Pangaea: Answers to your Papermaking Questions
Q: What does Pangaea mean?
A: Millions of years ago, when the earth had one mighty land mass before plate tectonics divided it into seven continents, that prehistoric continent was called Pangaea. I like the idea of reuniting the earth's continents at least figuratively into a harmonious unit, and I find that art is one way to connect people with their environment and each other.

Q: How can I make scented paper?
A: I've tried making scented paper by adding spices to my paper pulp. It smells absolutely heavenly while I'm making the paper, but by the time it is dry the scent is completely gone. The only way I've found to make paper that retains a scent involves scented oil. Put a little on a cotton ball, and then put the dry, finished paper in a sealed container with the cotton ball for two weeks. The paper absorbs the scent from the oil. Do this in small batches so that all the sheets have good exposure to the cotton ball.

Q: I've heard of rag paper before; how can I use fabric in my paper?
A: It's best to use woven fabric, not knit. (Even if I cut up knit material very small, my blender is not able to pulverize the fabric into threads.) With scissors, cut the fabric into small squares, and break it up into fibers with your fingers. Add the fibers to some junk-mail pulp to add interest. If that sounds like too much work, consider using your dryer lint! Don't use more than 25% cloth in your pulp; it needs some paper pulp in order to stick together into sheets.

Q: How about vegetable paper? Is that easy?
A: I've gotten books with recipes for vegetable papers. It sounds like it should be an earth-friendly project, right? Paper from broccoli stems, or artichoke leaves, or corn husks, or asparagus stems sounds like a great way to divert some garden waste into papermaking. But when I read the recipes, I realized the process calls for boiling the vegetable matter in a lye solution for several hours, and that defeats the earth-friendly mandate I have for my art. I do sometimes use dried plant matter in my paper, but I only use a little and I shred it well in the blender. Never use fresh plant material in your paper; it won't stay fresh and pretty. It will turn brown. It will mold. It will smell bad.

Q: Does any dried plant material work well?
A: As long as you use plant material that shreds into fine fibers in the blender, it should work. I tried sycamore tree bark and birch tree bark, and they didn't break up into fine fibers in the blender. They ended up more like little wood chips, and were too lumpy.

I've also discovered that some dried flowers lose their pretty colors in the papermaking process, even when you don't put them in a blender. I've found that pale pink rose petals, for instance, stay pink when they are dried. But they get wet when you add them to your paper pulp, and by the time the paper is dry, the pink petals have turned brown. Calendula flowers also worked like that for me. They are bright yellow when they are dry, but when they are added to paper pulp, they turned brown, and turned the paper brown too! The paper looked like it had been roasted in the oven.

On the other hand, elm tree seeds are terrific in paper pulp. Don't blend them; use them just as they are. If you try a flower or leaf that doesn't lose its color in the papermaking process, please tell me about it! I'm always happy to learn from others.

Q: Can I write on handmade paper?
A: Sure! Ballpoint pens work well. If you want to use a soft-tipped pen like a Flair, or if you want to use calligraphy ink, test it on a scrap sheet. If it bleeds too much, try spraying your paper with starch. This will seal the paper and keep the ink from running.

Q: Can I eat out of a papercast bowl?
A: I wouldn't recommend it. I do finish the bowls with two coats of a non-toxic finish, but if I missed some tiny place somewhere, water is bound to find it and get into the paper structure of the bowl and discolor it. And I'm not sure what dishwashing soap would do to the bowl, either!

Do you have a question about papermaking? Send me email and ask me! I'll answer your question promptly, and add it here to help others.


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Contact: Donna Albino