Here at Repeat Paperie we are first and foremost concerned with sustainable art making. We are a stationery studio based in Memphis, TN. Colleen Couch-Smith is the papermaker, Eszter Sziksz is the printmaker, and Maria Medrano Haley is the studio assistant.
Our process starts by collecting the material for making the paper. Instead of using wood pulp or other non-renewable fibres we use recycled cotton clothing!
Colleen, ever the environmentalist, creates paper using earth-friendly practices and materials.
Since old clothing is the fibre of choice for our papers it must first be cut into one inch squares and all buttons, zippers, seams*, etc. have to be removed (*these leftover fabric scraps can be used for other projects and often don’t end up in the trash).
The small squares of fabric are then soaked overnight. After soaking, the cotton fabric is processed with water in a machine called a beater. The beater breaks apart the fabric and after a few hours turns it into pulp.
Once the pulp is ready certain additives might be mixed in for different effects. The only additive we use is sizing, which makes the final paper slightly water-resistant so that inks and other wet media do not bleed through and feather on the paper.
To achieve the vibrant colours of our papers we simply choose clothing that is already dyed that colour, which prevents us from having to use pigments and other additives.
Once the pulp is ready it is mixed into a vat of water and the process of sheet formation happens.
A special frame and screen, called a mould and deckle, is pulled through the vat to collect pulp.
The wet sheets are stacked between felt until a decent sized stack of layered paper and felt is achieved.
Papermaking uses a LOT of water so we collect as much water as we can from all the papermaking processes and reuse it as often as possible.
The sheets are now ready for pressing. At the press a significant amount of pressure helps expel the excess water out of the new sheets of paper, which encourages the fibres of the paper to bond together.
We prefer the gentle, controlled pressing from an old-fashioned, hand-turned press versus the quick and aggressive modern hydraulic presses. It’s also a great shoulder and abs work out!
After the papers are pressed they are carefully transferred to a drying system. The drying system usually consists of tri-wall cardboards, cotton blotters, weight or some source of pressure, and fans.
It takes about 2-3 days for our papers to completely dry. We are working on making a better and quicker air-dry system that uses no electricity. But we need our papers to be very flat for the letterpress printing so some creative engineering is in our future!
As our business evolves we plan to continue to incorporate eco-friendly practices in every process possible.
Paper does not need to be made in a way that is harmful to our environment nor does it have to deplete our forests.
Wood pulp papers may be cheap and easy to make but our planet is paying the price.