Paper, SCA Life

First Pages

*photos wouldn’t load and I forgot which ones now..*

In preparation of Artisan’s Day, I knew I had to stop procrastinating and actually try to make some paper.

I made my first 6 sheets this week. And it was indeed lessons that needed to be learned.

First off, making paper is actually pretty easy. It is often taught to grade school children. Now they are given recycled modern paper but all of the important steps are the same. For the record the steps are:

  1. Process fibers into pulp
  2. mix pulp with water
  3. use a screen of some kind to lift out the pulp
  4. remove excess water

Pretty easy, right? As one video I watched on Chinese hand-made paper said, “there is a subtly”. Yes there is.

For my first 6 papers, I bought a papermaking kit last December and used the pressed cotton fiber that came with it. Rip up that fiber, add water, and mix with a paint mixer. So I did that.

Added that pulp to more water. I needed a better mould so I bought better moulds.

I pulled the sheets, couched them, made a post, and then pressed them in the press for ~24 hours.

I then took the sheets out of the press and brushed them onto boards to dry further.

Things don’t dry quickly in my basement.

Some lessons. How you process your fiber is critical. While I am sure these first 6 sheets are fine for art uses, they are not very smooth or regular. I have purchased some fiber that another place has beaten. In our period, fibers were beaten by hand or by trip hammers. By hand is possible for me but time consuming. So already beaten fiber is a good first step. We will see if this helps.

I may need to move to pour moulds. A pour mould is a like the mould and deckle in the photo above but it has a much deeper mould. The idea is that you pour the fiber for each sheet into this large mould. All of the fiber from that pour makes 1 sheet of paper. You have a lot more control per sheet this way. It is slower but makes a nice paper.

Drying. I don’t want to make a more “modern” drier. So I will have to figure out how to use heat or the sun to make this happen.

The inevitability of this is our technology is advanced much further than the medieval. It is actually harder to go back to what was before. If this was a 15 century paper mill, I would have a water wheel on a stream that drove my trip hammers. I would have a ready source of linen to be beaten. I would have a loft with built in fireplaces to hang the paper to dry. I could go back further. If this was a 10th century, Islamic paper mill, I would have slaves to beat the fibers into pulp by hand. I would have fires built behind a plaster wall to keep the wall warm to dry the paper. This just isn’t how the modern world works. I could buy an electric beater. That is about $5000. I can build a cheap drying box which is a box fan, and corrogated plastic sheets for probably less than $100. I could build my pour moulds with plastic window screening and cheap MFB frames.

To build a water wheel, trip hammers, a drying loft, and a source of linen is extremely expensive in the modern world.

I will take this back as far as I can. But first, I need to be able to make the product I am after. Then I can engineer or decide on the steps to make it more authentic. So mastery first then authenticity.

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