Paper Test Batch: Rumex crispus (Curly Dock)

Before I left Wells in late September, I prepared a bunch of Curly Dock fibre. My neighbour Catherine, who has a fierce allergy to the plant, gave me several bags of it that she had cut down around her house.

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Humans can eat Curly Dock leaves in small quantities, but it’s noxious to livestock and generally seen as a nuisance weed. For me, however, it’s a bit nostalgic: the very first paper I made back in 1981 in a studio on Beatty Street above Pulp Press (where the Stadium SkyTrain station is now) contained Curly Dock seeds! So I thought that making some 100% Curly Dock paper with Juan would bring me full circle, and he was enthusiastic about the idea.

I spent an afternoon in Wells trimming leaves from the stalks, and removing any seeds. Then I put the stalks on roofing tin to dry out in the sun.

Later, I cut it to bag-sized lengths and gave it a further drying in the oven before vaccum sealing it in plastic to eliminate any risk of contamination in travel.

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At the Eskulan studio in Zizurkil, I cut all my dried Rumex crispus stalks into shorter pieces with a guillotine.  After soaking it in water for a few days, we started boiling the fibre in lye in a stainless pot on a gas burner.

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Our goal is to break down the lignin that binds the fibre. But it turned out to be very hard: some plant fibres are ready in less than an hour; this was still a bit rigid after six! Finally after six and a half hours, we put a lid on the pot and left it to steep overnight.

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After draining the pot, we rinsed the fibre thoroughly with cold water, and put it into a bucket of water. We used a large industrial blender stick to help break up the fibre.

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Then we transferred this to a small, stainless Hollander Beater that Juan had filled with water.

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It didn’t take very long to pulp the fibre. Juan tested it a few times by putting some in a clear bottle with water and shaking it to see if the fibre was hydrating and going into suspension. The process took about 20 minutes in total.

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Juan made about a dozen sheets using the Nepalese style in order to be able to use all of the pulp and not waste a drop. (More on that process later.) They went into the press – at a lower pressure than the production cotton rag paper – then were peeled out and hung up to dry. By now it was getting late and time to clean up for the day.

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Juan came into the studio on the weekend to use up the rest of the
Rumex c. pulp. A few days later we peeled off all the paper from the drying sheets, then gave it some compression time in the press for its final flattening.

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The result: a gorgeous, caramel coloured paper. The short fibre of the Rumex doesn’t yield a strong paper, but it’s very pretty. Both of us are very happy with it.

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One thought on “Paper Test Batch: Rumex crispus (Curly Dock)

  1. Pingback: Art to Science at SEF 2016 in Palencia | Message from the beetle

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