PLANT FIBER PAPERS
Fibres for papermaking are classified on the basis of their source, some of the best and longest fibres are those from the inner bark or bast for example Kozo from Japan and daphne paper from Nepal. Stem fibres for example abaca & ginger lily and leaf fibres like sisal and New Zealand flax have comparatively shorter fibres than bast fibres and grasses have shorter fibres still.
A way of telling if a particular plant is suitable for papermaking is to bend the leaf and if it bends without snapping it will probably be suitable. Some plants require fermentation (retting) before cooking, this can be done by soaking the plant material in milk, water or mild alkali until it has rotted and bacteria has started to break down the fibre. Bast fibre is prepared by stripping the bark off the plant and removing the outer bark, sometimes steaming willmake the removal of bark fromthe stems easier.
METHOD: PREPARING THE FIBRE:
BAST FIBRES: Some plants whose bast fibres are suitable are hibiscus, mulberry, wattle, elm, daphne. Many others are bound to be suitable it's just a mater of experimenting. In order to harvest the fibre the stems should be cut into 20cm lengths and the bark stripped off. If this is difficult the stems can be steamed to make removal easier. The outer bark is then scraped off and the bast is cut into lengths of 2-4 cm then put in a pot (not aluminium) to be boiled up with alkali.
STEM FIBRES: Some suitable stems are ginger lily, agapanthus flower stems, red hot poker flower stems, bluebell flower stems and papyrus. These are cut into lengths and may need to be retted or beaten before being put into the pot for boiling up.
LEAF FIBRES: Suitable leaf fibres include New Zealand flax, cordyline, red hot poker and iris. To speed up processing these can be stripped by pullng the leaf over a set of spikes so that they become shredded then cut into lengths before boiling.
GRASS FIBRES: many grasses are suitable for papermaking although their fibres are shorter than the leaf and bast fibres. Many of the cereal grasses are suitable, e.g. wheat, oats, barley etc. The grasses are cut into lenghts before boiling.
BOILING THE FIBRES: The quickest way of breaking down the fibres is to use caustic soda. There are several precautions which must be noted when using caustic soda.
A) ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES AND EYE PROTECTION
B) ALWAYS ADD THE CAUSTIC SODA TO THE WATER NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND
C) ALWAYS USE STAINLESS STEEL OR ENAMEL COOKING POTS AS CAUSTIC EATS ALUMINIUM
D) ALWAYS WORK IN A WELL VENTILLATED AREA, PREFERABLY OUTDOORS
You should measure the volume of water you add to your fibre to just cover the plant material then add caustic soda according to the volume of water. One tablespoon per litre of water should be sufficient for most plants. Alternatively the fibre can be weighted and 10% caustic soda by wieght added. Boil this mixture until the plant material is soft and slippery when rubbed between gloved fingers. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 or more hours. Allow to cool slightly then pour through a sieve or a square of fine curtain netting. Do this down a gully trap or over an unimportant corner of your garden. This can be tested with litmus or universal indicator paper. Sometimes the fibre is ready for use at this stage but it becomes finer if it is beaten with a wooden mallet then vitimised for a few seconds. You can tell how fine your fibre is by placing a small amount in a glass jar full of water and shaking it so that you can see the individual fibres.
MAKING THE PAPER: The paper is made in the same way as recycled
paper except that some papers require addition of a formation aid to slow
down the drainage and ensure that the fibres are evenly spread over the
sheet. The green vegetable okra makes an excellent formation aid
when it is chopped and soaked in water. It forms a gelatinous substance
which is strained into the vat. A synthetic formation aid is available
from some papermaking suppliers. It is called neri or synthetic tororo-aoi
and should be mixed with cold water using lg of powder to 1 litre of water.
Size can also be added to the vat to make the paper more water resistant.
© Beth LaCour 2001-2003