Tag Archives: papermaking

Hedgerow library

I am having a lot of fun with the paper making experiments – it is such a lovely process to explore. I am continuing on with cotton as the base, and have started looking at expanding my natural dyeing techniques to the handmade paper. My intention is to create a sort of “hedgerow library” from the paper and fabric pages I am creating.

I have started with some traditional English hedgerow plans and trees, most with old local associations (hidden knowledge?), using materials gathered from a local herbalist.


2015-05-20 14.52.31Elderberry paper

  • Elder (sambucus nigra), native to Europe, North Africa and western Asia has been in continuous use since the time of the Egyptians and probably before.
  • Ever very part of the elder tree has some herbal use, and the plant has long been attributed with many magical virtues. Spirits were thought to inhabit the Elder which is why it is thought to be unlucky to burn Elder as firewood.
  • Elderberries when carried are said to protect against negativity; when placed under the pillow they are supposed to help you slumber peacefully.


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Ivy paper

  • Ivy (hedera helix), native to Europe, was one famed for its magical associations in protecting against evil spirits or negativity and in symbolising fidelity.
  • It was dedicated to Bacchus, the Roman God of agriculture and wine, as an infusion of the leaves was considered an effective treatment for drunkedness. For the same reason, an ivy bush painted above tavern doors symbolised the good quality of wine within!
  • Ivy carried by women is said to bring good luck.

The results, although pretty cool, aren’t yet capturing the vibrancy of colour from the plants that I was hoping for. These were both using cotton which had been soaked in the plant dyestuffs overnight without a mordant. I wonder if it would be better to pre-mordant the cotton in the same way you would prepare sheets of fabric for dyeing?

A combination of library books and internet have suggested a few methods for pre-mordanting cotton which have differing effects on the resulting colour of the fibres. My first set of natural dyeing experiments were just using tannin & iron mordant, which is excellent for a light-fast permanent colour, but they did have a particular way of driving the colour towards beige/grey.

This website has some useful suggestions for a mixture of tannin and alum (copied below),

Mordant for Cotton and all Cellulose Fibers:

General Recipe: for cotton, rayon (all cellulose fibers). Cellulose fibers are chemically neutral, therefore the mordant process is more difficult to achieve for effective, saturated color. The recommended approach to mordant cellulose is a 3-step process based upon the procedures developed by James Liles. It is crucial to follow the steps, in their suggested order, for best results.

Weigh your fiber to establish the dry WOG (weight of the goods) before you begin this process. Pre-treat your cellulose fibers by machine washing in hot water with a moderate amount of detergent and washing soda. You may dry your fiber after this, or proceed with mordanting. Vegetable rinses (found in grocery stores) intended to remove waxes work well to clean cellulose.

Step 1: Scour 

  1. Fill your pot with water, based on the following general guide: 2 quarts (2 liters) for every 1 ounce (28 grams) of fabric used. OR: 1 quart (liter) for every ounce (28 grams) of yarn to be mordanted.
  2. To this pot of water, add in 1 tsp. Synthropol for every gallon of water in the pot. Add in 2 teaspoons washing soda (soda ash) for every gallon of water in the pot. Dissolve the washing soda in boiling water before adding it to the pot.
  3. Wet your fiber for one hour. Add your fiber to the pot, bring to the boil and hold a simmering boil for 4 hours, covered. Stir occasionally.
  4. Rinse fiber in warm water, squeeze and set aside.

Step 2: Tannin Soak 

  1. To a fresh pot of water, adequate to cover the fiber, add in 6% tannin, on the WOG. Dissolve the tannin in boiling water and add to the pot. Bring pot temperature up to 130 F.
  2. Add scoured fiber to pot, stir well, cover and let stand to steep for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat.
  3. Rinse fiber in water, squeeze and set aside.

Step 3: Alum Mordant 

  1. Dissolve alum sulfate in boiling water, at 50% WOG.
  2. Dissolve washing soda in boiling water at 6% WOG.
  3. Fill fresh pot with water to cover fiber. Add alum and washing soda to this pot of water. Stir.
  4. Add scoured, tannin soaked fiber to this pot. Bring pot up to 170 F, stirring occasionally.
  5. Cover and let stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature. Do not add more heat. Stir once or twice during this time period.
  6. Remove fiber and rinse well.
  7. Let dry and air cure for 1-3 days.
  8. Wet material for one hour, and proceed with dyeing.

The other suggestion is to use an alternating mixture of alum mordant and protein soaking of the fibres – this is apparently based on a traditional Japanese mordanting technique. I quite like the idea of trying this, as it is at the other end of the pH scale from the tannin dyeing I tried before.

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Raquel Rabinovich: River Library

The work of Raquel Rabinovich – an Argentinian artist based in the US – has been described as occupying “a radically organic territory of abstract art”. Her work is a mixture of sculpture, drawing and works on paper, using a visual language that evaluates the essence of meaning itself. Rabinovich explores what she calls “the dark” – “that which is concealed beneath the surface of objects, words, thoughts, and the world.”

Her statement from her website describes what drives her interest. “I have been fascinated for a very long time by that which is behind the appearance of things, objects, words, thoughts, and the world. My art has always been informed by an underlying fascination with the concealed aspects of reality, by that which we don’t see or seems to be invisible. Equally, I have been captivated by the process of how something which is concealed emerges into view. Working across mediums, this is the essence of my artwork, now, and for the last 50 years.”

One of her earliest works were a series of paintings looking at the ‘invisible’, The Dark Is Light Enough (1963). “When I say “invisible” I mean to look at something and see what’s behind it and behind it and behind it. Not to stay with the appearance of things but investigate and explore everything that is not visible or apparent seems to me to be a search that is very meaningful


The most relevant of her pieces to my own current work is her ongoing work River Library, a series of hundreds of drawings made on paper with sediment from some of the Earth’s major rivers. “Rivers are repositories of history, the history of the planet, the history of people, the history of culture. Mud embodies the earth’s history, functioning like text to provide a trace, a memory of its existence…The layering of paper and mud onto pages parallels the formation of sediment in the depths of the rivers. Mud embodies the history of the Earth and humankind – it contains life, death, and layers of accumulation. Mud, like the alphabet of a language yet to be deciphered, like a yet unwritten history of nature and culture, functions like a text, providing a trace, a memory of our existence…These drawings are like pages of books from an infinite library.”




The Gateless Gates painting series emphasises the search for signs of meaning, which may be partially concealed even in direct view. The concepts behind her work are directly intertwined with and inspired by the processes of nature. “Gateless gates is one of those paradoxes used in the teachings of Zen in order to help the students realize the nature of things.  It is not about a gate, but about the mind being transformed by confronting the paradox.  For me, making art is also a transformative confrontation.  It leads me to experience no gate or barrier, the work and I become one, there is no more inside and outside.  My process of working -layer upon layer of lines, marks, paint, glass or stones – seems to conceal what is not and reveal what it is, what I call ‘essence.’  To apprehend this essence, which is beyond thought and has no boundaries, the viewer too needs to go through a gateless gate”


I am interested in the process she used for the River Library series, and the thought behind it meshes with my own ideas about marking the essence of place and knowledge through mark making.

*Quotes from artist website and an interesting interview here 

Water, paper, time.

After a while deep in the grasp of my proposal context, I have spent a day going back into process and looking at what new processes may be relevant to take my work on to the next step. This has brought me back to paper and specifically to making my own handmade papers, which I have been toying with on and off since I started college. The time is now right!

There are some great books and online sites which delve into the process of paper making, particularly using plant fibres – which would be a natural extension to my Genius Loci work. Either as paper made directly from plants, or as inclusions or dyestuffs. Plenty to experiment with.


This led me onto looking at a couple of inspiring artists using handmade paper as their main medium. First, using mainly paper and pigment is American artist Ellie Winberg.  She explores the tactile nature of the paper, creating abstract shapes and textures. I like the minimalism of her works which bring out more of the “paper-ness” of the material.

winberg4 winberg1

From here, I came across another US artist Aimee Lee, who seems to have become something of an ambassador for traditional Korean paper making and paper weaving techniques. Her work reminded me of the basketry work we did at West Dean – I wonder if our teacher had any exposure to the Korean technique, known as jiseung. Aimee is a great example of an end-to-end papermaker, or rather from “root to sheet”. Her works “examine traditional objects used in various moments of life and history…I alter these forms by changing their proportions, shapes, and pairings to see how older technologies and stories inform contemporary versions of objects we use to this day. To design new function and form for paper as a substantive material, I invent book structures and print directly onto woven, knitted, and sewn paper. These pieces challenge the usual assumptions about the strength, heft, and capacity of paper to be both itself and something still to be imagined.

A couple of my favourites from her extensive gallery online:

aimeelee2 aimeelee

After this, I went further into paper making processes and discovered Helen Hiebert who has written a number of books on paper making and makes very interesting, almost meditative paper sculptures and artists’ books.  Two examples of her work I liked are below, as well as a beautifully crafted video which introduces her process: “Water Paper Time is an intimate examination of the organic, non-static, sculptural, and time-based qualities of Helen Hiebert’s process in paper making.



What I took away from this fascinating video was the exciting idea of allowing the paper to exhibit its own internal energies, its own wildness, with you the maker only shaping and encouraging that process to occur. I very much like the idea of following up this process within my own practice. This can be combined with my idea of mark making of place – using locally grown fibres or dyestuffs to imprint the essence of place within the papers.

My internal Maiko-monitor (the little voice that sits on my shoulder and asks me why are you doing this?) asked what the relevance of paper is within my project context. I have a proto-thought on this developing so far: paper is most often a substrate – an aether – onto which language and thought are organised. It takes the role that the path does; the ground beneath our feet allows us to explore the world while our eyes and minds look beyond. What can we see in the areas in between the words?