Wednesday 28 October 2020

Signal studio residency: making silk fibre paper

In June I had taken a Zoom workshop, with artist Tunde Toth, on silk fibre papermaking (which I blogged about here) and immediately knew I planned to make more of the paper for my printmaking when taking up studio residency at Signal Arts Centre come autumn. Well, that time came fast enough and I spent the first week (plus a bit of the second week) focussed on making silk fibre paper. One of the first things for me to do, then, was set up a work station: spreading a clean table cloth over the table, having water bottle spritzer filled, iron to hand, scissors, ruler, bag of silk fibre, parchment paper roll, small dry brushes, pigments, and strips of Fabriano paper that I planned to use as inclusions.

I had the ruler to measure the sheets of parchment, as I wanted the finished pieces to be large enough to show off the paper and to carry a small print in its centre. I had two types of silk fibre: "carded coccoon strippings" and "throwsters". I actually don't know which is which, but one is like angel hair and the other is more like cotton batten. The process is simple - pull/tear the fibre to form a shape on the surface of the parchment.

If one is using "inclusions" (i.e. elements that are not silk fibre) - in my pages I decided to use small, torn pieces of Fabriano paper - 

they must be sandwiched between layers of fibre.

Sometimes I used a mix of silk fibres (with inclusions of paper)

and for other pages I used just one type of fibre, again here I added the paper inclusions.

Though it is hard to see in this picture, I included some really soft coloured fibres in this piece.

This piece is made of a sandwich of one type of fibre with paper inclusions. It is at this stage that pigment may be sprinkled/flicked onto the fibre with a small, dry paintbrush. This is an enjoyable process, but you have to be happy to give away control, as the effects of the pigments are full of randomness (going through the processes of flicking, spritzing, and ironing to mix at their own inclination).

When the "sandwich" is complete, the next step is to spritz the entire "page".

Cover with another sheet of parchment and gently, with the palm of your hand, rub the water into the fibres. It will be apparent what areas are wet. Turn the whole thing over and rub on the other side too, spritzing a bit more if necessary.

On high, but not steam, heat iron lightly. It is the water and heat that releases a natural glue, serecin, from the silk fibres, which binds the fibres together to form a paper. As you can see from the photo, I am only lightly holding the iron, allowing it to glide slowly on the surface with its own weight. You can actually hear the water sizzling!

When finished ironing (about 5 mins) peel back the top layer carefully. If the paper still seems too wet, iron some more, but if it is mostly dry, carefully peel the whole page from the parchment.

It can finish drying on a clean piece of paper or blotting paper. This is a finished sheet of textured, undyed, silk fibre paper, with Fabriano paper inclusions. It is ready to be printed on.

I had enough silk fibre material to make 20 sheets of paper, so I experimented with colour pigments, different inclusions, and also set up another table with blotting paper to place damp but finished pieces on.

Here are some of the finished pages using different pigments and in the yellow piece on the left I used a dry, fibrous green inclusion.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

binding the chapbook


In my previous blog, here, I discussed the preparation for binding and gave links to all my blog posts relating to this chapbook. With everything ready, the next step is simply to bind the books!

In creating a traditional poetry chapbook (less than 40 pages) I also decided to bind the book with thread (as opposed to stapling) and use a very simple saddle stitch with three holes in the spine. I have made a diagram of the thread journey below, where A, B and C represent the spine holes. The solid lines with arrows represent the direction of the thread on the exterior, and the broken lines with arrows represent the direction of the thread on the interior. Just as a reminder, the pages should be placed inside each other, as per the right side of my diagram.

This image shows the start, the first threads going into the centre hole. Please note, that though a large-eyed, fairly strong needle is necessary to hold 6-strand cotton (embroidery) thread, the needle should not be a fat needle, as used in leather binding as this will expand the binding holes and there is more risk of tearing the paper. Leave a few inches of thread outside the spine hole in order to tie a knot when the thread finishes its binding journey.

The thread appears in the centre of the chapbook.

The thread then follows the interior route to the bottom hole B (in fact it does not matter whether it goes to the top hole or the bottom, but just choose one consistently).

On the outside spine, the thread takes a long journey to the top hole C and goes to the interior back to A and out again to the exterior spine. Here one ensure that the long spine thread is in between the entry and exit threads before tying a simple knot or two. This will ensure that there is no floppy long thread on the spine: the exterior binding will appear the same as the interior except for the loose threads at entrance and exit points. 

On my books I decided to leave these threads at about 6 cm as a design feature, first tying knots in the thread ends to prevent separation of the strands.

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Preparing to bind the chapbook

By request, my husband (artist James Hayes) made me a beautiful (all-powerful, almighty, awesome) awl for my birthday this year. He even made a holder for it to protect the sharp point -

and to protect me from the sharp point! I used to have an awl but it went AWOL some years ago, and last year when I did a lot of bookbinding I resolved to get another because I was fed up using pushpins! With the founding of Precariat Press in the spring of this year, I knew I'd be doing more bookbinding, so getting a new awl was mandatory. So when this gorgeous tool was made specially for me, I swooned!

Once I had decided on the concept, design, cover image & printing, the poems to be included and the layout (all of which I discussed here, here and here) the final step was to collate and bind. Collating all the pages together into booklets also required a lot of folding with my trusty bone folder.

I had a second mock-up book (from which I made corrections) and I measured out where the 3 binding holes would be placed and, after punching these holes used the individual pages as templates for the final books. I had decided early on that I would be doing a traditional 3-hole chapbook bind.

Once binding holes had been punched in all the chapbooks (it is an edition of 50), I was ready to start binding. I had picked up 6-strand cotton thread in a colour to match the cover some weeks ago. In next week's blog I will discuss the journey of the thread to bind the chapbooks.

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Signal studio residency 2020

I started my third studio residency at Signal Arts Centre last week and already I feel very much at home in the space, despite arriving masked and chatting to people with coronavirus protocols in place. I had residencies in the studio in both the fall of 2018 and the fall of 2019, so being here is becoming a pleasant annual habit. I blogged about the work done (or started) in both those residencies here and here, and as with those residencies I decided beforehand what my focus would be during my time in this studio. But first things first: after a simple tidy and sweep, I rearranged and covered tables to correspond with how I intended to work. I saw that one of the previous tenants had put the long mirror horizontally behind one of the sink areas (there are two) and I thought this would be a convenient spot for my daily self-portrait, a work warm-up for me. Since I don't actually need two sinks, I simply covered this sink with a wooden board to create another surface area.

I have use of the portable press till the end of the year, so it got its own table between the larger window and the sink that I would be using. My focus this year is to be on silk-fibre papermaking - a process that I learned a few months ago in zoom workshops provided by artist Tunde Toth. I blogged about this workshop here. I planned to make some paper and use it for monoprints related to my current body of work Memory Is My Homeland, which I have blogged about here, here, here, here, here and here.

So I started work well before lunchtime. This is my first self-portrait of the week, done with watercolour pencil.

As I knew I would not be ready for printing this week, and always feel that I should do at least three different things in the studio daily, I brought materials to make collage cards. Thinking of my recent work on Aos Dara-Umha Aois Combined Symposium, which I blogged about here, here and here, I created a collage card based on my memory of the saplings and ferns at the entrance to Tomnafinnoge Wood.

By the end of the week, I had used up most of my silk fibre supplies, but happily so. I made a number of sheets that are raw in colour and I also made some sheets using dry pigments to give intense colours.

Here are some of the sheets fully drying on blotting paper. I look forward to printing on them soon!