It’s a labour of love after all

We talk a lot about what we do – the need to reduce waste to landfill, to cultivate respect for the environment and the labour of those that process raw materials into the textiles we wear. (See the recent interview with ABC radio)

We recycle not only because of the above, but because we believe in our community and the need to build social capital. That is why we use recycling as a vehicle to provide opportunities to people potentially marginalised either through circumstances or abilities.

We can’t do this alone, we need the ongoing support of our community to have a legitimate reason for existence. If you want to help us recycle and provide an income to our artisans at the same time, please either purchase a Paperworks product or make a tax deductible donation before 30 June to Paperworks Inc. For more details, please contact us.

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How is Australia faring with Social Inclusion?

Statistics demonstrate that in spite of Australia being prosperous, too many people are still being left behind. The 2nd Edition of the Australian Social Inclusion Board’s 2012 publication “Social Inclusion in Australia: How Australia is faring” states that social inequality and exclusion is destructive and diminishes the Australian community.  There certainly is a great need to break down the barriers that prevent people, “especially the 640,000 Australians experiencing multiple and complex disadvantage”, from fully participating in their communities and society at large. The Board’s president bravely goes on to say that, “Efforts to achieve social inclusion require commitment from all levels of government and the community. It is not just about helping people fit into existing systems and structures—it is about transforming those systems and structures to make them work for everyone. Building a more inclusive society takes time and commitment.” But it is easier said than done.


But what is social inclusion?

According to UNESCO:

Inclusive society is a society for all, in which every individual has an active role to play. Such a society is based on fundamental values of equity, equality, social justice, and human rights and freedoms, as well as on the principles of tolerance and embracing diversity.[1]

To understand social inclusion, it helps to know that social exclusion is the “restriction of access to opportunities and  limitation of the capabilities required to capitalise on these [opportunities].”[2]

Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Gillian Triggs rightly says that there is a correlation between discrimination and social exclusion, because “exclusions may be the result of discrimination of individuals or groups on the grounds of their attributes, or social, economic or physical disadvantages. Discrimination can impact a person’s employment and income, their access to health care, education and other services. It can also make it very difficult to participate in their community – for example, in work, or in joining a community group.”

Professer Triggs asserts that the ability to participate in society, and to be free from discrimination and disadvantage is not only an ideal, but a basic human right – “one that we all share in common”. [3]

It is this “…to be free from discrimination and disadvantage is a basic human right – one that we all share in common”, that is the heart of social inclusion.

Even when born without disadvantage, we can all so easily become marginalised because of our choices or a change in our circumstances that can contribute to a growing negative sense of ‘our own otherness’, which may eventually contribute to our isolation and exclusion from our wider community.

We tend to overlook the less obvious contributors to social exclusion and its impact on mental health and wellbeing – an accident, an illness, the loss of a loved one, witnesses of trauma/abuse, to migrate, to lose a job, to use drugs, etc. We are so fragile; not only in body, but in mind too! Imagine the impact of migrating and no longer sharing a common history, culture or language with the people around you. Not being able to laugh at jokes, because the nuances of language are lost on you. Imagine the loneliness of a lost network, because through circumstances you have been disconnected from your family. Imagine being a ski instructor and losing the use of your legs after a car accident and what that might mean for your employment and social life.

Since 2009 *Paperworks Inc has been committed to social inclusion across all boundaries. Not only people with disabilities or mental health concerns, but retirees, refugees, migrants and disconnected youth have benefitted from our activities. We continue to strive to improve opportunities for employment, volunteering and making friends. This year, we are asking you to please join forces with us by actively supporting the work of our artisans and spreading the message of social inclusion at the same time. From as little as $5 you can purchase a card or a packet of seed tiles for friends, colleagues and business partners. Without the committed help of our community to continue this very important work locally, we might not be around for another year.

*Paperworks Inc is a charitable social enterprise with deductible gift recipient status. All proceeds of sales goes towards the wages of artisans from marginalised backgrounds and towards hosting paper craft activities for disadvantaged people.


1] UNESCO. Consultations of the Director-General with Member States. Social Inclusion, Social Transformations, Social Innovation: What role for UNESCO in 2014-2021? 23 November 2012.

2] Hayes, A., Gray, M., & Edwards, B. (2008). Social inclusion: Origins, concepts and key themes. Canberra: Australian Government. At (viewed 15 August 2013)


Preparing plant fibre for papermaking

After weeks of living with various broths retting, simmering and boiling in our studio backyard, now might be a good time to reflect on general fibre processing for hand papermaking.

The papermaking process commences with fibre harvesting and it is true that different types of fibres require different methods of preparation. Yet, there are some rule of thumb applications to consider when experimenting with ‘unfamiliar’ fibres.

Plants that have a history of being used for weaving are often suitable for papermaking.

  • When harvesting, pay attention to the needs of the plants. For example, bulbs need leaves to regenerate, so don’t harvest leaves from bulbous plants before the leaves have fallen to the ground.
  • For stronger paper, you need stronger fibres and therefore it is better to harvest plants later in the season.  If possible, allow plants to seed first.
  • Always obtain proper permission before removing any plants.

Back at the studio, if the fibre you have collected is not uniformly dry, hang it to dry in a well-ventilated place. If ventilation is poor, you might end up with mouldy fibre and no paper.

NOTE: “Green” fibre might have a shorter boiling period, but it might be foaming during the boiling and you may also end up with weaker paper. Ask yourself, ‘Is it worth the short cut?’

When your fibre is dry, cut it into 10cm lengths. If your harvested grassy fibres (e.g. bamboo or straw) have nodes, remove and discard the nodes. Weigh the fibre and note the weight down.

TIP: If you know you will have several batches to boil, it might be worth your while to weigh and store the dried fibre in 1kg bundles.

Soak the cut fibre for a day or more in water. Generally, fragile leaves can be soaked for a shorter period. I soak leaves from bulbous plants for one day and tough leaves, e.g. flax, for up to a month. Cover the container in which your fibre is retting or replace water daily to discourage insect infestation. Look out for mould too.

Finally, it is B-day. We use a camping cooker/hot plate connected to a gas cylinder for our ‘garden broths’. Always use a stainless steel pot, or the caustic solution will destroy your pot before your first batch of fibre is boiled. Wear protective clothing, thick rubber gloves, safety glasses and slip free shoes.

Place the fibre in the pot. Pour enough cold water in to cover the plant material. Now add 2 heaped teaspoons of caustic soda for each 1kg of plant fibre. Turn your cooker on. Once it boils, turn it down to simmer to prevent dangerous corrosive spills.

Depending on the fibre, the boiling process should take between one and three hours. However, there are exceptions, such as palm fibre, which can be particularly obstinate to break down. You will realise this when after several hours of boiling your fibre is no softer to the touch.

To successfully boil palm and other tough fibres, keep the pH above 10 otherwise you might as well be watching paint dry. Use litmus paper to test the pH. If the pH is below 10, add another teaspoon of caustic and test again.  Keep on adding caustic until you have reached the desired pH. Every so often test the pH of the solution, as the solution will gradually become more acidic throughout the cooking process. Palm fibre can easily take 8 hours (or more!) to boil.

Your fibre is ready for papermaking when it is slimy to the touch (with a gloved hand!) and the fibres separate easily when you rub it (with a gloved hand!).

Once the fibre is ready, remove from the boil and rinse, rinse, rinse until the water runs clear. Happy papermaking.

Testing Plant Fibre

Testing Plant Fibre

Spare a thought for senior caregivers

This morning a shared documentary on child brides made me wonder how often traditions and now by extension, practices or systems, contribute to marginalising people.

As a mother I could easily enough picture my own daughters in the glittering costumes and make-up of age-old customs that belies the awfulness of the situation these girls were caught up in. Shudder!

What captured my attention though, was the image of a young girl covered in a sheet before being moved to the home of her new husband. The reason? “…To keep her from finding her way home should she escape”. Perhaps this is survival in its purest form – ‘food security’ over ‘mental health’, but nonetheless, clearly tradition is supporting the loss of an existing support network.

While mulling this over, an image of a dear friend whose adult special needs daughter has been ‘banned’ from going to a local shopping centre by the shopping centre’s management team, crept into my mind. A sad marginalising result that partly came about because well-meaning locals for years aggravated the daughter’s often bad behaviour through appeasing her with gifts in spite of her parents’ protests. How can she now understand that you can’t have everything you see?

One family of senior caregivers have to support their often violent adult child 24/7 and at times must resort to physical restraint at risk of personal injury to themselves or others. Another 70+ year-old couple has been changing the diapers of their two offspring for 38 years.

They all try to bear their lot with dignity, but their by the year frailer and ageing bodies can’t compensate. As time passes, the task of maintaining a high quality service for their much loved child(ren), becomes more of a physical and mental struggle, not less.

My heart clenches. As an observer I feel our systems are failing the senior parents of ageing special needs people. We have a silent elderly demographic group that is so busy coping with the demands of keeping their adult children safe and healthy, that they have neither time nor the energy to speak up, lobby or even yell for help. By the time the professionals step in in a time of crisis, it is many years too late and the parents themselves in dire need of extended support.

But until then, it is not only the care requiring person, but also the primary caregivers that end up marginalised…

How do we overcome this? Where do we start?


To pulp or not to pulp…

When we mention recycling 100% natural fibre, e.g. cotton denim jeans, into paper, we are frequently asked how we know whether or not donated fabric is suitable for recycling into paper.

The truth is, at first glance, we don’t know.  Textiles are so sophisticated, that any clothing or textiles without manufacturing labels to identify it, must be checked to determine whether or not it is 100% natural fibre.

The easiest method is to conduct a quick “burn test”. This is how to do it.  Adults, or under adult supervision, only please!

  1. Conduct your “burn test” in a wind still area on a surface where the flames can’t spread and where you won’t set off any alarms, e.g. your BBQ area.
  2. Use a large clean glass or metal ashtray as testing surface.  
  3. Cut a small 3cm square piece of the textile, place it in the ashtray and set the textile alight. Synthetic fabrics often tend to ‘flare up’ when it is lit.
  4. After the textile has been burnt and the ashes have cooled, rub the ashes between your fingers.
  5. If only ashes remain, the fabric is most likely 100% natural fibre, but if small hard bits are found amongst the ashes, the fabric almost certainly contains synthetics which means the textile should be avoided for papermaking.




Canberra Social Workshop Sessions


Canberra social workshop sessions starting up first week in Feb – book your places now:
Thursdays from 1-3pm at the Paperworks Studio, 350 Antill Street Watson.
Fridays from 1-3pm at the Banks Building, Australian National Botanic Gardens. This term we will be looking at trees and how to integrate images into our handmade paper. Email for more info.