Abaca Workshop

Abaca Workshop

I had a wonderful 3-day workshop in Portland last weekend at the Oregon College of Art & Craft. Ten ambitious and enthusiastic women brought their diverse skills into the classroom to create a variety of interesting objects.
The table above is filled with samples I brought made from abaca, a plant fiber which is extracted from the trunk of a non-fruit-bearing banana tree. I beat the abaca for 5 hours in a Reina beater (many people refer to this as overbeaten abaca). The long beating makes the paper both translucent and high shrinking).
This fiber has fascinated me for almost 20 years and led to the production of my film Water Paper Time in 2008. If you watch the trailer for the film, you’ll get a glimpse into what took place each night after we left the studio and as the paper dried.
We spread out into two work spaces so that each participant had their own vat and couching station.
We focused on two primary techniques: 1. embedding string, wire and other natural materials between sheets of abaca; and 2. building wire armatures to cover with paper.
Nicole embedded sheeps wool “drawings” between sheets of paper and laminated wet sheets onto a 15″ ballloon.
She hung the papered balloon to dry.
Thankfully, the balloon stayed in tact during drying and was a spectacle during show and tell when illuminated.
Rebecca spent a good portion of the workshop (and the evenings in between) constructing two armatures from copper and steel wire.
She patiently covered the armature panel by panel.
Rebecca brought in a turned wooden base that she’d fabricated in another OCAC workshop, which will become the base for one of these shades.
Nancy brought in found objects, such as this topiary, which she covered with paper.
Diane turned a sheet that was a flop into this interesting form. Above you see it wet.
And here it is dry.
Nicole created this armature. Before,
and after.
IMG_4551Sanda covers her armature, perhaps not expecting how much shrinkage might occur.IMG_4602
The finished sculpture!
Diane embedded floral wire wrapped in raffia and hemp threads between her sheets.

Here are the four sheets connected to a wire lamp base.
And that wasn’t everything these women created! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse from our weekend. Feel free to share your own abaca creations with us in the comment section below.


  1. Marel Kalyn says:

    Really enjoyed seeing these wonderful pieces created by your students in your June 2013 Abaca Workshop at OCAC, Helen! Looks like everyone had a lot of fun!

  2. GARCIA says:

    Very excited to be inspired by you talented ladies! Congrats!

  3. Lisa C. says:

    Such amazing and beautiful creations! Please let me know if you ever come to Massachusetts. I would LOVE to attend one of your workshops.
    I would also love to know where Nicole (making the balloon lantern) got her eyeglass frames.

    • Helen says:

      HI Lisa,
      Thanks for the note! I was in MA a couple of years ago, but would welcome the opportunity to come back! Please go to my home page (https://www.helenhiebertstudio.com) and sign up for my newsletter, so that you receive notices about upcoming workshops, etc. All the best, Helen

  4. Eglė Kručiuvienė says:

    Hello, I want to make such lamps sculpters, please tell how you wrap armature forms and what kind of paper it is? Thank you

  5. kathleen jarvis says:

    Where can I get a copy of your film Water Paper Time