Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Real thanksgiving

I unloaded the drybox yesterday and knew everyone would love their papers. These are Melanie's, now packaged and in the mail to her.
And Kyle's stash! I still can't get over how generous one plant can be. And this isn't even the entire spectrum of possible papers. I don't teach Melissa's scraping to get white fibers technique because we'd all lose our minds, and there isn't enough time. But you can see them regardless, amidst the color.

I worked until past 8pm yesterday, steaming and stripping Amsonia. I only stopped because I would have been the last one and I don't trust my key to unlock the door to leave. I then had what felt exactly like food poisoning but was probably a huge sign from my body to REST, so I'll skip the studio today in favor of bed and fasting.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Starring milkweed

From one harvest to another! Here are Charity, Kyle, and Radha as they turn bundles upside down to retie to prevent mold. This was when there was a manageable amount of stripped kozo. Now the back of the studio looks like a kozo explosion and we just gave up on hanging things to dry. We haven't even finished stripping everything.
After a very long day of programming (kids, then open studio), Tony took me out for Korean food. This was what we were supposed to do late in August when I got hit by another car instead. Hoping to reset bad memories by making new, better ones.
Friday was devoted to prepping for my weekend milkweed class, which was a great success. I spent a while trying to figure out the studio setup because it was all conjecture as to how much fiber my students would actually prep. In a panic, I trimmed, steamed, and stripped some green stalks and soaked them in water and soda ash to have something to show in a later stage when students arrived the next morning. Here are Pam, Jacinta, and Linda as they dry strip milkweed bast. I think there were about five full buckets of these stalks standing when we started, and then at least three huge bundles laying on tables. There were still a bunch when we finished, but they processed a lot more than it seemed (two pots). We did trim and finish stripping all the green bast, though, and ended up with three pots of that.
Melanie, Jane, and Kyle are at the pod station where they open pods to access seeds and silks, and then carefully pull the seeds off of the silks to make beautiful coma paper (one pot). The fluff goes from white to yellow as soon as soda ash is added. They also hand beat some green bast, and I cooked a big pot of burst pods and messiness (aka pods I'd rather not deal with) to experiment. I usually don't use the pod husks themselves because they don't provide great fiber, but it was an excellent way to get a totally different pulp with less work, dark brown with lots of black seed bits. I deleted one step of classes that I always cover, which is introductions/class expectations, but it was out of worry that we had so little time—I wanted students to work, not sit and talk with idle hands. I figured they'd get to know each other as they sat and worked and talked.
I stayed an extra couple of hours to cook our bounty at the end of the first day, and came early on Sunday to rinse batches and start picking before we beat and beat and beat. THANK GOODNESS the Valley is back in commission! That made life a lot easier. We ended up with so much more pulp than imagined, with plenty left for people to take home and experiment with. It was a cold weekend, with our first snow of the season, but I was impressed by how well everyone braved the chill to get tons of paper made. It was such a good group: no stragglers or whiners; everyone worked hard. Pam shared ginger candy in the morning and Jane cooked a pot of black bean lentil soup with garnishes for everyone that we enjoyed on Sunday for lunch with baguettes from Linda and za'atar bread and date cookies from Melanie. It's unusual to have a group like this, and a joy amidst the physical strain of trying to squeeze so much into a brief weekend.
Melanie's post is on the left and Pam's on the right (the Morgan has started to sell pellons to people who want their own, finally!). There were six different vats going, all varied parts of the plant harvested at different stages of the plant's life cycle, and we had so much that we didn't need any of the buffer fibers that were on hand just in case. I can't wait to see them all emerge from the drybox! I also can't wait to get some of my own papermaking done this week now that my official teaching for the year is done. Hoping to do iris, dock, milkweed, and Amsonia this week (dogbane I'll save for later), and thankful for this year's harvests.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Friday, we had visitors from SUNY Fredonia. Tim brought his students to harvest, strip, scrape, and tour the Morgan. Jill in the green hat is a fellow teacher and did the Iowa program and is friends with Radha, so she had a fun first visit.
We only got through half of the Japanese kozo but it was picked quite well. I've never had such a clean batch! I'm a little concerned that the rest won't get cleaned as quickly or as well, but that's just life. The naginata got this batch to a lovely cloud.
Charity, Kyle, and Radha gave lovely presentations that night during the worst weather and dazzled us all with their artwork. I'm so glad that this is our team now!
Lisa managed to get a few dips in the hanji vat before flying home on Saturday morning. I trained Kyle a little before the scores of people descended for the harvest, which included a custom tour for the Secret Tea Society.
The steams were a little slow in getting underway but it was really cold the first day. We had very eager and helpful volunteers, though!
Susan trimmed more iris leaves after she did some kozo work.
Cleaned white bark
 Day two was sunny and much warmer,
 so scraping stations moved outside
Still lots left to steam, strip, and dry. But a nice harvest after a good growing season. No time to rest, though: still hanji to make, fiber to prep, and a milkweed class to teach this weekend!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ow, our backs

WINDY today, very. Lisa, Kyle, and I all picked kozo today (Lisa worked for the longest, with the worst tweezers. Tools are everything. Everything!). Our pile of gold has been growing, though we're only halfway through. The TV cameraman returned this morning to do a shoot as well.
We knew we were way behind on harvesting, so we ran out in the afternoon to work. This is Lisa's first harvest.
Kyle's, too! There are only 3 loppers anyway. I wish we had sickles—maybe we'll get those for next year. I find it very weird to not be able to hold onto the thing you are cutting down with one hand. I was also pulling weeds as we went. It got so dark that we were mixing up kozo and regular mulberry (not the end of the world). We got very hungry quickly, so Susan was kind enough to order pizza for us before we took down the flapping tent and closed up for the night. Lisa and I went to an art opening as well but I sat in the corner most of the time.

Tomorrow is a monster day. Trimming, steaming, prepping for a visit of college kids from Fredonia + prepping the hanji vat + beating kozo by hand and naginata + hanji pulling + visitor tour + more harvesting + evening event for Charity, Radha, and Kyle to present their artwork + collapse. Whee!

Harvest prep

Iris and gladiola, chopped by Pam.
She worked so hard on this yesterday. It made me realize that we have to have rules for people who donate fiber to the Morgan! Call ahead, clean the plants (so we get just what we need), and bundle. No plastic bags! I hate mold, though I know that breaks things down.
Japanese kozo, being picked. Very slow going, and terrible timing when we have to be cutting Morgan kozo down. But I need to get a hanji vat up and running! With clean fiber. Lisa arrived yesterday from NYC and the TV folks come again today to film us attempting to harvest in high winds. The harvest itself (this weekend) is more of a processing what we've cut down all week. Hoping to practice better hygiene: cut stems in one direction, trimmed and steamed in the same direction to make stripping easier. AND: stripped bark in one direction, not thrown in a pile! It's amazing how you can make more work for yourself by not doing it right in the first place.

More about the kozo harvest here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Out in the world

I just saw a video of a Czech papermaker last night. I learned about him a year ago in Japan when I met Izhar, who trained Michal in Israel. What he said about people being jealous about his life choices was good to hear because not everyone is honest about that.

Also, one of my Penland students was featured online: Nancy is a paper jewelry designer and a wonderful person with remarkable perspective. I'm glad I got to know her last year.

I can't remember if I shared this already, but these are a few shots of my duck-ful show, still up in Cleveland. Started a new one today and it isn't the same, working without the rest of them all around me!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

What a harvest!

Yesterday was a dream Friday. Last year, I had contacted the director of horticulture and conservation at the Holden Arboretum, Roger Gettig, about harvesting slippery elm. It wasn't the right time of year, but he was welcome to the idea and said whenever I needed it, to let him know. After I visited the field station in Bath last week, I realized that I should contact him again to see if there were other harvests to be had. Here he is, showing us the Miscanthus and Amsonia that his staff had already so generously harvested ahead of our visit (because they knew it would rain on the day we were coming).
I invited Mimi, because she is working on a project that requires weaving materials from plants traditionally used by Native Americans for basketry. Luckily, there is a lot of overlap between papermaking and weaving plants. I already forget what this tree is but it's a species that has been around since the dinosaurs. I'm still hesitant to go for woody bark fiber but I will someday.
Bigger Amsonia, used as landscaping outside of some administrative offices. Very easy to cut down, related to dogbane, and looked immediately like good fiber to work with.
Stalks down! It was so much easier to do this work with two other people. I was glad for Velma's recommendation years ago to get Felco pruners for small hands. It looked like Roger had a similar pair, which made me feel like I was in the best company. I did get slightly mauled by thorny stems on the way into this patch, but it was much less traumatic than last week's tickseed.
After we dumped our stash on the lawn, Roger walked us down the road, pointing out native and invasive plants along the way (bulrush, cattail, bittersweet, Phragmites, porcelainberry, honeysuckle, some grasses that I forget the names of, etc.). It was raining and windy on and off, but we managed to find the gold mine a ways down.
Dogbane! This was the height of the rain but so very satisfying. He talked about how he started as a college wrestler and ended up in conservation and horticulture, and about how so many of the issues that we are struggling with today come from inadvertent mistakes made by humans. I loved hearing about the migration of these plants to places they never should have gone, how the highway and railroad systems hastened those migrations, and how they may potentially have some elm saplings growing now that could be resistant to the disease that has killed them completely in areas like Detroit.
The weight of a fresh harvest bundle in your arms is a wonderful, wonderful feeling.
These were really heavy from rain. After our walk back (talking about how they have an endangered species of milkweed: Sullivan's milkweed!), we moved our first lawn stash closer to the parking lot.
We were able to meet several staff members and talk to them about what we were up to, as well as what we might be able to get in the future as they maintain the land. They are happy to help harvest in the right season for the right plants and call us up to pick things up! Though the harvesting is the most fun part; I'd feel a little weird just coming to pick up someone else's hard work. Then again, this place is HUGE and GORGEOUS, so it would be enough just to come and walk around. We squeezed into a little cart and drove to the butterfly garden, which was stunning and fragrant. So many beautiful grasses, herbs, and trees. There were even Korean grasses! Mimi was over the moon when we were able to nibble on native onion and take in bayberry, mint, thyme, dill, and other delicious scents in variety.
Then we went to the wildflower garden and harvested dock and prairie cord grass on the way. Roger showed us grapevine, willow, more bulrush, prickly pear cacti that live very happily in this region, and a zillion other plants on the way and through the deer fencing, but eventually had to get back to work. We tried to find Sullivan's milkweed without him, but it was like losing bionic vision now that it was the three of us (their editor, Cait, took over as our guide) with zero real horticulture knowledge. We stared into a field and nothing looked to me like milkweed (he had explained the direction of the leaves before letting us go out on our own). We gave up because there was a massive treat for us in store.
The new canopy walk! It opened this September for the first time but closed at the start of this month. I was so sad about it but apparently we qualified for the VIP tour, which meant we got to sneak in. It was fine given the weather, and I was delighted to walk among the (mostly leafless) trees.
My new muck boots, on the fiberglass.
Indeed (and especially pertinent after seeing Ta-Nehisi Coates speak on Monday night this week).
And then even more exciting: the emergent tower, growing up where an old tree had left a gap in the woods. They wanted to disturb the area as little as possible and have the tower blend in. It's visible from the canopy but goes up WAY higher.
It was over 200 steps to wind up and clear the trees. You can see Lake Erie from here, as well as lots of other markers. Cait showed us the pond that they had dredged and talked about how the fancy people back in the day had a resort in the mountains to escape the hot, humid summers (pre-A/C). But now those resort areas have reverted back to forest.
Once we got back into reality, the big task was loading our bounty into my vehicle. Mimi helped get the seats and tarp down, and Roger did a pro job of lashing our bundles. I saw so much Miscanthus seed in my rearview mirror while driving back and have been having lots of insect visitors on my dashboard in the following 24 hours.
I somehow managed to drive Mimi back home, and then go to the Morgan, without passing out from hunger. Here are dock leaves soaking. It's absolutely the wrong time of year to get their stems but I couldn't resist trying.
Tom and Radha were finally putting the Valley back into running order! David Reina had finished our new bedplate a while back but we were so busy with events that this kept going onto the backburner.
I had four pounds of Japanese kozo waiting to be rinsed and chilled, but I was also trying to fight the setting sun so that I could de-leaf outdoors to keep down the mess (Tom of course scolded me as soon as I brought all the plants inside because of the leaves tracked onto the floors. It's really NOT worse than the 200 pounds of iris leaves tracked and trailed into the building twice from a donation).
This always takes much longer than you expect. Interesting branching on the Amsonia stems; amazing how it's the same from plant to plant, and then you know what to expect.
Left: compost. Right: ready to strip. But when? There's dock on the stove, kozo being rinsed, ash water that needs to be strained, a bag of hosta on the floor, bags and bags and bags of irises all over the tables, and Miscanthus ready to test for weaving papermaking screens.
I'm dying to find out if and how this works for paper. There are still two smaller bundles of the related plant from the butterfly garden, previously harvested for us, waiting on a shelf to be de-leafed and trimmed.
Somehow I managed to trim the dogbane and gather remaining pods (in the little blue container). I'm covered in cuts and scratches, and was dirt tired, so I didn't bother going home to shower and change before attending two openings and dinner. Thursday, I had already given a presentation for a panel of women with "hidden jobs" in the book/paper arts at the library of Cleveland State University (and harvested milkweed from a parking lot before the event), so I never really rested up from that. Today I got a massage and almost couldn't walk afterwards. The fall is so challenging because there is so much to do before winter comes, but less light, and the body's adjustment to the change in seasons. But it's a golden window, and I'm so grateful to be able to jump through.