I am writing to you for the first time from Tiohtià:ke / Montréal. My husband, senior cat, and I road-tripped across the country in our camperized van and arrived three months ago. The last time I wrote a newsletter was December of last year. I allowed myself to "winter", conserving my energy for this big shift in our lives. Thank you for still being here and welcome, new friends!
In July, I started to feel like myself again and signed up for a local art class at Centre des Arts Visuels. They offer classes in English and French which I am very grateful for as I slowly improve my French (I've ordered breakfast in French a few times already!) The class was taught by Mylène Boisvert - an incredibly talented and humble paper-textile artist here in Montréal. Explore her work here.
In this 4-week/16-hour course we explored the possibilities of handling paper and the creative potential of a textile approach. We studied different papers and several techniques to modify their surfaces either by softening, stiffening, or texturing them to create volume.
Mylène provided us with samples of beautiful, handmade Japanese paper - Iwami Natural, Usukuchi, Hadura Si, and Gampi. Because these papers are made of longer fibers, they can be spun into paper thread that is suprisingly durable! We learned to diligently cut them into strips, to gently add moisture and roll these strips over a textured surface to soften the paper, and finally, to spin them into thread (with either a spindle, or by twisting with your hands). It is such a meditative and rewarding process!
The following week I experimented with the different papers I had at home to see if I could transform them into thread. None of them compared to the beautiful strength and ease of the Japanese papers, but I made enough to use for little weaving and lace samples.
Tiny tapestry made from several samples of hand-spun paper. The red thread was from a leftover sheet of handmade paper I had saved from my teenage days in Kolkata, India. I sadly don't remember exactly where I got it from, but I do remember making cards for my friends with it.
Paper stitched with paper.
A crocheted triangle made from spun Japanese paper (it was labeled as Hadura Si - I need to do some more research on how the paper is made!) Can you believe this is made of paper? I was entranced.
Konnyaku and Methyl Cellulose
Mylène brought samples of two materials that can be used to manipulate paper. Konnyaku isa natural plant starch used to transform, strengthen, waterproof, and preserve memory (of folds, pleats, crumples, and other manipulations) onto Japanese paper. It can be bought in the form of a powder (and it smells kind of fishy!) When mixed with water, it turns into a jelly-like substance that isn't sticky like glue!
Methyl cellulose can also be mixed with water, but is stickier and used like a glue/gum. It is commonly used in papier mâché to adhere papers together and stiffen them.
The above lace structures were made with Japanese paper (labeled Usukuchi) that I had painted with watercolors before spinning into thread.
Paper threads made with a page from an old sketchbook (see next photos) glued in place with methyl cellulose to form a stiff, textured surface.
Embossing & Folding
We can also emboss patterns from stencils onto thin paper such as the Japanese papers I listed above. I was able to do it on a decorative tissue paper I had in my stash! Note - these patterns were not designed by me. I used stencils brought in by Mylène but forgot to note down where she bought them from and the name of the artist who designed them! I would love to make stencils out of my own designs and emboss them onto paper in the future.
Folding is another wonderful way to manipulate paper. There is a whole universe of possibilities when it comes to folding paper. I went down a rabbit hole of inspiration on Instagram and ended up with an inspiration head-ache! If you have the patience, you can explore the math involved with geometric origami tessellations and create intricate sculptures... with paper!
This is a square of Iwami natural paper that I folded into a grid as well as diagonally. The folded sample was so much softer and pliable compared to the original paper it started from!
This wasn't taught in class but I saw an example of it in one of the books Mylène brought to class (see below for reading list). I found a YouTube video with clear instructions on how to make a Herringbone Origami Tessellation and tried it at home. It folds and expands delightfully and mesmerizes from all angles!
Before I leave you, here are...
Paper Textile Artists of Note:
I met her several years ago in Vancouver, BC to adopt some of her leftover weaving fibers when I was learning to weave! Check out her "process" page to learn how to make paper threads!
Books for Reference:
Paper Textiles, Christina Leitner
Cut and Fold Paper Textures, Techniques for Surface Design, Paul Jackson
Folding Techniques For Designers, From Sheet to Form, Paul Jackson
Kigami and Kami-ito, Japanese Handmade Paper and Paper Thread, Hiroko Karuno
A Song of Praise for Shifu, Susan J. Byrd
Origami Tessellations - Awe-inspiring Geometric Designs, Eric Gjerde
I hope you enjoyed this newsletter! I will hopefully write more regularly like I used to, now that I am settling in and finding my creative voice again. Until then, take care and be kind to yourselves, friends!
I would like to acknowledge that I have created my art for the past 7+ years while occupying the ancestral and unceded homelands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples. As of May 2022, I have been living and creating on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka.
About Land Acknowledgements: