The Fiber Wire

Plugged in and turned on. All paper. All the time.

The Transformative Power of Papermaking

In the fall of 2011 I was in a pretty rough place. My grandmother was in a car accident that put her in a month-long coma and eventually resulted in her death. I got the call that a friend had killed himself after a lifelong struggle with alcoholism. I was leaving my boyfriend of three years, which involved moving out on my own again. It was in this time of emotional upheaval that I first made a sheet of paper. I’m sharing this as evidence of the healing capabilities of hand papermaking.

When I interviewed Whitney Korstange she said something that really stood out to me. She said:

Few things are as transformative as paper.

I experienced this for myself that fall when I enrolled in a hand papermaking course at Syracuse University. Rhythmic and methodical, forming sheet after sheet was meditative and the idea that I was creating something from essentially nothing was cathartic.

One paper that was particularly therapeutic for me started with a walk on the shores of Lake Ontario. There had been a powerful storm the night before. As I walked I found dozens of monarch butterflies in the cobblestones, probably victims of the strong winds.


I collected them as I walked. Milkweed was growing nearby and I clipped a few seed pods and went to the studio. I learned that milkweed seeds are very resistant to water and it took a lot of blender pulsing to get them broken down. With the help of some homemade okra formation aid I got them dispersed in the water. Then I added the monarch wings, fragile and beautiful, one by one.

handmade paper butterfly

Grief is universal yet uniquely personal and I recognize that I cannot fully convey how papermaking worked its healing in my life. When that process was over I had reached an understanding for myself. Death and loss can seem cruel and senseless but memories stay and take on their own beauty. New beginnings are still possible.

Two organizations doing transformative work with handmade paper are Combat Paper and Peace Paper Project. If you know of any other groups or have a story of your own, I’d love to hear about it.

9 comments on “The Transformative Power of Papermaking

  1. Linda Rae
    April 10, 2014

    As an art therapist I can totally see the transformative aspect of your process. I especially loved your statement, “New beginnings are still possible.” Bravo to you!


    • thefiberwire
      April 11, 2014

      Thank you for the encouragement, Linda Rae! Do you ever use papermaking or paper in your work? I did a papermaking workshop once with a women’s support group. Everyone brought in their old journals and letters and we pulped them up with other fibers and botanicals if they wanted. Then we made new journals with our blank sheets.


  2. CelesteRegal
    April 12, 2014

    Brave of you to talk directly. Excited to hear about everything you’re up to. Lived in Ithaca for 12 years so I know the scenario. Thanks for digging up my defunct blog. I’m onto it.


    • thefiberwire
      April 13, 2014

      Thank you for the support and happy to offer mine in return! I’ve been to Ithaca a handful of times,too. Mostly to see music and go hiking. 🙂


  3. Jolie B
    April 23, 2014

    What a wonderful combination for you to take us along on your journey for collecting, healing and such, especially enjoy your outcome on the sheet, like a double transformation for both you and the butterflies — I did a short story you can find at Spaces To Create or a video at thanks again for sharing your story

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thefiberwire
    April 24, 2014

    Thanks for your words and I’m glad that you shared some of your own work, too!


  5. velma
    October 1, 2014

    genevieve, this is so beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. thefiberwire
    October 2, 2014

    Thank you, Velma! ❤


  7. Lauren Pearlman Sugita
    November 21, 2015

    Sign me up!
    Meeting and Drew and Margaret in March was tranformational. And making paper with Michelle Samour in May after not making it for a while brought me back to my initial reason why i started down the “paper road” more than 25 yrs ago.

    Liked by 1 person

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