Making Paper from Beach Grass
I've been working on a chapbook for a collection of Elizabeth Kerlikowske's poems, Chain of Lakes. Each poem is based on the many lakes of Michigan. Much of the work has been strictly on the computer, designing the layout, pulling together analog photos, choosing typefaces, etc.
But, now it's time to concentrate on the cover of this chap book. Originally, the plan was a basic handmade cotton paper, perhaps mixed with some abaca to give it a bit more strength. But this seemed really mundane for a book inspired by Michigan's lakes. What about adding seaweed inclusions from the lakes? That might be interesting.
...Except it's March, and we're not due to have any substantial growth for a few months. Still hopeful that there would be old dried seaweed washed ashore, I drove to Lake Michigan and walked the beach. Nothing. Well, there was something. Instead of organic decay, I found bottle caps, beach styrofoam, used tampon applicators, amorphous plastics, and a foam sandal. I started to feel hopeless.
But wait. What about beach grass? Old, dried up beach grass. It's everywhere! Not wanting to leave empty handed, I crammed the sharp blades into my bucket. Let's just see what happens.
Instead of using the grass as inclusions, I wanted to see if the fibers could be used in a functional way as well. I boiled it down for a few hours, then brought the slop to the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center to beat in the Hollander beater. I eased the plant matter in, and as expected, the machine clogged. Unclogged it, it clogged again, unclogged. You get the idea. I put some weight on, then came back a few minutes later. After running my fingers through the water, I noticed there was hardly any straw cycling - the machine must have clogged again. Turned off the beater, reached my hand behind the cylinder, but nothing was there! Now I'm freaked out, like, the grass must be jammed somewhere unreachable.
I emptied the beater completely, and that's when I realized, uhhh... the grass had completely DISINTERGRATED. NOOOOOOOOO. An act of desperation, I grabbed the smallest mold and deckle I could find and pulled it through the bucket of colored water. There was a hint of something there! I pulled it through again to collect more pulp - and YES, there was a sheet of paper!!
After concentrating the pulp down, I pulled an actual sheet of paper, pressed it in the baby press and ironed it dry (I couldn't wait a whole day for that to dry!). It is surprisingly sturdy. A few more sheets were pulled, each one comprised of more cotton fiber than the last. Some mixture of the two will be used.
This will work perfectly for the cover of Chain of Lakes.