Phrag is everywhere. And that’s not exactly a good thing. Common reed (Phragmites Australis) is an invasive plant commonly found near waterways and especially near construction sites, ditched marshes, roadside ditches, and other disturbed sites. With such a plentiful fiber used in other areas of the world for papermaking with loaded environmental significance, I decided to process a handful of these monstrous plants into pulp and paper. Keep scrolling for directions on how I turned something unwanted into paper.
I recommend speaking to your local environmental conservationists on how to correctly, and where to, harvest Phrag. The University of Rhode Island has great fact sheet on Phrag, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has this guide on how to remove phrag with mechanical and chemical methods from your land. If hand cutting phrag, be sure to ask permission first, and contain the seed head before cutting the stalk.
You can make paper from almost any plant that contains cellulose fiber (think the strings on celery). Some plants make better paper than other, and the color, texture, and quality of the end paper hugely depends on the fiber you start out with, and when you harvest them. Phrag makes a warm, light brown paper that is surprisingly strong and rattly.
1. Cut stalks into 1 to 2 inch pieces & soak overnight in water.
- Use garden shears or scissors.
- The papermaking process will result in a big reduction in the amount of fiber from beginning to end. Cut more than you need.
2. Boil with a caustic solution & water.
- This removes lignins and other material from the cellulose fiber, making your paper stronger and archival.
- I used soda ash from a ceramic supply company, but you can also order washing soda, or use lime (calcium carbonate) as well. I used 1 tablespoon of soda ash to a 1/4 lb. of dry fiber. Be careful handling caustic! Don’t rub it on your skin or in your eyes! Lime is the most neutral option here, but you might have to boil the fiber longer.
- Use a stainless steel or enamel pot that won’t be used again for food. Do not use aluminum or other metals, because it has to potential to react with your caustic solution.
- Boil outside, or in a very well ventilated area. I used this outdoor cooker and propane tank.
- Check every half hour. Once the fibers pull apart easily, your fiber is done cooking. Don’t cook it so long that it turns mushy.
- Catherine Nash has a great online article and downloadable PDF of 41 fibers and caustic recipes.
3. Rinse, Rinse, Rinse!
- You must rinse your fiber well, to rid it of any caustic solution. Your water should run clear.
- An easy method: drill holes around the top of a 5 gallon bucket. Fill the bucket 2/3 full of fiber. Place a hose at a slow trickle at the bottom of the bucket. Over the course of a few hours, the water will filter through the fiber and leave through the holes at the top of the bucket.
4. Beat into a pulp with a Hollander Beater.
- I used my Critter Beater, a portable beater built by Mark Lander in New Zealand. A Hollander beater macerates, cuts, and fibrillates the fibers into a pulp with water.
- You can use a kitchen blender (again, use your paper blender only for papermaking), but your paper will be rougher (it only cuts fibers), and it will take a long time to get a big batch, since you will be blending fiber a handful at a time.
- You can also hand-beat the fiber with a 2×4 or baseball bat! Or an ergonomic mallet. Sounds ridiculous, but a great workout to get toned arms.
5. Make paper sheets!
- See this post with some process photos of how to pull sheets of paper from a vat of pulp with a mould and deckle.
- Really excited and need some hand papermaking directions? Hand Papermaking Magazine has a great collection of beginner articles.
Below are some of my phrag paper experiments! See more of my paper art on my artist website.
Leave comments if I left something out, have accuracy difficulties, or if you have any questions.