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6-3-05 Life in Berea is full, just a little
too full sometimes. I had fully intended to get back to harvest the
mulberry tree limbs well before now, but stuff got in the way. I had two
exhibit pieces to get ready, plus some web work for the Arts Council.
And the CODA Conference is in Berea this week. Makes for a hectic time.
But yesterday I stopped by the creek just long enough to make sure the lower
mulberry limbs were still there and would still strip. They were and they
would, so I made time today to do the harvesting. The Japanese cultivate
their paper mulberry trees,
carefully grooming them and allowing shoots to grow up straight and tall with no
side limbs. And because of that, the bast is perfect and easily harvested.
Here, I'm not dealing with perfectly groomed young shoots.
This is a fully grown tree,
complete with side branches and blemishes, and
that fact makes for awkward and difficult harvesting. Still, the bast is worth
it. The tree grows on the edge of
a creek, so close that the bank has actually crumbled out from under it, and
now the base of the trunk
actually overhangs the creek. Flooding has exposed some of the
major roots below the bank's rim
(photo shot straight down from above), and another flood strong enough to erode
more of the bank will likely collapse the tree into the creek. I have
permission to harvest on city property, but before I went to work, I stopped by
the Municipal Utilities office to explain what I would be doing. The
office wasn't open, so I just went ahead, drove around behind the facility and
parked in the lot that abuts the creek. Then I went on about my business,
whacking away at limbs. It didn't take long before a couple of city
employees noticed the crazy woman down by the creek and came to see what the
heck I was doing. Nice fellows, easily placated with a "the city
manager gave me permission." Judging how much to harvest of any plant
material is always difficult. I usually have trouble with my eyes being
bigger than the amount of time I can devote later. Because of CODA, I
really tried to keep in mind that my time is limited this weekend. I
didn't want to cut more than I could strip. If the bast dries out on the
limbs, it becomes impossible to strip, short of steaming, and that was not
something I wanted to do! After loading the van, I noticed a bright orange
root that had been bulldozed up when the area was cleared. About 2' of it
stuck out of the ground. I pulled up another foot and cut it off at ground
level. My first thought was bittersweet vine root, because they are
orange, but after comparing it to the exposed roots beneath the bank, I realized
it was mulberry. The bast stripped off the root far more easily than it
does off of limbs, even in the best of times. Interesting looking stuff.
(And right beside the root was a nice
size deer track.) After I got home, I stuck the root bast into a
bucket of water, stripped about half the limbs, then cleaned up and went to a
reception at Arts Council.
6-4-05 Got a good laugh at breakfast this
morning. The first Saturday of every month, the Berea Volunteer Fire and
Rescue Squad hosts a breakfast to earn money, and I wouldn't miss it. Good
company, excellent food (all-you-can-eat country ham, bacon, sausage, eggs,
biscuits, gravy, coffee and juice). The mayor came in, filled his plate
and sat opposite me. He's a neat guy, very involved in the community and
just plain fun to be with. Out of the blue he said, "We need to get you a
certificate and a permit, maybe a badge." "Huh?" "I hear you were
challenged by the Utilities people. Maybe we need to get you an 'Official
City Weed Whacker' badge." Small towns. You gotta love 'em.
Word gets around quickly. **I washed the
mulberry root bast and it's
gorgeous! I've never seen a more vibrant orange, but this orange
"bark" is weird, tissue paper thin and almost elastic. It feels something
like crepe paper. I debated about just cooking and processing it with the
bast, but I was afraid it would change color, and afraid, too, that the blender
processing would reduce the bark to pieces so fine that they wouldn't look right
in the paper. It
scraped off easily enough, and I
saved the pieces to add
back to the cooked processed bast. The bulldozer had damaged one side of
the root, and that area had turned dark brown. At first I thought the
darkened area was only dirt that had been ground into the bast, but a good
washing showed it was the bast that had browned. It's a shame because the
rest of the bast is a lovely cream color. If there had been more bast,
these areas could have been trimmed out, but as it is, there's really just
enough to try, so discarding them isn't an option.
Back to the top
6-6-05 I cooked the bast yesterday and got
around to processing and pulling it today. As I feared, the darkened areas
got even darker during cooking.
There were a few flecks of the orange root bark that I didn't get off, and those
did hold their orange color, but they darkened somewhat and weren't as vibrant.
I was glad I chose to scrap the bark off and keep it separate. Handbeating
is not something I find enjoyable (too hard on the shoulders), so the bast went
into a blender briefly, and
the pulp that came out is soft, smooth and slick...sweet stuff!!! It
pulls well, though drain time is slow. The
pure sheets have a hint of brown
and are a little disappointing because of that, but it's still excellent paper.
I had enough to pull 13 4"x7" sheets of various thicknesses. The thinner
the sheets, the prettier they are. I pulled six pure, then added the
orange root bark to the rest of the pulp. These
sheets with the bark inclusions
are lovely! (That last picture was shot against white paper and shows the
brownish tint of the sheets more clearly.) I pulled until there was next
to nothing left in the vat, then did a pour sheet with what was left.
There really wasn't even enough do to that and get a perfect sheet. Still,
this thinnest of slurries gave a
see-through sheet of little more than two or three fibers thickness that,
amazingly, holds together beautifully.
6-11-05 Some time ago I committed to a three
book swap. Make three books using handmade paper,. send them off, get
three in return. Simple enough...except, I've been floundering for an
idea. Almost all the books I make are blank books, no content, but this
time I really wanted to experiment with content and binding. And there is
a relationship between the two, but I've been at a loss for ideas for either.
Oh, I have ideas, but they don't mate. Great cover...but I can't think of
a content that would match with it. Or great content...but how to bind it.
An accident this morning may have solved my problem. It's that way so many
times with accidents, if I keep my mind open to what is in front of me. I
was doing a soft cover binding this morning and a corner of the cover was
accidentally folded under and creased. Bad news. Okay...there are
two ways to deal with something like that. Remove the flaw...or use it.
And I tried removing it by reversing the fold and smoothing the area with a bone
folder, but that didn't work. It was still very much there. Okay, if
that won't work, I'll use the flaw to my advantage. To do that, I creased
and folded and mutilated the cover until the initial crease disappeared among
many, many creases and folds. Hey...this isn't half bad. At least,
the idea wasn't half bad. This particular book was already bound when the
initial error occurred, which made folding and creasing close the to spine
impossible, but if this were done before binding.... Yes! And I have
an idea for content that will go well with this "pre-worn" cover!
6-15-05 I spent yesterday with friends from
New England who had flown in for a basket conference at Jabez that runs from
Wednesday through Saturday. Today I drove down to visit the conference.
While I was there, I saw something that disturbed me. There were multiple
classes going on, each in its own room. and posted outside the door to each was
this notice: "If you are not signed up, do not enter while class is in
progress." If the reason for the notice was to prevent disruption, the
notice was such a negative way of handling it. I would far rather have
seen "We encourage you to come in and see what's going on, but please avoid
disrupting the class."
6-16-05 I am such a responsible person.
This morning I actually remembered to get my 10-year booster for tetanus.
Given some of the...um, offbeat papermaking materials I work with, I figured it
was advisable. **Last fall when my neighbor cleaned out his garden, he gave me his okra stalks. I
didn't have time to make paper from it then, so I steamed,
stripped the bast and froze it for use this year.
This afternoon I thawed and cooked it. (The strips were just as slimy or
slimier than they were last year. Yuck!) Cooking was an
interesting experience. The water thickened immediately and kept
threatening to bubble over the edge of the pot. The bast is weird stuff.
The good fibers are obvious in the picture, but just as obvious is the material
between the fibers. I had a feeling this in-between stuff would result in
massive amounts of gunk in the cooked bast, and it did. It took spraying
forever with the hose to get rid of the gunk from the cooked plant material, but rinsing left
a mat of gorgeous
fibers to be beaten tomorrow.
Back to the top
6-17-05 The okra bast was no trouble at all to
beat. Circulation started immediately with no jamming and beat nicely, but
I can't help but be concerned about return for labor with this stuff. I
remember the number of stalks I had to cut and steam last year. I remember how long
it took to strip and scrape the bast. I also remember all that slime.
And maybe it's that slime that's coloring my perception, but after beating,
there really wasn't all that much pulp for the amount of labor that went into
getting it to that point. Still, it's nice stuff. I wish now
I had spent a little time after thawing it to clean it yet again. There
were still flecks of outer "bark" here and there. But the bast was so
doggone slimy at that point, all I wanted to do was cut it up and get it into
the pot. The flecks beat up into smaller flecks, but they're
still visible throughout the
sheets. The fibers are super fine, and pull like a dream, no matter
how thin the sheet is pulled. I pulled
this sheet, thinking it would
be as thin as the pulp could be pulled, but there are no signs of pinholes,
indicating that it could be pulled even thinner. Nice stuff!
And the okra bast paper is
lovely when it's backlit, but I wish the dark flecks weren't there.
6-19-05 For the last two years, the City of
Berea has been sponsoring Bluegrass in the Park, two evenings of free Bluegrass
music by various groups. They're always professional, always good, and
this year's experience was beyond excellent. It didn't hurt that the
weather cooperated with delightfully pleasant evening temperatures.
Friday's groups included Earl Barnes and The Journeymen, Pine Mountain Railroad
and Dean Osborne. Saturday was Southern Harvest, Raymond McClain and the
Charlie Sizemore Band. The festival is a wonderful chance to hear good
music, visit with friends and spend an enjoyable evening. You take your
lawn chair or blanket, find a comfortable spot and just settle in. Now...I
love good Bluegrass music, but I simply cannot sit and do nothing but listen.
My hands have to be busy, so I took some daylily leaves with me to weave while I
toe-tapped to the music. I didn't have anything in particular in mind,
just wove and listened...well, wove and listened and ate kettle corn until I was
stuffed. Hey, that stuff is a side benefit of the festival. I
finished the daylily leaf basket up
this afternoon. The top curled in that manner naturally. I could
have forced it to follow mirror images on each side, but I like what it was
doing on its own.
came over today to learn a little about papermaking. Linda is an amazing
bead artist who works over wooden forms that she has turned. (If you have
time, do a Google search on "linda fifield" and follow some of the links.
Jack, is an equally amazing woodturner.) We spent the morning outside
on the back deck pulling sheets, then moved inside when the day warmed up.
Linda has been experimenting using different mediums to cover her turned forms,
and I had told her to bring some of the forms to play with today. She had
used heavy waxed nylon over one of the forms, then removed it to create a lovely
open piece. Instead of doing paper over her turned forms, we opted to play
around with using the wet sheets of paper over the waxed nylon netted piece
instead. She covering the piece, gently molding the paper into the netting
so the impression from the nylon was embossed into the wet paper. After
the paper is dry, she'll remove the netting, turn a wooden base for the piece
and mount the paper form on it. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures.
Bad Gin! Just take my word for it, the piece is interesting and I think it
will be lovely.
6-24-05 We're in the early stages of drought
here with no guaranteed rain in the forecast, nothing but the possibility of
scattered or isolated thunderstorms next week. When you really need rain,
it seems that "isolated" or "scattered" turn out to be the storms you see
dumping in the distance, the ones that allow you smell the rain but never
experience it. And my flower gardens are suffering. I water the
plants that are blooming at the moment and the things that will otherwise die,
but the rest languish and fade in the hot sun. (Did I mention we're in the
90 to 100 degree range right now?) This morning I surveyed my spring
garden. It's pitiful. The celandine poppies, which were so lovely
this spring, were lying flat on the ground, sprawled in a wilted, circular heap.
Sickening. Only the plants
that are near my paper working area, those that get the residual spray and waste
water from papermaking, are standing upright and still blooming. In
order to reduce the stress on the wilted plants, I trimmed off their flower
stalks, trying to cut back on the volume of each plant, and thereby the amount
of water they will need to survive. Several years ago, I made paper from
the flower stalks, so I opted to make lemonade out of what the drought forced me
to do. The stems are about
12"to 18" from the base to the branching fork. This is the section I used.
I cut them into 1" lengths, discarding the upper, forked portion, and cooked
this for 1 hour in soda ash, then rinsed well. They were definitely tender
enough by that time and some of
the stems came apart underneath the pressure of the hose spray.
The cooked stems processed in the blender into
a wonderfully smooth and silky pulp.
And the celandine poppy paper is
equally smooth and silky. The fibers are tough, yet fine enough to
allow for pulling see-through thin
sheets. Revisiting plants that I've done before is interesting.
Sometimes the results are markedly different. I checked back through my
records and found that I had done celandine poppy in June of both
color and textures of the papers were quite different from the sheets I made
this time. Several things can account for differences between papers, but
this time I'm certain the longer cooking time is the reason, that and the fact
that I only used the lower portion of the stems and discarded the joint and
firmer upper portions. The papers this time are far superior in terms of
total quality to the older ones because the plant material was totally broken
down, no chunks of plant material left floating in the pulp. That is all
well and good, but the new paper isn't as pretty or as visually interesting.
Back to the top
6-26-05 Gwen Childs, the director of the Arts
Council, is getting married next month and she asked me to make her
register book. She selected one of Laura Poulette's dyed cloths for the
cover and Coptic for the binding, leaving the rest to me. I used straw
paper for the pastedowns and pulled a nicely matching green celandine poppy
paper for the end sheets. The yellow of the straw and green of the
celandine worked beautifully with Laura's cloth. Brown waxed linen was
used for the binding, and I added a strip of the straw paper down the front
stitched with green ribbon and brown ribbon. The green ribbon worked well
with the cloth and the brown ribbon picked up the brown of the waxed linen.
Jerry Workman from here in Berea did
Gwen's and David's invitation.
The birds are created from flower petals and the wings from ferns. They're
perched on tiny, tiny twigs. The original of the card is fragile, so for
the wedding and reception, a print of the invitation will be mounted in the
book, but after this is over, I'll put the original in it.
Teresa, a long time friend from Smiths Grove, came yesterday to visit for a
few days. I showed her how to play
around with daylily leaves to make a basket. She got a good start on
the basket yesterday and finished it up today.
Janet/Charlie came over today and wove
with us. Charlie is working on a
basket with a honeysuckle frame and will be finished with fine hickory
strips. I didn't have anything in particular started, so I slipped over
the hill and cut a bittersweet vine to use for a frame. It didn't exactly
twist the way I wanted, but it worked well enough to use as framework for
a paper basket. We worked until
we got hot, then stripped off and
swam. Charlie decided that we should call ourselves the Underwater
Basket Ass(n). (We basketmakers have a wretchedly warped sense of humor.)
After Charlie left, I showed Teresa how to
pull very fine paper from abaca with just a hint of gray weathered iris
leaves. She used these sheets to form
a tripod nightlight. Because
this was a first time effort, we kept the light simple. It's built on
Kentucky river cane with money plant inclusions, and it's really quite elegant
when lit. The picture doesn't quite do it justice.
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