Monthly Archives: April 2014

Understanding Paper Grain Direction

Happy Mother's Day accordion book open

 Knowing the paper grain direction was important when I made this Happy Mother’s Day accordion book. I wanted the folds to be crisp and clean. In addition, when making a book, the grain direction of the boards, the paper covering the boards and the paper inside the book need to all go in the same direction.

Have you ever noticed that folding along one direction of a piece of paper will give you nice, crisp straight folds? And that folding along the opposite direction is more difficult, giving you unruly, crinkly folds? That is because of grain direction.

If you’re going to be working with paper, understanding paper grain is important. The paper grain usually runs parallel to one of the edges of the sheet, making it easy to fold or tear along that direction, and difficult to fold or tear in the other direction. I’ll explain why a little later.

This is the inside of the above napkin fold card. It says "grandchildren are the dessert in life."

Grain direction wasn’t important for this Napkin Fold card. There are just as many horizontal as vertical folds. Still, I did make sure that on the center piece, all the papers had the grain going in the same direction.

Up until now, the templates and instructions I’ve shared don’t require the paper grain to be in any particular direction. That is because there have been both horizontal and vertical folds in all the templates I have shared. However, understanding paper grain direction is going to be very important in some to my future projects which will include some simple bookbinding. Don’t stress about this. When paper grain direction is important, I’ll provide a link back to this blog post to refresh your memory.

When paper is manufactured, it starts as wet pulp in water. A mold, or mould, (basically a frame with a screen) is used to pick up the watery pulp and is shaken back and forth by a machine to remove the water and make an even layer of the pulp which will become a sheet of paper. The result of this mechanical shaking makes the fibers of the paper align mostly in one direction, because of the back and forth motion. This is referred to as the paper’s grain direction. With handmade papers, the grain direction is often much less noticeable because the shaking is done by hand and sometimes in both directions.

The direction in which the fibers of the paper line up is called the direction of the grain. The direction of the grain direction can be either vertical (referred to as grain long) or horizontal (referred to as grain short). A typical 8 and 1/2″ by 11″ piece of paper is grain long. This means it is easier to fold the paper in half lengthwise.

Red, orange, yellow and hot pink long stemmed hearts.

When I made these Long Stemmed Hearts, I made sure I folded the hearts with the grain of the paper.

With text weight paper, it’s just easier to fold in one direction than another. However, with cover stock or watercolor paper, it can mean the difference as to whether the paper will crack or tear when it is folded. When using heavy paper, it is best to score the paper first before folding. This is the case, whether folding either with or against the grain. And even then, it is possible that you will have trouble with your fold. Sometimes trial and error will be needed to find a paper that will work for a specific project.

When doing a project that requires folding, try to have all or most of the folds go with the grain and fewer against the grain—if possible. Sometimes it’s the same number of folds. Sometimes it’s a decorated paper, and there’s a certain part that you absolutely must have in a certain place. But like I said before, up until now it hasn’t mattered which way the grain of a paper went because there were about as many horizontal as vertical folds required when I shared a template. For some of my future projects, knowing about paper grain direction will be very helpful.

Paper grain direction is important for more than folding. It also affects how paper behaves when it is torn or when there is moisture as with gluing. When paper is moist or wet, it stretches, usually more in one direction than the other. It also curls with the direction of the grain. So, when gluing two pieces of paper together, you get much better results if the papers have the grain going in the same direction. Binding boards and mat board also have a grain, and they should go in the same direction as the paper when gluing.

How to find a paper’s grain direction:

The easiest way is simply to have the manufacturer tell you. If you purchase a ream or package of paper, one of the numbers is sometimes underlined. The number that is underlined is the grain direction. So, if a package of paper says 11” x 17” (with the 11 underlined), then it is grain short, with the grain in the horizontal direction of the paper. If the 17 is underlined, then it is grain long, with the grain in the vertical direction of the paper.

These are two pieces of the same paper. Both are gently pushed down until resistance is felt. Notice that the one on the left can be pushed down more before resistance is felt? That shows that the paper grain goes lengthwise on this paper.

These are two pieces of the same paper. Both are gently pushed down until resistance is felt. Notice that the one on the left can be pushed down more before resistance is felt? That shows that the paper grain goes lengthwise on this paper.

If you don’t know the grain direction of the paper, the easiest way to check is to see which way the paper bends easiest (without making a crease). The way the paper bends easiest will be in the direction of the grain. This is easiest with heavier paper, but with practice you can usually tell the grain direction of most papers.

Notice the difference in the tear of the paper. The paper tore easily with the grain and was more difficult to tear against the grain. The same thing happens when folding. One direction is easier to fold than the other.

Notice the difference in the tear of the paper. The paper tore easily with the grain and was more difficult to tear against the grain. The same thing happens when folding. One direction is easier to fold than the other.

If you can’t tell a paper’s grain direction by just bending it, you can try tearing it or folding it. It tears or folds easiest in the direction of the grain. If you are tearing or folding against the grain, the tear or fold isn’t as straight and your fold may show signs of cracking, especially with heavy paper.

If bending the paper doesn’t tell you the grain direction, you can tear off a piece of the paper and wet it. It will curl with the direction of the grain.

I know that not everyone will understand by just reading, so I am posting two videos that show how to determine paper grain direction. The first video is by a bookbinder. The second video is by a paper manufacturer.

I look forward to sharing some new fun projects that will be much easier to make when you understand a little about paper grain direction and how to find out which way your paper grain goes.

Hugs to all, Candy

Upcycled Eco-Holder in Honor of Earth Day

I made this Eco-Holder entirely from recycled materials.

I made this Eco-Holder entirely from recycled materials.

In honor of Earth Day, I am sharing one of my Eco-Holders. They are made from 100% recycled material. The paperback books I rescued from being sent to the dump. The tile base I got from Habitat for Humanity ReStore. The dowel that holds the book on the base was from an old bookshelf that fell apart. The bead I picked up at a garage sale.

Enjoy, Candy

My Favorite Tools

Tools I use in my art include  not only pens and pencils and rulers, but also technology. I use an iPod Touch as my camera and photoshop to make sure my photos look like the real thing when I post them on my blog.

Tools I use in my art include not only pens and pencils and rulers, but also technology. I use an iPod Touch as my camera and Photoshop to make sure my photos look like the real thing when I post them on my blog.

For the month of March, I shared a tool a day on my Facebook page. It was fun watching people’s reactions over the course of the month. The responses I received have encouraged me to share with you some of my favorite tools. I hope you find it interesting.

These are my four essential tools: bone folder, Olfa knife, straight edge and cutting mat.

These are my four essential tools: bone folder, Olfa knife, straight edge and cutting mat.

My top four essential tools for the overwhelming majority of my paper arts are bone folders, my trusty Olfa knife, my cutting mats and a good quality straight edge. At least one (if not all) of these tools see use on a daily basis. And with all four, I can do almost any of my paper projects.

This is my favorite ink pot. It's just the perfect depth for dipping my pens into.

This is my favorite ink holder. I just learned that it’s called an inkwell and that what it’s held in is known as an inkstand. It’s just the perfect depth for dipping my pens into.

As a calligrapher, I find myself using ink a lot with my dip pens. Dipping my pen into the bottle of ink is usually messy. This my favorite ink holder. It was left to me by a dear friend many years ago. I believe it’s an antique. I love to use my inkwell because the ink is just the right depth and I don’t get it all over my fingers (quite as much) as when I use the ink bottle itself.

I use quite a variety of pencils, including double pencils.

I use quite a variety of pencils, including double pencils.

I use so many pencils, lots of different pencils for different projects. Most of you, unless you are fellow calligraphers, probably haven’t made or used double pencils. My double pencils are the ones on the right, held together with rubber bands.

Double pencils are used for practicing calligraphy to see more clearly if you have the correct pen angle, branching and other things calligraphers are so interested in improving. I’ve photographed the pencils on a piece of my practice paper I filled with my double pencils.

For seeing tiny details, these are great.

For seeing tiny details, these are great.

Okay, I have to admit it. Sometimes, such as when I am working with tiny lettering or cutting tiny pieces out of a piece of paper, I need to see just a little more clearly. A magnifying glass requires the use of one of my hands and I usually need both for my projects. So, here are the glasses I use in my home studio. I have purple ones for my studio at the Ashland Art Center. They don’t need to be colorful, but it’s fun that they are.

When I need to punch a hole, or lots of holes, this Japanese Hole Punch can't be beat.

When I need to punch a hole, or lots of holes, this Japanese Hole Punch can’t be beat.

My Japanese Hole Punch has interchangeable punches that enable me to punch from 1mm to 4mm holes in paper. I don’t know what I ever did without this tool.

This is my board shear. It will cut paper or mat board or davy board.

This is my board shear. It will cut paper or mat board or davy board.

This is my “paper cutter.” It’s actually a board shear that I bought and had to have shipped from the east coast. It has a foot pedal to clamp down and hold the paper or board while it is cut. I can cut paper or boards for making books up to 29″ in length (or width).

This board shear is what I use to cut the paper I use to make my Earth Spirit Vessels. In the board shear right now is the black paper I’m cutting for my next vessel. The paper starts out 18-3/4″ by 24-3/4″ with four deckled edges. After I’ve squared it and cut the width to 18″,  I’ll cut it into 4″ by 18″ strips, then cut those strips into 2″ by 4″ pieces of paper ready to fold.

This is my camera. It's actually an iPod Touch that I use as my camera. Most all of the photos in my blog have been taken with my iPod Touch.

This is my camera. It’s actually an iPod Touch with a camera built in. Most all of the photos in my blog have been taken with my iPod Touch.

One of my tools is my iPod Touch’s camera which I use to photograph my art. I set up a large piece of watercolor paper in the corner of my living room where there are both east and south facing windows. I put the subject of the photo on it and use my iPod Touch for my camera. This photo is of my one of my latest vessels. In this photo the top row of folded paper hasn’t been glued to the rest of the vessel. If you look closely at the photo, you can see that it’s not quite straight.

People don't usually think of cattails as tools, but they make great inexpensive pens.

People don’t usually think of cattails as tools, but they make great inexpensive pens.

Cattails make great inexpensive pens. I made around 25 of them and taught calligraphy to a 6th grade class once. The teacher had ink and paper, but no pens and no money to buy pens. So I went out and picked cattails. Using a knife, I cut the cattail to make an edged pen point. Put the cattail in ink, then write. By changing the width of the edge, you can make your “pens” write differently. It can be a fun change, even for professional calligraphers.

My book press might be small, but it's just perfect for my purposes.

My book press might be small, but it’s just perfect for my purposes.

When I’m making books, my book press comes in very handy. Before I had my book press I had to resort to hauling around heavy books and various weights. I even went so far as to purchase 50 pounds of lead shot which I stored in plastic vitamin jars (once the vitamins were gone, of course). They still come in handy when I am trying to weigh something down, like gluing the burl wood bases for my Earth Spirit Vessels. Though I don’t think I need need quite so many.

Which doesn't belong, yellow coat hanger, knitting needles or lead shot as one of my paper arts tools?

Which doesn’t belong, yellow coat hanger, knitting needles or lead shot as one of my paper arts tools?

I have a reputation, within my family, for using things as tools in ways they weren’t originally made for. The lead shot I used for weights is one example. Another was the knitting needles I used in bookbinding before I had my metal edged boards to make indentations, or creases, for the opening of hardback books. So when I put 25 yellow plastic clothes hangers on my Christmas Wish List one year, my parents wondered how I was planning on using them in bookbinding, and why they needed to be yellow. The fact that I actually wanted to use them for their intended purpose never occurred to them.

I have a friend who sometimes wants to borrow tools. He has learned to describe the tool in detail without naming it, because I may have it, but know it only as a bookbinding or paste paper tool.  Examples include a carpenters square, wood chisels, calipers and putty knives, which I have finally learned the official names for. There are many others which are simply “my bookbinding tools.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of the tools I use in my paper art.

Happy creating, Candy