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