When I started the book, everything went smoothly and it seemed like it would be a straightforward project. The plan was to open the paper, stack it flat to relax, and cut it to size on a guillotine. Easy, right? I had cut Japanese paper this way, so it should work and I could get to printing. Then, out of the blue, Robbie Burns’ ‘Gang aft a-gley’ kicked in.
Chinese paper is shipped ‘gently folded’ in packages of 50 sheets, rather than being rolled around a core. When the box arrived, I opened the packages and lay the paper out flat so it could relax before being cut to size. It didn’t relax. I waited. I tried putting weight on top. I rolled it up and let it sit over night. In the process of trying to flatten it, I realized that, because of its soft texture, it also wasn’t going to jog well enough to be cut on a guillotine. Time for plan B. Water.
The 27″ x 54″ sheets were too big to dampen and stack, so I folded and knife-cut each sheet into eighths by hand. As I started folding it in half, I realized the paper wasn’t square. The concertina structure, with pages tipped back-to-back, requires that the pages be the same size and square. Time for plan C. Sigh. I would have to fold each sheet in half and trim it to square by hand before printing, then trim the head and tail of the book block after it was glued so they would all be the same size.
The paper is Double Xuan, 2-ply paper we chose because it had enough heft for the concertina to stand up for display, but was still translucent enough to allow some show-through between the two sides. The sample sheets had been perfect and printed beautifully. As I dampened these pieces, I realized there were wrinkles and bubbles from sloppy couching. Too late to send the paper back! Plan D? I tried more water, ironing, even a bit of spray starch. Nothing really had the desired effect.
And so, to make a long story short, I enlisted assistance to fold in half and trim square all 1600 pieces of paper, culled the really bad pieces (around 25%), reduced my expectations for the edition size (down to maybe 75 from 100), and corrected and proofed the edited text, getting ready to start printing – around the time I had expected to be finished.