But such pleasurable madness, and I slept so very well* afterwards! Helga, Di, Glenda and I spent two full-on days of multi-tasking paper-making at Wallace House** in Noosa. I hardly know how to tell the story, as so many things were happening simultaneously the entire time we were there.
Outside to the left of the roller door there was a big copper boiling up two batches of fresh plant material in separate net bags: the Chinese Burr bark that Helga and I had prepared, and fresh ginger stems and leaves that Di had collected from a ginger root seller at the market (this area is famous for its ginger production).
To the right of the roller door was an ingenious homemade device combining an insinkerator with a hospital trolly, which when appropriate hoses were attached for input and output chewed through the moderately coarse plant matter like ginger and lemon grass, but got hairballs from the Burr bark.
Inside in one corner was Alph*** the Hollander beater which variously chewed its way through Hamil Grass, lemon grass, ginger, recycled paper, and of course the Chinese Burr. The Alph is horribly noisy, especially when grinding up recycled paper, and particularly in the echoing environment of the unlined tin shed in which we were working. But I can certainly appreciate its talent for fluffing up fibres. The Burr bark went into the beater as tight stringy clumps and emerged much later as a loose fibrous soggy fluff perfect for making paper.
Removing pulp from the beater is a long and labourious scooping out with sives into a bucket. I quite enjoyed this part of it, not least because the beater's motor was blessedly silent, and of course with my well-documented proclivity for long and labourious fiddly jobs. The Burr pulp came out a very dark brown so Helga added some judicious slops of household bleach. Before our very eyes the brown pulp gradually faded to an attractive honey blonde and eventually a clotted cream before we rinsed out the bleach.
Making the pulp into sheets of paper took place on a table in the centre of the room, where the pulp was added to a large trough of water. By the second day we had two troughs being worked simultaneously, one on each end of the not terribly big table. The ratio of pulp to water required to make a standard sheet of paper is almost undetectable to the untrained eye, though with practice I did get better at seeing what was happening in the trough.
As the new girls, Glenda and I had the honour of doing the first batches and we started with the Hamil grass which had come through its long processing still a bright beautiful shade of green. It was a light and fluffy pulp, relatively easy (I realise in retrospect) to pull into relatively consistent sheets of paper.
*Other chronic insomniacs will appreciate the attractiveness of any activity that induces a rare good sleep.
**Wallace House is a big old homestead used by numerous art and craft groups: while I was there I saw potters, painters, life drawing, water colours, embroiderers and quilters- and every day of the week the centre is booked for these and many other diverse activities.
*** Named Alph-a-beater by Victor the inveterate punster. It's actually what's called a Critter, made by Mark Lander a New Zealander widely credited for transforming papermaking into an affordable and transportably activity thanks to his clever invention.