Kozo, the traditional Japanese paper fiber, comes from the same mulberry trees that dot our local landscapes as a mild invasive (our native red mulberry is the counterpart). My new papermaking friend, Lauren Bacchus, has been exploring fiber work with locally foraged fibers for some time. We had a sharing session and had a lot of fun with partially beaten kozo from branches we had harvested that day.
We cut the mulberry branches into manageable lengths and then cooked them in water with about a cup of my homemade “farmer’s lye.” (Water slowly run through hardwood ashes). Then we rinsed and stripped the bark off the central pith. After more soaking, we could pull off the brown outer bark and expose the white and green layers of the cambium. Lauren showed me how she takes the broader pieces of cambium and gently pounds them on a hand beater surface to spread and delineate the individual fibers without destroying the strand. She explained that some cultures take these pieces and laminate them together into sheets.
Lauren also had a neat trick of pounding little ovals out of a strand of kozo – what a great inclusion object for a paper collages! Love this technique.
We made a few sheets with the whole partially beaten fibers. It was amazing to see that our short beating session had indeed produced enough pulped fibers to make a sheet of “real” paper with the heavy inclusion of long fibers. I was ready to make some production paper!
After more extensive beating I cut up the kozo into blender-friendly lengths and used a blender mostly full of water to beat a few chunks at a time. After adding a little potato starch, the pulp was ready.
We had a great time, I got to have a big enough fire to make some bio char in tin cans, and it was a lovely warm winter day in Baird Cove. This was a great boost for my intentions to do more natural fiber work in the new studios. Add kozo to my current list of grown or foraged fibers in the studio: okra stems, heirlom green cotton, flax, hibiscus, yucca, iron weed, thistle down, wasp nests and banana!