Raw materials: Dry grass, Potash, Water
Tools: A boiling pot, heat, a screen
So here's the dry grass. It's really dry. It's been sitting in a box for weeks or longer, waiting for a project to come along. Originally it was going to be compost carbon, then weaving material, but finally it has become paper pulp fiber.
|1 meter stalks of dry California grass|
Step 1: Remove the nodesI am not really sure why this is necessary, but all the small-scale references insist on it. I expect that if you're doing large-scale crushing or boiling the nodes break down by themselves, but on this scale it's worth doing the pruning.
Break the grass up into lengths with no "inter-segment nodes". That basically means break off the little hard parts where branches or leaves come out. Here is a piece of grass with two nodes circled
|Grass with nodes circled|
I am very slow, so after 50 minutes, I had a single thick handful, which I deemed a half liter or so.
|A handful (~500ml) of straight grass stems|
Step 2: Prep the Alkali
I made a solution of 50ml of loose potash in 1 gal of water.
Step 3: BoilThe handful above contains more than a little woody stem (not wanted) as well as dirt, dust, and other detritus we want to get rid of. Boiling in alkali will separate all of these things for us as well as preparing the fibers themselves. If we were going to bleach the paper, this is the point where we'd do it. I didn't have the materials, so I skipped that step and just did the boiling.
I had the stems in the alkali while it came to a boil. After about 30 minutes of boiling, the scent of the steam changed from grassy to distinctly sweet. I held it at a boil for 60 minutes total, replacing the water as it boiled away. After that hour I took it off the fire, poured off the alkali and replaced it with fresh water.
Step 4: Rinse and CrushThis is pretty straightforward. I'm trying to separate the fibers from the rest of the stuff without making them too short. I used a round wood stick against a flat wood surface, and the stems split and mashed immediately. Even though the stems were still rigid, the fibers themselves were extremely pliable and soft. The integrity of the stems as a whole was entirely an artifact of their geometry as a tube. During the rolling, some individual fibers got caught on the rolling stick and wound themselves up along it providing a very nice yarn which could be removed with a fingernail. The average fiber length at this point was quite long: over 8 cm.
Step 4a: The plan changes
The length of the fibers and the fact that they weren't crosslinking (they were staying parallel) gave me pause. I took the stems out and they bent and flattened easily, but the individual fibers stayed attached to their bretheren on the stem until something else snagged them.
I decided to alter the experiment mid course: I cut maybe half of the fibers to a length of about 3 cm using a knife and reboiled them in plain water, hoping that this would separate them and let them entangle/mat/felt more.
|Shorter fibers boiling|