There are a few things I do in my spare time that bring me real, relaxing joy: driving my MINI Cooper S on twisty Texas Hill Country roads; tanking as a paladin in World of Warcraft; and, now, papermaking.  The feel of pulpy water on my hands and the precision it requires to pull an even sheet of paper on the mould and deckle creates an experience that focuses my mind and allows me to focus on other things than my worries for a while.

But papermaking is tricky when you’re first starting out, and it takes me two or three pulls with the mould and deckle to get one good sheet.  First, you have to be very careful to come up out of the water straight so that you get an even sheet.  Then there’s a little shake you have to do in the second the water is draining through the screen to make sure you even the pulp out.  The last step — couching, or laying the pulp on felt sheets — also requires precision and a bit of luck.  It’s very easy to ruin a sheet by not flipping the mould quickly enough or not pressing it hard enough onto the felt to transfer the pulp.  In these respects, papermaking hasn’t changed much from the way they did it in the middle ages.

The press, however, has seen a bit of an improvement since the 15th century:

Luckily for me, enrolling in a class at the SW School of Art and Craft gives me access to the studios whenever I need it.  After one night of paper pulling for the manuscript project, I have a feeling I’m going to need it.  Thursday evening was my first chance to make my paper and I was only able to make two or three test sheets since it took me quite a while to meticulously prepare the clear plastic guide sheets to mark out my writing area.  Since I plan to write on my pages with ink and pen, I’m using pre-sized 100% cotton pulp on a 14” x 8.5” mould and deckle to produce quires of 3 sheets or 6 pages that are 7” x 8.5” when folded in half.  The writing area will be 5” x 6” with 1” x 1” gold leaf Lombardic capitals on a bright red square beginning each page.

At least, that’s the idea.

My red is a custom mixture of carmine and red iron oxide, and should produce a blood red when it dries.  I mixed the final color in a condiment bottle by using highly concentrated pulp mixed with pigment and normal pulpy water.  Thursday my method for putting on the squares was to couch the sheet and lay a thick plastic sheet with rulings to mark out the writing area and exact position of the red squares.  The squares were cut out of the plastic so that I could “paint” the red pulp onto the white pulp, flip the sheet, re-lay the plastic and paint two squares on the other side.

I’m not sure how it will work out.  The red seemed to bleed through the white page, and I’m afraid the dried pages will be ruined.  I’ll have to see next week when the pages come out of the dryer.


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