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.


  1. Hello Lorraine - what an intriguing approach to making your own paper.!! If I ever made my own paper it would be using THIS method as I couldn't physically cope with the more traditional method. I am curious if it would be possible to use this "Silk Fibre" paper for intaglio printing ? say from - for example a drypoint scratched onto polypropylene and then inked up and wiped and put through an etching press.? Polypropylene by the way its that floppy transparent plastic that is easy to cut into shapes with a scissors. - if you happen to know, Do you think I would be able to soak it briefly and blot it prior to printing on it through the press?. That third from last photo of the cream colour silk fibre paper looks lovely - well done you.

    1. Hi Aine, thanks for providing your email, I will send you a proper reply privately. All the best, Lorraine