Hanji in California: Part 1

The final installation of this three-part series on Korean book and paper, sponsored by the CLS Alumni Development Fund, features a weekend hanji demonstration at Logos Graphics in San Francisco on March 16-18, 2018. This final entry, which is in two parts, will provide a rundown of the event, but — as all papermakers know — before actually forming sheets at the vat, so much prep had already taken place. So let us start from the beginning.


When I came back from my summer in Korea in 2014, I brought back a small bal, or screen, with the intention of one day using it to make paper. It was an act of faith, as at that point I had only made hanji for a couple days with a hanji artist and Buddhist nun named Youngdam Sunim in Cheungdo and had not yet had my month-long apprenticeship at Jangjibang.

making hanji
Making hanji with Youngdam Sunim in 2014
Master Yoo Screenmaking
Master Yoo in 2014 with papermaking screens that I ordered

But I did not order a bal teul, or frame, to fit the bal. I also did not have a vat big enough to form sheets. And I needed a bunch of other stuff too (like press boards, felts, couching guides, yada yada).

When I returned to Korea on the Fulbright in 2015-2016, I visited Master Yoo again and ordered another, bigger bal (60 x 80cm), this time with the matching bal teul.

jangjibang bal
Master Yoo in 2015, holding a bal in-progress

I don’t know when I will ever have access to (or space for) a vat big enough to make 60 x 80cm hanji, but in any case, I brought the bigger bal + teul set back to Sacramento, where they sat in a closet collecting dust for 18 months while I tended to the birth and first year of my baby daughter.

Then, thanks to this CLS ADF grant, I received some funding for papermaking equipment and gathered all of the hanji tools that I had packed away in suitcases, in boxes, in my parents’ garage, under the bed, hidden in closets, etc. With Aimee Lee’s Hanji Unfurled in one hand and Tim Barrett’s Japanese Papermaking in the other (and a bunch of Googling when I wasn’t referencing their books), I figured out what I needed to make hanji in California.

jim and bal teul
Jim Poelstra with the bal teul that he built

I was very, very lucky to work with Jim Poelstra of Affordable Binding Equipment in Lodi, which is about 40 minutes from Sacramento. From the moment I got in touch with him I knew I struck gold. Jim was excited to be a part of carrying on the tradition of Korean papermaking and was committed to building what I needed to make it happen. He used my larger bal + teul set as a model for building the smaller teul for my smaller bal. Rather than epoxy the bal teul together, he built it the traditional way, with wooden beams that fit into slots and that can all be disassembled.

bal teul disassembled
bal teul disassembled

Aside from a portable vat and portable bal teul, he also built me a set of couching guides, beating mallets, a bunch of press boards and a couching surface. He researched Korean papermaking, studied many videos and made sure he understood what all this equipment was for. (He also makes beautiful sewing frames, presses, and other equipment for bookbinders and papermakers alike!)

frame joint
bal teul joint (photo courtesy of Jim Poelstra)
frame support rail
bal teul support rail (photo courtesy of Jim Poelstra)


My friend and former classmate Amy Richard discovered that paper mulberry trees (kozo in Japanese; dak in Korean) are invasive in her part of Florida. Over the years, she and her husband Joe have mastered the art of harvesting, steaming, stripping, and scraping mulberry bark. They are now offering both scraped and unscraped bark for sale. Florida kozo produces a beautiful, white sheet. I ordered 2 pounds of scraped kozo and was super excited to receive it in the mail!

florida kozosoaking kozo

On Wednesday before the workshop, I soaked the kozo in water overnight and the following morning, I scurried all over town to find a stainless steel pot big enough to cook 2 pounds of dry fiber. I got a gigantic pot at a restaurant supply store and I am embarrassed to show a picture of it because I quickly realized that it was unnecessarily and absurdly enormous.

soaked fiber ready to cook
Soaked mulberry ready to cook
I did an 18% cook in soda ash for about 1 hr 45 minutes

After I turned off the heat, I let the fiber sit in the hot water for a while, and then that evening I rinsed it in water.

winnie overseeing
Using Winnie’s bathtub to rinse cooked kozo

My mother-in-law saw these photos and scolded me for not using gloves. She was right — what was I thinking! No wonder my hands were chapped the next day.

final rinse

The following morning I packed up my car and after dropping Winnie off at my parents’, I head over to San Francisco.

hanji equipment in rav4
It all fit in my car!

John Sullivan, printer, papermaker, and proprietor of Logos Graphics, was my partner in crime for the weekend. He worked with me and Jim on planning out the hanji equipment and provided me with lots of advice and knowledge to help plan out the weekend. He generously opened up his shop space to host the hanji demo and turned it into a party by inviting several participants to join in the fun (and hard work). Here is John, helping me set up the hanji vat at Logos!

john assembling
John Sullivan, setting up the vat
john assembling
Setting up the vat took less than an hour
vat on pallet jack
We set the vat onto John’s pallet jack, which was convenient for adjusting the height

Once the vat was all set up, we continued to process our raw material in preparation for the following day of sheetforming.

picking cooked kozo
Photo courtesy of Lars Kim

Normally after cooking fiber I would spend hours, hunched over a tray of fiber and tepid water, picking out brown bits and making sure everything was super clean. We skipped this step completely, but did take a few minutes to take out any tough spots. Overall, the fiber was pretty darn clean, thanks to Amy’s superior scraping skills.

beating apparatus
Our beating apparatuses

Two workshop participants (Youngmi and Jennifer) along with two Logosians (Lars and Emily) participated in beating, and among the five of us, we beat the fiber for about one hour.

Beating kozo is fun!

lars and youngmi beating

beating mallets
Jim Poelstra made these beating mallets

After beating we mixed up way too much formation aid. The formation aid was polyacrylamide powder (PNS) aka coagulant, which I purchased from Carriage House in Brooklyn, NY. Here we are mixing formation aid: one person to pour the powder, one person to hold the drill mixer, one person to hold the hose, one person to take a pic. Surely there is an easier way to do this, but this way everybody was included!

mixing formation aid
Lots of formation aid

Once the raw material was all prepped and the equipment was all ready, we went home and geared up for the following full day of papermaking!

Continue on to Part 2 of Hanji in California.


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