• Nasturtiums - fresh and dried.

Making paper

I would use the following words to sum up my approach to life and work:

CREATE, RECYCLE, RESEARCH, PLAY, SHARE, REINVENT

Maureen Richardson making paper using a converted waste disposal unit
Maureen Richardson making paper using a converted waste disposal unit

I have made papers for 40 years and I have several instruction manuals: ‘Plant Papers’, ‘Handmade Paper’ and ‘Grow your own paper’ (same text but U.S.publisher).

In the the early 1970’s I attended a bookbinding course put on by Camberwell College of Art for two weeks. As part of this a group of teachers in ILEA were taught to make white paper from cotton linters. On the last day the teacher brought some paper to show us which she had made from Iris leaves. I had never seen anything like it before and as a keen gardener and inventive recycler the idea of making paper from plants, combined with materials other people throw away,was instantly appealing.

First attempts

My first papers were made from straw and rushes,which I had left over from my other crafts of rush baskets and corn dollies. Unable to afford £150 for a traditional paper making mould and deckle, I made my own frame from a left over square silk screen frame and covered it with net curtaining. I started by cutting up and cooking the straw and other ingredients in an alkali. I then rinsed and liquidised this mixture to create the paper pulp. As I had no press I scooped the pulp (which) onto the net covered frame and left it to air dry.

I did not use the traditional method of drying the paper and so obtained different results.  Traditionally you invert the pulp covered frame onto a wet felt and when you have amassed a stack of papers and felts, you put them in a press. Once pressed you take off each paper sheet and dry it by passing over a rope (made of cow hair).

My results were most encouraging. I used a palette knife to release the dried paper sheet from the net. It was incredibly thin and translucent because it had not had to endure being transferred from felt to felt. I thought I had invented a new way of paper making but found out that this is how paper is made in Thailand where the sheets are propped up to dry on the hillsides!

If I wanted a bulkier paper I added recycled acid free paper to the pulp.

Experimenting with other fibres and plants

I started to try other plants and grow and collect as many different plants as possible (over 100). A few samples are shown here:

Teaching adult groups and selling

My simple method (using blenders or liquidisers to pulp the mixtures) kept me busy. I taught classes at local colleges and conferences.

I made a contact with Gabrielle Falkiner and agreed to supply her shop with a monthly amount. Now the sheets were oblong, as Gabrielle explained, they were more saleable than my early square sheets. With students in mind, I produced a booklet on making paper with domestic equipment.Plant Papers.1978. This is still available from me at £6 post free in U.K.

Papyrus

Vegetable Papyrus made by Maureen RichardsonDuring a visit to Egypt I saw Papyrus being made and on my return I used the same technique with fruit and vegetables. I blanched,sliced, pressed and dried. When they are perfectly dry, I make the resulting slices into mobiles and items for decorative effect.

The full beauty of what I call ‘Vegetable Papyrus’ is seen to best advantage in front of a light source where /when the translucent membranes reveal the intricately veined internal structure of common fruit and vegetables. I create mobiles and mounts slices in acrylic frames and these are for sale in the portfolio. The bowls are too delicate to post but can be purchased in person.

This may seem a departure from the craft of paper making but it is based on my love of uniting unusual elements,recycling and giving back value to humble materials by taking them out of their usual context.

International Association of Paper Makers and Paper Artists (IAPMA)

I have been a member of the International Association of Paper Makers and Paper Artists (IAPMA) for many years and enjoyed the conferences put on all over the world. Following a tour to meet papermakers in Japan in 1995 I made a DVD of many of them (some National Treasures) – available at £12 plus @£2.00 p&p.

I also produced a hand bound book on Japanese paper, describing my tour and with samples from each of the papermakers (limited edition 100 copies) price £48 plus £2.00p&p.

I belonged to the British PAPERWEIGHT and chaired it in 1996.

I supplied Falkiner Fine Papers with a monthly consignment of my Plant Papers until I gave up making paper in 2012.