Remembering Paper Bowls

Way back in the last century (really!), I made paper bowls. Most of them were made from paper I also handmade. In those years, I had a big garden and grew vegetables and after picking the summer’s bounty, I’d cook the stems down, beat the fiber into usable paper fiber and make handmade bowls.

Yesterday, a reader asked me if she could find instructions for how I made the bowls. Surprisingly, I’d never posted it. High time to help more people make handmade paper bowls! Here’s how I did it way back then:

Lotus bowl, layered.

Lotus bowl, layered. © Quinn McDonald

You can make or buy handmade paper. Some machine made papers will work, but nothing with a distinct print on it.  Rice paper, the kind with visible threads is very thin. You’ll need lots of layers to make it work, but it is beautiful.

Don’t use the really thick bark papers as you will have to soak them and the bowl will warp. It’s best to use the same kind of paper to make the whole bowl.

Chose a small bowl, about 3 inches in diameter and about 3-4 inches high.
Coat is lightly with Vaseline on the inside only. Lightly is the key word. Rub it on so there is a sheen of it on the bowl.
You will build your bowl on the inside of the bowl.

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Inside view of lotus bowl. © Quinn McDonald

Tear the handmade paper into small, round-ish pieces. Not strips. The pieces should be about 1.5 inches in diameter. You can use squarish pieces, too, but you don’t want any distinct corners.

Pour a tablespoon of white glue (I like PVA glue, bookbinders glue) into a container (like a clean, small yogurt dish) and add a teaspoon or two of filtered water. Mix so the resulting mixture is as thick as light cream.

Using a flat paintbrush (like you would use for painting acrylic paint) about 0.5 inch broad, dip the brush into glue, put a piece of paper at the bottom of the bowl, and paint over it with the glue. Overlap other pieces of paper over the first, working in a circle around the bottom, then up the sides. When you have one layer in the bowl, stop and let it dry completely. Add at least a total of three layers to form a substantial bowl. Tear the top edge so it appears to be deckled, but keep it even around the edge.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl.

Inside view of blossom-coated bowl. © Quinn McDonald

When the last layer is completely dry, slip a palette knife in between the bowl and paper and slide the knife around the edge like you do to release a cake from the cake form.

Gently remove the paper bowl from the ceramic bowl and put the paper bowl on the bottom, outside of the ceramic bowl. The paper bowl is now outside and the ceramic bowl inside. In most shape, it won’t be a tight fit, but you are looking to keep the rim stable. Now add another layer of paper and glue to the outside. Allow to dry completely.

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

Coral bowl © Quinn McDonald

You can coat the bowl with polyurethane, but bowls should not be used to hold wet or damp items. I don’t use them for food, either. They can hold soap, paper clips, and other small items. I like them empty, with the sun coming through them. When I still made them and people asked what they would hold, I’d say, “They hold your attention, not liquids or food.”

–Quinn McDonald has wondered about Monsoon Papers and bowls. But she really doesn’t make bowls anymore. Lately.

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8 thoughts on “Remembering Paper Bowls

  1. I remember those bowls. I love your paper work and still enjoy the 2 collage pieces, and the necklaces, that I got from you all those years ago. I wish I lived closer to you as I would love to take your class on monsoon paper making.

  2. Beautiful bowls, especially the lotus one. 🙂 I have made one or two too years and years ago from silk paper and it was really fun and interesting to work with object that has an inside and an outside. That requires a different kind of thinking that painting or even “regular” sculpting.

    When I hear/read about things made out of paper I always think about the Victorians and their paper mache furniture, e.g this one: http://www.rubylane.com/item/293185-T351/Victorian-Checkerboard-Paper-Machex27-Stand-Mother So if someone feels paper bowls are not a challenge enough… 😉 Also, I stumbled across a picture of an amazing paper dragon in Wikipedia and followed the link here: http://www.gourmetpapermache.com/ Amazing is the word! Paper is so much more than just for drawing stuff.

    P.S. I’d love to try my hands on monsoon paper making some day!

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