02 February 2022

Momigami Tests

Unprinted washi after treatment
Printed washi after treatment

Momigami (揉紙) literally means "rubbed paper" and is a process by which a thick high-quality kozo paper is repeatedly crumpled until it softens and takes on a textile-like quality. Often the paper is treated with some kind of additive, usually konnyaku starch. Paper treated this way was historically used in Japan to make clothing, called kamiko. The konnyaku adds strength to the paper, especially wet strength.

I'm entertaining an idea for using self-printed momigami, so I've been researching it a bit. I seem to have exhausted most of my research resources, so yesterday I decided that the best way for me to figure out how to do it was to take the small amount of info I dug up and just do it. So I just did it. I tried to do it in a quasi-scientific way in order to "measure" my results.

I got some konnyaku powder and tried one of the several recipes I found online. I chose the recipe that called for 1 teaspoon of powder in 1 cup of water, and I'm here to tell you it was too thick. I'll use half that amount of powder next time. I used a 2-inch wide brush to apply the starch to both sides of the paper. 

In my research I found two different ways of doing the konnyaku and crumpling: one was to apply the konnyaku, crush the paper into a loose ball and then crumple it more before letting it dry. The other method was to coat the paper with the konnyaku, let it dry, and then crumple it. I tried both methods to see if there would be a difference.

Treated paper hung to dry. In the shower, of course.

The other thing I was anxious to see was whether the watercolor of mokuhanga-style printing would bleed when soaked with konnyaku and crumpled. I did one sheet of unprinted paper but the rest were rejected mokuhanga prints on several different types of washi.

Here's a report on my results.

• Western cotton rag paper comes out incredibly soft, but it tears easily.
• The thinner the paper the less starch it needs
• Some pigments bleed and offset when wet, especially if crumpled while wet. It seems to be the mineral pigments that bleed. The problem is lessened by doing the crumpling after the konnyaku has dried
• I was surprised to discover that the papers I dried and then crumpled came out softer than the identical papers that I crumpled while wet. My guess is that crumpling while wet drives the starch deeper into the fibers, making them stronger but also "crisper." It turns out that I like my momigami soft.

I still need to do further tests before I settle on what type of paper I'll use for my project.

Yukimi. Top was crumpled while wet and you can see that some pigment bled into the white border. I think it was burnt sienna. The red/yellow interface stayed surprisingly crisp, though.
Shioji. Again, the top was crumpled while wet and the ultramarine blue bled.

Echizen Kozo. The red bled when I did the wet crumpling but held up under dry crumpling. This paper, soft by nature, makes a very soft momigami.


Carpet Bomberz Inc. said...

Hello Annie! So happy to see you blogging again after the interval in between. Especially with these technical experiments. When I read the mention of konnyaku, it reminded me that in Japan, it's also a food item. Used to make a gelatinous like cube, or long stringy noodle, or chewy bit thrown in with other items. It's an interesting history it has, that I also bumped into on the NHK World channel program called Trails to Oishii Tokyo: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/6119001/. I love what you're doing and cannot wait to see what's next.

Annie B said...

Hello Carpet Bomberz! You just made my day with that video! Amazing. So much really interesting background — that the roots are harvested and then re-planted so they can grow another year; seeing the homemade version of konnyaku by the farmer's wife and all the stirring needed (which is needed when making konnyaku for momigami as well); and omg "Konnyaku Park"! Thanks so much for sharing that video, and for saying hi.

Carpet Bomberz Inc. said...

Happy to share the link love, so to speak. I'm always amazed at what NHK does to promote but also just explain in terms of the food culture and history all over Japan. But also finding out how ELSE some food products are used, like in your case it's like paper sizing, where you're trying to change the mechanical/chemical properties of the mokuhanga print to better hold the inks. Or hold them in a predictable manner through a print run. I took 4 semesters of printmaking back in the day. And I had some exposure to linoleum/letterpress back then.

kate smudges said...

Thanks for this information. I am about to use konnyaku on paper
S for bookbinding and am happy that I discovered your blog. This is such helpful information. It’s too bad that blogs have fallen by the wayside. There were wonderful communities and I miss reading and getting to know how other people approached things and their thoughts.

Annie B said...

Hi Kate, thanks for commenting. I miss the days of blogging too. It's funny, the very day you posted here I was thinking that maybe it's time for me to take this blog down since I haven't been very active recently and all the "info-scraping" being done by AI makes me uncomfortable. Your comment makes me think twice about letting the blog go…

kate smudges said...

I hope you don't let your blog go now that I have found it. I hadn't thought about the info scraping aspect. I made konnyaku but it was too thin. I made another batch this morning so hopefully it will have the desired effect. Please keep on with the blog. Have a good summer.