The Fiber Wire

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Cook that Flax!

This semester I enrolled in an introductory pulping and bleaching course. Historically the lab part of the course walked students through the pulping and bleaching sequence using wood chips. Thanks to a donation to the college of locally grown flax fiber we got to experiment a bit.

Fibers from flax used in paper making (and in making linen cloth) are bast fibers, found in the stems of the plant. These cellulose fibers are long and strong. Cooking the fibers in strong alkaline solution you can start to separate the desired cellulose from the undesired lignin.

We loaded the batch digester with pre-soaked flax and charged it with our sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution based on cooking parameters calculated in lab. If the calculations were off, the alkali could be consumed and the lignin deposited back on the fiber. This condition is forebodingly termed the ‘dangerous cooking crest.’

Sealing the digester before the soda cook

Sealing the digester before the soda cook

Four hours later and the fiber was done. We were expecting it to take 2.5 hours but the best laid plans. . . a safety valve on the steam delivery system broke and we had to stop the cook to make repairs. The fiber is rinsed and waiting in the cooler for next week’s lab now. We’ll see what kind of lignin content we are left with!

9 comments on “Cook that Flax!

  1. janeingramallen
    April 6, 2014

    Thanks for posting this about cooking flax! I have done much experimenting with plant fibers for papermaking in Taiwan and other countries and have published a book that has recipes for making paper from 350 plants of Taiwan that I completed in 2004 and 2005 during my “Made in Taiwan” Fulbright Scholar Award grants. I have not had a chance to experiment with flax as it is not grown in Taiwan or other countries where I have done this work. I will look for your next posts about how it turns out! Good luck and happy papermaking,
    Jane

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    • thefiberwire
      April 7, 2014

      Hi, Jane! It’s amazing that you experimented with 350 plants. That sounds like an incredible amount of work. Is there a link you can share with more information about your book and your Fulbright experience? I’m glad you found the post useful. Part II is coming up this Friday!

      Like

      • janeingramallen
        April 7, 2014

        Hi, Thanks so much for your reply. I still have a few copies of my book “Made in Taiwan: an American Papermaking Artist’s Journey Around Taiwan.” You can order the book directly from me and I will sign it and include a small sample of a paper made from a plant of Taiwan used in this project. The cost of the book is US$25.00 that covers the shipping and handling to most places. The book has been reviewed in the magazine HAND PAPERMAKING and also in FIBER ARTS. You can email me for more information and maybe I can send the .pdf file that has the reviews. Good luck with the flax! I will keep looking on your posts to see how it turns out. I have used what they call ramie here for papermaking in Taiwan that is similar in texture to flax/linen but an entirely different plant. You can find links on my web page http://www.janeingramallen.com about my Fulbright project and the book.
        Thanks again and hope we can stay in touch.
        Best,
        Jane

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        • thefiberwire
          April 8, 2014

          Hi, Jane! I’ve heard of ramie being used in papermaking but haven’t read much about it or tried it myself. Please reserve a copy of your book for me- I’ll look forward to its arrival! Thanks for the link and for the luck with the flax. There will be an update this Friday!

          Like

          • janeingramallen
            April 9, 2014

            Hi Genvieve and Velma, Thanks so much and I am happy to send you a copy of my book Genvieve, a ssoon as i get back to California on June 2. Please send me another message with your complete mailing address and a reminder when I get back. I can then figure out the shipping cost and we can do the payment through PayPal…..do you know that system? I have also used nettles for papermaking at a residency in England, and they are from the same family as ramie. Both were pretty good for papermaking! Hope your flax turns out well and I will keep watching your posts. We will stay in touch.
            Thanks so much,
            Jane

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          • thefiberwire
            April 9, 2014

            Yup, PayPal and I are old friends. 😉 I’ll look forward to it. And the eventual Papermaking Around the World book you’ll write some day, too. 🙂

            Like

  2. velma
    April 8, 2014

    hey, genvieve, jane’s book is great, and so is flax! i’ve a bunch i grew waiting…waiting…

    Like

    • janeingramallen
      April 9, 2014

      Hi Velma,
      Thanks so much for your comment on the fiberwire Blog about my book….Made in Taiwan, and glad to hear you like it. I have used lots of fibers around the world in different residencies and really need to write a new book….something like papermaking around the world! I do need some contacts with a publisher interested in the book though as I don’t have the money to self-publish I think….
      I am busy in Taiwan now for the next month and then back to CA in the USA.
      Where are you now? Flax does sound like fun to experiment with too. I have used the prepared flax ordered from Carriage House Paper in Brooklyn and loved it especially overbeaten flax that has a crisp texture and takes its own shape for 3-D work in paper pulp. I know lots of papermaking artists who love it too! Here’s my latest project in Taiwan now on my Blog at http://janeingramallen.wordpress.com
      Keep in touch and best wishes,
      Jane

      Like

    • thefiberwire
      April 9, 2014

      Great! Can’t wait to get my paws on it. You have a whole bunch of flax you say? Do you need another set of hands for the processing?

      Like

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This entry was posted on March 28, 2014 by in Paper College and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .
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