On December 7th I went to a mill in Liberty, Tennessee to learn from one of the premiere paper makers in the state about Thistle paper. Papermaking is a theological and artistic endeavor, and I was blown away by the beauty and details of the process. Paper can be made from old linen and cotton clothing as well as plants and wood. As we pulled into her farm, there was a huge thistle growing green in the middle of December. It felt like an invocation to soak in the spirit of the day.
I have been gathering thistles for awhile, feeling like it was important for the integrity of a company named in their honor, and because they are a symbol to me of what it means to try and love without judgment. To me, being a thistle farmer means that the world is our farm, and our job is to see the beauty in the areas that have been abandoned or deemed unworthy of cultivating. Our fields include allies, lots behind malls, railway clearings, and the poorest sections of town. Thickets and highway shoulders are also great places to see our crops. To me, when we harvest a thistle it means that we still see the beauty in all of creation, and that nothing should be left to be condemned.
So we made pulp from banana leaves with blended thistle blossom. We also added thistle down to the pulp after it was blended for texture. It was placed into a large vat, and then after agitating the pulp, we scooped a thin layer with screens. Then, we would place these layers after sponging onto a felt backing and begin again. We can make portfolios and books from this paper as well.
It is an easy community task. And, I imagine that there are stories and memories attached to thistle farming for anyone growing up with bull thistles on the back roads of Tennessee. I would love to hear some old stories people have about thistles and hear some new stories, as folks are willing to harvest thistles for this endeavor. We need people to help make the paper as well as harvest, and I will let you all know when I am headed back out to Liberty. I figure we need to raise a few thousand dollars over the next year or so to train and pay for the studio. I want to know more about what it means for others to be a "Thistle Farmer." Maybe some folks would be willing to keep a zip lock and some scissors in their car and harvest thistle. We have a drop off bin at Thistle Farms.