Wednesday, December 9, 2009

artisans: paper craft africa

The green hills of Kampala are rich with pineapple, banana, papyrus, elephant grass. You can see the bounty of these natural gifts on any roadside market in the country - stalls filled with juicy pineapples, big bananas, tiny bananas, green matooke bananas, winnowing baskets woven from grasses and papyrus.

Paper Craft Africa sees another use for the unused parts of these abundant crops - fiber for paper. Founded in 2006, Paper Craft Africa creates jobs for women in a village on the outskirts of Kampala. Not far from Entebbe Airport, there's a small sign pointing to the workshop - a brick house tucked into the hillside, with a front yard filled with drying racks. When we visited, the racks were filled with a beautiful lime-green paper.

The artisans at Paper Craft know the process inside and out, and the beautiful finished products really shows their talent.

First, fibers are gathered and chopped into small pieces. They are then boiled with water over a large fire (photo, above left) - a giant steaming cauldron of pre-paper stew. Once the fiber is boiled down, it's left to cool and then stored in large plastic containers. The larger pieces are further broken down using what might be the world's largest blender (photo, right).

When the pieces are small enough for the specific type of paper being made, the water and paper mixture is poured into vat, and a screen stretched over a wooden frame is submerged in the vat. When it's lifted, the fibers stick to the screen. (photo, below left) They are hung to dry in the sun.

Once dry, the pieces are stacked under a large press - making them flat for writing. Voila! Handmade paper, which the Paper Craft ladies then craft into beautiful products like our Journal and 2010 Diary.

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