How to Make Mulberry Paper

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The art of making mulberry paper is ancient. The woody bast fiber used from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia Papyrifera), is used to make the beautiful sheets of paper often used in paper craft worldwide. Japanese papermakers have been handing down this craft for generations and their process has been studied by some people such as Mina Takahashi, executive director of Dieu Donne Papermill in the Soho art district of New York City. Here is how to make mulberry paper using some Japanese techniques.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand saw
  • Large cook pot
  • Large bucket
  • Rectangular plastic tub 6 inches deep
  • Paper mold and deckle
  • Felt sheeting
  • Washing soda or soda ash alkali
  • Glass jar
  • Clean water
  • Harvest several branches from a paper mulberry tree that are close to 1 inch in diameter and about 8 feet long.

  • Prepare the fiber. Mina Takahashi recommends steaming the branches for half an hour to cause the bark to shrink back so it is easy to strip off. Peel the bark off in strips of almost an inch wide, scraping off the very outer black bark as much as possible.

  • Soak the fiber you have removed from the branches in water for a full 12 hours if you have dried them out to help remove chlorophyll.

  • Cook the fiber in a large pot for 4 hours, adding the soda ash alkali to the water before boiling. Stir every half hour.

  • Cool the fiber down for at least 3 to 4 hours. Make sure that the fiber has been cooked enough. It should pull apart in your hands. Rinse the fiber by dunking it into large buckets of clean water.

  • Pick up a ball of the fiber in your hands the size of a melon and squeeze out all the water. Lay it down on a work surface and beat it to a pulp with the bottom of a glass jar for 10 minutes. Place the beaten pulp into a large vat at least 6 inches deep and pick up another ball of fiber, repeating the process until all the fiber is made into a pulp.

  • Mix the vat of pulp with a small amount of water. Do this slowly. You can always add more but it is hard to take water out once mixed with the pulp. Make it into the thickness you desire for your paper.

  • Wet the mold and deckle. Hold the mold with the screen facing up and place the deckle on top and holding them together, dip them in the pulp. Shift it side to side as you catch pulp in the screen so that it will lay flat as you pull it up out of the pulp. Stir the pulp consistently as you make paper, as the pulp and water can tend to separate.

  • Shake the screen gently as if you are panning for gold once you bring it out of the vat. This causes the pulp to settle evenly, and strains water from it, creating a flat piece of paper. Once the fibers start to settle, set it down.

  • Remove the deckle and tilt the screen to make sure that the settling pulp doesn't slide. If it does, it needs more water strained from it.

  • Dampen a piece of felt and place the mold face down on it, pressing from behind the screen so that when you lift the mold the sheet transfers to the felt.

  • Lay another piece of felt on top of this one to repeat the process and create a drying rack for the handmade papers. The time it takes the sheets to dry depends on how thick you have made your pulp and sheets of paper. Lay a heavy wood board on top of them overnight to help them dry flat.

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  • Photo Credit Fred Aldous
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