Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Yesterday, after a visit from one of my best hanji contacts here (she had some great news about a new project sponsored by a cultural ministry here - on hanji - and hopefully I can jump in on it while it's funded), I started pulling sheets. Obviously, I sucked at first. I still suck. But it felt SO GOOD to really start doing a production run, to really feel what it's like to work in cold water and know that I won't die, and to do what I came here for, what I had been researching for a couple years but couldn't get my hands onto.

I think for sure that learning how to make paper is like having sex for the first time w/someone. I was in major vulnerable land yesterday and all freaked out about pulling and couching in front of my teacher, which is ridiculous b/c how else will I learn? But I remember: this is exactly how I felt when I FIRST pulled my FIRST sheet of paper ever, in Chicago. Andrea, my teacher, would come around to my vat and I'd flip out and not want her to see me. Which again makes no sense, but that was my instinct.

But eventually, I calmed down last night enough to not be like a drowning non-swimmer in the vat. You can hear it, too, by how the water moves. You can see the whole history of the hours I was at the vat in the paper - it will show you every misstep, every crooked hip, a tired arm, a sore back, a lazy eye, everything. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow, when we dry the paper and see how badly formed it is. I had hoped to pull an entire post and then rehydrate it, but my teacher says we're going to dry.

Today was pulling ALL DAY. I was there, thinking, "why do people climb Mt. Everest? Why do people jump into freezing cold water to be part of a polar bear club?" and realize that non-papermakers would lump "why do people make paper?" into the same category. Yesterday, I freaked out while stirring the hibiscus roots that let out the gooey ooze we use as formation aid b/c they were frozen - you could feel the chill coming off of them sitting in water and ice in a huge garbage container. I didn't think I'd be able to handle the water at all. But the hot water next to the post helps a LOT. And today, I actually got to a tolerance level in the afternoon that made me not want to dip in hot water - it was more comfortable cold.

I'm learning here how much stronger and weaker I am than I thought. I am VERY BAD at stirring things w/poles. My arms are just too wimpy, despite my nightly pushups and yoga (I can't NOT do this anymore, or my body will crumple up and die. It's amazing how many asanas you suddenly remember when your back is totally thrown out and you don't think you can close your hand into a fist anymore). So agitating the vat in sync w/someone else several times a day is hard. But I keep up b/c I don't want to be totally embarrassed by my sissy-ness.

I had some really good moments. And some bad. Again, the paper reflects it exactly. So when I was pissed off at making so many air bubbles, it just got worse. When I felt better, it got better. The master papermaker (the father) came in a few times to help me out. He's a great teacher partly b/c he is quite deaf and soft spoken so he just tells you things and demonstrates. His method is a lot more even and calm than what I learned yesterday from his son. There's a nice rocking motion you have to get down. I was doing too much shoving the whole thing into the water at too deep of an angle, which forces the screen up from the mould, and then all the stretching and bubbling. I am learning not to FIGHT so much. Not fight the water, not try to force things. There is pretty much no place for that attitude in the mill. It just gets you hurt and tired.

I got thru a bunch of pulp today and finally had to quit around 4:15pm (instead of 5) b/c my body hurt so much that my sheets were all getting ruined. Plus I was running low on fiber and formation aid. The father and sons are all impressed by how I'm doing. It's true that being a papermaker helps. We do the sucking out air bubbles w/a straw trick here, too. I saw the inside of their beater, and it's wild. A big secret, designed here. It looks like an art piece, the knives! I have to try and remember so I can draw it out tonight. It's tricky, b/c they are sharing a lot with me that they don't with others, and don't want me to then let the secrets out. But that makes it hard to do what I'd like to do later, which is disseminate all the info. But I respect that, esp since I see how HARD it is to run a family business in a field that is not lucrative, and also misunderstood.

The father said something today about the screen being too big but I insisted that I learn on it. It's hard to keep track of everything b/c the water is moving and the pulp is moving and nothing is keeping it put and there's so much surface area, so I might be making a good corner up here but not back there. I was glad that the father took off what I consider the "cheat bars" on the sides of the mould today. We also had a really weird visit from a university marketing team trying to sell propolis. For the boonies, this place gets visitors EVERY day. Lots of interesting people coming thru.


  1. Again, I loved this post (it seems like I'm loving all the ones where your body gets beat up, but that's NOT the reason!). It reminded me of The Hand by Wilson, the chapter on learning to juggle. Thanks.

  2. Excellent post. You are obviously thoughtful - I enjoy reading about your experiences.


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