Saturday, January 15, 2011

Making Paper: Part 2

We have paper! Sort of.

We researched commercial methods of creating paper from jute (the plant from which burlap is made) and there is still currently experimentation going on at that level for how to do it. Some use strong alkaline solutions, while others use powerful acids. We didn't want to do either. So we tried soda ash, which is sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda), which is widely used as a water softener. Pretty safe stuff.

So we chopped up the burlap sack, and put some in water with some soda ash, and boiled it. It smelled terrible. After boiling we let it sit for a while.

We put the soup in the blender, and immediately noticed a difference. It seemed to be breaking up very well. So we poured it in the mould and pressed the pulp, and out came a sheet...of paper!

We blended some more of it, and got a second piece of paper.

We made pulp, and made paper. However, it’s not very strong. The fibers are still (relatively) very large. And it much more resembles felt than paper. We tried another batch from scratch, but it kept boiling over from too much soda ash. So we’re still figuring it out. We might start experimenting with adding waste paper to the mix.

In other news, gardening is moving forward. We’ve continued to meet with different organizations in the area about community gardening, and two of our missionaries attended their first Gateway Greening Growing Gardeners class.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Making Paper: Part 1

The products that Sun Ministries makes in its sewing center are made up of almost all reclaimed materials, and we enjoy being able to do that. The coffee roasting companies go through so many burlap sacks that some don't know what to do with them. And we get the privelege of turning them into products that not only give us skills we can teach to others, but provide us with funding to keep doing everything we do.

However, we end up with a lot of burlap sacks, and even after we cut what we need from them, we are left with barrels of waste burlap.

We've heard that you can make paper from jute, which is the plant material that is woven into burlap. We started the new year experimenting with this process. We could find no clear information for turning jute burlap into paper, so we read up on making recycled paper and tried our best.

We assembled our tools, and set up a makeshift paper making station, which included: a basin for water, a blender, a food processor, a piece of wood, a potato masher, an old metal tray for a drain pan, coffee pots set up making really hot water, and our hand made mould and deckle (basically wooden frames for making paper). Then we cut up the sack into little pieces and let it soak for a few hours in hot water. After that, we dumped the mess, which looked like wet hair, into the blender, and blended. And blended. And blended. We couldn't seem to make "pulp". Undeterred, we spread out the blended wet jute on to our mould (a screen stretched over a frame), let the water drain, set the mess between some pieces of fabric, and pressed it between boards under the weight of a hefty tool box, and waited.

We produced what looked like dried, matted pet hair. It could be called a sheet, but it definitely was not paper.

We tried again, this time putting dry burlap pieces in the food processor before blending, and ended up with something that looked like a small kitten.

We have since researched some technical papers on the commercial manufacturing of jute paper, and it appears soaking in an alkaline solution is necessary. So we will continue in our experimentation using the safest materials possible. In the mean time, we have also developed some smaller products which will use more of each coffee bag, and we are also offering whole bags for sale, so you can experiment with your own crafts. We will keep you posted on our efforts.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Products Available Online

2011 will be a year to expand the reach of the Opportunity Center. Our unique one of a kind products have gained us a growing group of retailers in the St. Louis area. Visit our web site for a complete list. The best selection of one of a kind products will always be found at our retailers and the different festivals or craft shows we attend.

For those of you outside the St. Louis area we have added an online store with a selection of products from the Opportunity Center. These products are consistent designs based on our one of a kind creations. We also include some items that we don't sell through retailers.

Take a minute to visit the store and please refer your friends. The greatest source of funding for our work comes from the products we make and sell!

Products with Purpose™ Store