I entered the field of book arts via paper making. I thought learning to make my own paper would be interesting so I began to teach myself from books. My husband built me some basic tools and I started to make paper. I had to learn to choose plants that produced suitable raw materials. Daylily leaves, asparagus stalks, cattails, and grasses all work well. They contain enough cellulose to stand upright without support, and the fibres are difficult to tear. Other sources were less obvious: onion and garlic skins, or the leftovers from eating an artichoke. I was constantly on the lookout for new materials, and people around me began to get a little tired of the phrase “I could make paper out of that.”
One day when my husband and I went for a walk in the pasture, I looked down at the pile of aging, crumbling horse manure at my feet and said “I could make paper … ”
Plant fibres must go through a number of processes before reaching the pulp stage needed for paper-making. First they must be collected: it can take a surprisingly long time to gather enough to be useful. They must be chopped up, then rotted and/or cooked in a caustic solution. The chopping is hard on the hands, and both the rotting and cooking processes can be slow and unpleasantly smelly. The resulting pulp must be thoroughly rinsed, then beaten to separate the individual fibres.
As a source, aged horse manure has a number of distinct advantages. The horse has already gathered the grasses and concentrated them, making them easier to collect. It has chewed them, eliminating the need for chopping them up by hand. And, if breeding conditions are right, flies have laid eggs in what the horse has left and the maggots have eaten most of the non-cellulose matter.
Left out in the weather, frozen and thawed, washed by rain, the result is a totally acceptable pile of paper-making material.
I collect the suitably pre-processed manure in the dry days of spring before the grass starts to grow, and store it in plastic bags until I put it to use.
The fibre is then cooked in a mild caustic solution to ensure the removal of the last of the unwanted components, and to sterilize it. This takes much less time than for undigested plant fibres, and actually smells less. The rest of the process is the same as usual: the fibres are rinsed several times to remove the chemicals and fine particles, squeezed to remove most of the moisture, and weighed out in appropriate portions. I process small amounts with water in a kitchen blender to make pulp. Manure again has an advantage as it requires less processing time. I often use a combination of recycled paper (pre-soaked and/or pre-cooked) along with the plant fibres. Other prepared materials such as flower petals or leaves may be added at this stage.
Because I work in small batches (no more than 40 sheets at a time, and often less), I use a box-deckle with the mould. This means that instead of having to fill an entire vat with pulp, the box-deckle and mould are placed into a vat of plain water, small amounts of pulp are poured into the box, and paper is formed on the mould. Here is a drawing of a box deckle and mould.
You can read the article it comes from here.
Box and mould are separated, the paper is allowed to drain, and is then couched (transferred) onto a damp felt. This set of actions is repeated until a stack of alternating felts and sheets of paper (called a post) is built up. The post is then transferred to a press where more water is squeezed out. Next, the papers are placed in a drying system (alternating layers of cotton blotters and cardboard stacked between two sheets of plywood and clamped). Depending on the type of surface wanted on the finished product, the length of time in the drying system varies. The paper may be left to dry completely, producing a textured surface retaining the marks of the mould on one side. For a smoother surface, the paper is removed while still damp, placed in the press to smooth surface texture, then returned to the dryer. Finally, if a non-absorbent surface is desired, sizing is applied and the paper re-dried. After drying, the finished product is ready to be used: lighter weights for writing paper and envelopes; medium weights for cards, book endpapers, and cover papers; and the heaviest for structures such as boxes.
I won the Clara Baldwin Award for Excellence in Functional or Production Ware at Dimensions 2002 for my group of boxes made from card stock containing horse manure. The entry was entitled Pyramid Scheme. Here’s David’s photo of the Grant Kernan/AK Photos image in the catalogue.
I designed the pyramid boxes based on an equilateral triangle.
If you would like to make some, possibly using your own handmade card stock, you can download a pdf of the pattern here. The box is scaled to fit on a half sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ card stock. You can scale it up or down to suit the material you are using.
Just a few precautions if you plan to make paper from horse manure:
Never use the same utensils for food preparation and paper making.
Never pour leftover pulp down a drain, unless you like paying large quantities of money to plumbers.
C the fibre outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. (Possibly while your family is somewhere else.)
If you are going to work with horse manure, you might want to check that your tetanus shot is up-to-date.