Earlier this year, at a Utah Surface Design Group meeting, I got to watch a demonstration of Joomchi. Joomchi is an ancient Korean paper felting technique. It is an obscure craft, originally passed down through oral traditions, that is just now enjoying a resurgence among handmade paper artists. The earliest written record of joomchi is during the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). There was a time in Korea when woven fabrics were too expensive, so people made garments from joomchi.
I’ve been wanting to try this myself, but didn’t trust my handwritten notes from the demonstration, so I went looking on the internet. I could not find a single tutorial, or even much information about the craft at all. There is a highly recommended book by Jiyoung Chung who is a leading contemporary joomchi artist. I’ll get that when I can, but until then I decided to rely on my memory. Be forewarned, this was an experiment, and it didn’t turn out right actually. I’ll show you what I did anyway.
You start with mulberry, or handmade, paper. You can buy this in huge sheets at art supply stores. I remembered that I had some small sheets, and decided that would be good to practice with. This is messy, so I did it in the kitchen. You put down your first sheet of paper and thoroughly soak it with water. The artist doing the demo used a spray bottle, but not knowing where mine was hiding, I just used a sponge brush and a bowl of water. Lay down your next sheet and wet it. Carefully smooth out all the air bubbles. Again, the artist had a special tool for this. I used my hands and the sponge. Keep doing this; you should have at least 3 or 4 layers. On the top layer I placed some punched flowers.
Next, accordion fold the stack of wet paper, then roll it like a snail. Now go play with this ball for about 20 minutes, squeezing and squishing. I just checked my notes again, and found one of my mistakes. If my handwriting were more legible, perhaps I wouldn’t have missed this! After the first 20 minutes, unroll it, roll it up the other way, and do another 20 minutes. Ahhhh! Now I get it!
Now, carefully unroll the paper and flatten it out. Wet it again (I wonder if you’re supposed to wet it a second time between the 20 minute squeeze sessions). Pinch fold it with your fingers. Twist it to ring out the water.
Lay it out flat to dry. I took a rolling pin to it at this point to really flatten it out. I do remember her saying that when it was felted enough there should be pinholes. I don’t think there were really any pinholes in mine. To be honest, my hands hurt and I didn’t want to squeeze it anymore.
This is what it looks like dried. The final product should be soft and pliable like fabric. Mine is pretty stiff, and one of those flowers keeps trying to come off. I also remember the artist saying that there was some kind of “handmade” paper that you buy in craft stores that doesn’t felt because of the way it’s processed and chemicals that are in it. I don’t really know where this paper came from or what it’s made of. I do plan to try again and this time do the second 20 minute squeeze, along with some battering with a rolling pin. That should do the trick! In the meantime, I do plan to make use of this piece for my Arthouse Co-op Random Spark project. More on that later:)
Have a beautiful weekend!