This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #24 (October, 1993).

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Paper from Iris and Daylily

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to harvest local fibers for papermaking. While the average person may look out the window and see yellowing plants, papermakers survey the fields for valuable fibers which can create unusual and beautiful papers.

Paper can be made from the cellulose of any plant, however some plants have a better fiber yield than others. Cat tails, wheat straw, yucca, and milkweed are only a few of the plants used by papermakers and indicate the range of fibers available. Each fiber has its own recipe for optimum results. There are several useful books which will help those of you who wish to continue your exploration of this process. They are listed at the end of this section.

Plants such as day lily and iris are simple to start with, and the following directions apply directly for them. The first step is harvesting the fiber. You can collect the leaves at various times, when they are green, yellow, or brown. Cut the plant leaves and bundle them together with string. The bundles should be hung to dry until they are needed. Harvest more fiber than you think you will need, because these plants yield a surprisingly small amount of fiber for papermaking.

Before you can make paper, the fiber must be cooked with soda ash to remove the non-cellulose components of the plant. A very simple recipe for cooking is one tablespoon of soda ash for each quarter pound of dry fiber. For more specific cooking recipes, consult the suggested reference list.

Weigh the dry plant material, then cut the leaves into two-inch lengths. Soak the fiber in water. You will need a stainless steel or enamel pot for cooking fiber, and it is recommended that you do not use this pot for food preparation. Aluminum pots should not be used. Place the fiber in the pot, then fill it two-thirds full of water. This should allow room for the fiber to cook without spilling over.

Add the soda ash to the water; do not allow it to splash into your eyes. Stir the mixture every half hour. Please note that your kitchen will be filled with a strong aroma of cooking fiber, which you may not like. A hot plate outside can remedy this problem.

Let the water cool, then pour the solution through a strainer. This will allow the fibers to be trapped while the water drains. You can line the strainer with fine mosquito netting to help catch all the fiber. Rinse the fibers until the water is clear. At first, the water will be a dark brown. It will take several minutes until the water clears. You are rinsing away the non-cellulose materials.

The plant fiber is now ready for beating. Place a handful of fiber in a blender full of water. Do not overload the blender. Run the blender until the fibers are broken apart. You can vary the blending time on several batches to create a mix of short fibers which will serve as the base of the sheet, and longer fibers which will create a decorative element in the paper. (If you are familiar with Japanese papermaking, you can beat the plant fibers by hand.) Add this material into a vat. It will take several blenders full to have enough fiber to form a sheet of paper. To create and maintain the correct ratio of fiber to water, you will need to strain some of the fiber after it has been blended. This will allow you to add concentrated fiber to your vat.

You will only have enough fiber to make a modest number of sheets of pure iris or day lily paper. However, by adding another fiber such as cotton or abaca, you can continue to create wonderful sheets of paper which will reflect the character of your backyard plants.

Additional information on this process may be found in the following texts:

Lillian Bell, Plant Fibers for Papermaking, Liliaceae Press, McMinnville, OR, 1981.

Winifred Lutz, An appendix on alternative fibers; Timothy Barrett, Japanese Papermaking, Tradition, Tools, and Techniques, Weatherhill, NY, 1983.

Diane Reeves, From Fiber to Paper, W. Thomas Taylor, Austin, TX, 1991.

Copyright 1993 Hand Papermaking, Inc.