Experimental Papermaking

I’m a huge fan of experimental papermaking, which takes many forms of course (quick, what did you think of when you read that phrase?).

My version of experimental papermaking involves embedding string and wire between sheets of high shrinkage abaca to see what happens as the sheets dry, something I began exploring in 1993 when I was introduced to the idea in a class at the Penland School of Crafts.

The lampshade you see here began as two flat, rectangular sheets of abaca that were laminated wet, with wire placed between the sheets. The form took this shape as it dried – the tension of the high shrinkage abaca reacted to the tension in the wire. I don’t think I will ever tire of doing these experiments, and this is what I’d study if I were to get an MFA or a PhD.

Bell Lamp, @ 1995, Helen Hiebert

Bell Lamp, @ 1995, Helen Hiebert

It is so much fun to leave wet paper experiments in the studio and to come back the next day to discover the transformation. In 2008, I made a film called Water Paper Time , which shows paper drying through time-lapse animation. 

Here’s the trailer, and if you are interested in viewing the entire 9-minute film, you can purchase a copy of the DVD, a 16-minute film about my work with abaca that includes dialogue and music, as well as The Secret Life of Paper: a nine-minute stop-motion video of paper moving in time (two versions, with and without a soundtrack).

String embedded between sheets of abaca during the wet papermaking process results in a fabric-like material.

abaca paper with embedded string

abaca paper with embedded string

Embedded wire creates a sculptural material that can be manipulated and shaped.

Embedded wire paper: student work from a Minnesota Center for Book Arts workshop, 2011

Embedded wire paper: student work from a Minnesota Center for Book Arts workshop, 2011

I use these techniques in my own artwork and installations, but I also teach them at my Red Cliff Paper Retreat and when I travel to other papermaking studios. These workshops are experimental in nature, and I find it intriguing to see how students take what I show them and run in different directions.

My upcoming class at the University of Utah is called Experimental Papermaking, and I can’t wait to share with you what my students create!


So, what did your mind conjure when you read the phrase experimental paeprmaking?

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I’m Helen Hiebert!

THE SUNDAY PAPER brings you stories and examples of people doing exciting, innovative, and beautiful things with paper, as well as link to interesting paperfacts from around the globe. Read all about it here!

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