I’m guessing that many of you have heard about the giant origami elephant folded by Sipho Mabona in Switzerland. It is 10 feet tall, folded from a single sheet of paper. Mabona has received a lot of attention for this project (as he should), but I got to wondering about the paper…
As it so happens, I’d heard the paper was made at Cave Paper in Minneapolis, a hand papermaking studio run by Amanda Degener and Bridget O’Malley (both friends and colleagues of mine).
I caught up with Amanda this morning and asked her a few questions:
HH: How did you develop the paper?
AD: We used belgian flax, the same fiber we use for all of our papers, with white pigment. At first we thought we could pour one large sheet, but after making a test sheet, we realized that it wouldn’t be strong enough to fold. The fiber is inherently strong, but there wasn’t a way to press a sheet that large (pressing helps compact the fibers and makes the bonds stronger).
HH: I’ve seen images of the project, and it didn’t look like it was one sheet of paper.
AD: In the end it was one sheet of paper measuring 15 x 15 meters. But you’re right. In order to make a sheet that was strong enough to fold, we decided to make smaller sheets of paper (they made over 2000 sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper from 300 pounds of fiber – that is fifteen 20 lb beater loads of belgian flax). We “sandwiched” these sheets in between poured layers of pulp so that in the end it looked like one sheet. We were concerned about overlapping the smaller sheets when we placed them on the poured layer, because the overlap would create varying thicknesses in the sheet which could inhibit folding. So we actually double-couched 17″ x 23″ sheets in the center of 18″ x 24″ sheets. When we overlapped the sheets, the thinner areas around the edges (which were 1/2 the sheet thickness) created one sheet thickness. (Readers, are you following me? This is quite ingenious, but I’m not sure I’m explaining it clearly).
HH: Wow, I’ve seen other documentation and it seems like you had to ship smaller sheets that Mabona then joined. Is that right?
AD: Yes. We had to deal with international freight restrictions and the timing was such that the paper had to ship by air. We made six “stripes” of handmade paper measuring 8′ x 15 meters. These were rolled together and packed into a large rectangular crate made special order. We attached flaps to the edges of the sheets so that all Mabona had to do was apply glue with a roller to attach them.
HH: How long did this take and how many people were involved?
AD: We had a crew of 10 volunteers and interns that were willing to brave 23 below zero weather to come out and assist us in December. Bridget supervised the papermaking at the Cave, and I oversaw the assembly of the sheets at a nearby warehouse. As you can imagine, we needed a lot of floor space! The entire project took 5 weeks.
Here’s a time-lapse video of what happened after the paper arrived in Switzerland.
Do you own a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records to see what the world record is for the largest sheet of handmade paper? I did a quick search here and there are several claims, but each one has its own twist. I’m pretty sure this would be the record for the largest sheet made from belgian flax.
Playing With Pop-Ups!
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Ive always had a fantasy of doing a 10′ crane origami.
I wish I knew how to slow done the vid just a bit to see it better!
Thanks for sharing this.
Do you know what material was used to pour and dry large sheets on?
Helen, I’m sorry I did not see this comment until now. I do not. You’ll have to ask the folks at the Cave.
[…] Fine artists and bookbinders use Cave Papers and there are customized papers created for unique projects. When I was interning they were making sheets for wallpaper for an interior designer. Recently they completed a 30 x 30 foot sheet of flax paper for artist Sipho Mabona to fold into a 10 foot origami elephant (you can read more about the project on Helen Hiebert’s blog). […]
We read this great article! Good stuff