In the next set of pictures, you will see I set up my paper making station in the yard. I add my pulp to the vat and add any inclusions to give the paper more interest. In this instance, the paper is cattail fluff (Typha latifolia) and I've added cooked, unbeaten Flag Iris (Iris pseudocorus) and some mystery seeds that dyed a glorious sunflower yellow when I cooked them. I couched (pronounced kooch) the sheets onto a presoaked post of cotton fabric rags, stacking each sheet on top of the other, each on its own rag. I recommend making about a dozen sheets of paper so you have plenty of paper to work with. Or, like me, I keep the vat close by so I can pull some more if I need them. So, when I ran out of layers, I put the last rag on top and laid the entire pile on a piece of board. I placed another small board on top of it and the pressed the lot for 15 minutes with my half ton press. Okay, so I backed over it with my truck. 4800 pounds empty weight is just about 2.5 tons. One tire equals roughly a half ton of pressure. *crooked grin* Hey! Whatever works!! The weight of the press insures the fibers bond well, making for a much stronger paper.
With the sheets formed I am now ready to begin. I pull a single rag with paper off the pile carefully, then place it paper side down on my work surface. Using my fingernail, I scratch a leading edge loose then carefully peel the rag back from the paper. During the assembling of the lamp, I leave the rest of the sheets sandwiched in the post. If the post begins to dry on the top layer, I spritz it with the spray bottle of water.
For best effect and grip, I go only two twigs at a time. Draping across a third twig in the middle does not give the shape of the twig so carefully chosen and glued to the base. Going between two neighboring twigs also gives a tighter, more smooth surface and gives greater control. When a sheet is draped across two twigs to best effect, I wet my finger and then place it on the paper on top of a twig and gently wrap the paper about halfway around the twig and pull the excess paper off. I set the excess aside to use for repairs or small areas. I don't worry too much at this time while shaping the paper across the twigs as the wet fiber will hold well enough for me to remove all excess. I use wet fingers because the paper will adhere to dry ones. So I dip my finger into a glass or bowl or the vat at my elbow and flick off the droplets.
Once the excess paper is removed I go back and stroke the edges down so they are lay completely on the surface. You can also use a very soft natural hair painter's brush to accomplish this - probably with more success than I have with my fingers.
When it comes time to drape paper across a twig which already has paper on it, I once again place my finger on the twig and pull the excess away. This time, though, I leave enough of the sheet on top of the twig and the paper so I can blend them together, but not enough so the edges are noticeable when the light is turned on. Unless, of course, I want the extra to show by designing the edge into a lovely shape and use the play of the light, dark and movement of the paper. (To see all the angles of this lamp, go HERE). Once again, I pull away the excess without concern about making it stick. Right now I'm only concerned with the design. After all the excess is removed, I go back over the edges and, with a wet finger, gently lay them down and press it into the paper beneath it. This makes the two papers integrate into one another and become one. As the paper dries, the bond you only get with newly formed sheets will occur making the paper virtually one sheet. Sometimes I will also bond an area along the twig about an inch or two in from the edge so I have a bit to fold and roll into a design as well.
Continue in this manner until you have completely covered all of the twigs. If you are trying to get a seamless plane between the two twigs, care must be taken if you use more than one sheet on one plane between two twigs to pull enough excess away so there isn't a shadow yet have enough so you can bond the two edges together. For me, I accent the sheets and purposely have an excess showing plainly where one sheet starts and another ends. These joins are turned into opportunities to demonstrate the beauty of the paper and the organic shapes one can achieve with simple folding and manipulation.
When you have the entire lamp covered, you can place it someplace safe and let it dry at room temperature. Some folks have been known to bake the finished lamp in the oven at 200 degrees fahrenheidt when in a hurry. Left at room temperature, the lamp should be dry within 24 hours.
With this particular demonstration, I first used overwintered cattail fluff and learned a very valuable lesson. The cattail fluff appears to be weakened by the double bleaching I did to get the pale color. I also pulled these sheets too thick and the sheer weight of the sheet pulled the paper from the twigs. (See picture to the right) If I had pulled the sheets thinner, they would still have fallen apart on me from the weakness of the fiber. On top of it all, this paper had very high shrinkage as it dried, so the paper I did get to stay on the lamp popped loose and cockled. I needed a strong paper with a low shrinkage. So I ended up removing all the paper I did get to dry on the lamp.
Right after I began working on this lamp I attended the Second Annual Western Papermakers Gathering on the Oregon coast and one of the members brought a vat of Kozo/Gampi for everyone to play with. The difference in fibers was like night and day. The overwintered cattail fluff was much like working with corn meal. The Kozo/Gampi mix was more like working with fine linen. So now I know the difference, I recommend you find a plant you can pull thin, strong sheets from. The most popular fibers in the papermaking community for this are New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax), Kozo (Broussonetia papyrifera), Gampi (Diplomorpha sikokiana or Wikstroemia retusa), Cotton (Gossypium sp.) and Abaca (Musa textilis).
I know my directions are not extensive but what I have given you are the basics. The best teacher is experience. Just jump in and get wet. If a sheet of paper is ruined, toss it back into the vat and recycle it into another sheet. The excess can also be tossed back into the vat or saved as scraps for embellishing cards, a scrap book or made into beads. Once you find a fiber condusive to this kind of project, you will find it is very forgiving and creative.
For finishing, you can - as I do - leave the paper as it is. You can also varnish it or use melted beeswax to make it even more translucent. The particular lamp cord I use has a standard night light bulb which is low enough wattage you can get the paper fairly close without worrying about burning. If you end up using a different bulb/cording system, be sure to play with holding paper at different distances from your lit bulb to learn how close or far away you must keep the paper in your design to prevent any fire hazard.
Go forth. Have fun.
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Copyright 1998-2008 Colleen D. Bergeron.
Last revised: November 14 2008