For the garden materials in this paper project, I have assembled dried lavender buds, dill seeds and shredded calendula petals. I will make ‘cards’ you can plant using dill seed sprinkled on the wet paper pulp sheets. This is a wonderful project for kids and makes great gifts. You could add ferns, rose petals, evergreen tips, colorful fall leaves, northern sea oats, long thin bamboo leaves, or whatever captures your fancy! You can also add colored construction paper, or fabric dye to the pulp for color. Wet pulp will be much darker than the color when it dries.
The minimum equipment needed is a blender, a plastic tub, an old picture frame without the glass, window screen scrap, used paper to recycle, a few towels and a sponge. The old paper can be junk mail, computer paper, greeting cards, used wrapping paper, or similar items. Old newspaper works too, although it doesn’t make good paper. Many commercial papers like newspaper and cardboard have chemical additives that hold the wood pulp together and I prefer not to use them.
High-quality writing papers are generally made from cotton or linen; historically paper was made from plant fibers like papyrus. You can purchase “cotton linters” to add long fibers for strength to junk paper pulp. These cotton linters usually are purchased by the sheet and are thick “paper” made from long cotton fibers to give paper pulp the ability to hold together in sheet form. I buy cotton linters for about $5 per pound. I tear off and blend in a few pieces to add stability to the pulp I make. One sheet goes a long way. For a beginner project, you may not want to buy any cotton linters; your paper will still be okay, just a bit fragile.
One of the first things to do is construct a “frame” that will be the finished paper size. Larger is okay, as you can cut the finished paper to size. You can use old picture frames with the glass removed. Find some old window screen and staple it tightly to the bottom of the frame. These frames are technically called deckles. I made my own deckles out of 1- by 2-inch wood. I didn’t use window screen as I had access to the screen material used in the nearby paper plant, which is a finer mesh than window screen. All that’s important is to use a material that will let the water drain off while not being deformed by the weight of the wet paper pulp. If you enjoy making paper, you may want your deckles to last longer. If so, apply several coats of polyurethane to the wood before stapling the screen to the bottom. Uncoated wood works just as well, but it tends to warp as it soaks up water after several uses.
Meanwhile, prepare the paper by tearing it into pieces about 2 inches square or less, until you have a sackful. (For this demonstration, I am using a bag of shredded paper from my sister’s office.) Meanwhile, collect dry seeds, flowers, leaves and such from the garden. On papermaking day, assemble the blender, a tub large enough to hold the deckle with your hands and some space around it, your deckles, paper scraps and botanicals. I suggest putting down some bath towels as this is a wet, messy project.
Paper scraps in blender
Paper scraps blended
Put a small amount of torn paper scraps in the blender, and fill no more than half full with warm water. (Warm water seems to soften the paper scraps quicker.) Pulse the scraps until well blended, and dump the blender contents into the tub. Repeat until you have about 3 to 4 inches of very watery pulp in the tub. Stir well to mix. Now, do a trial: dip your deckle under the watery pulp, shake gently side to side to level it out while slightly submerged, and slowly bring it up out of the water, letting the water drain back into the tub. If there is not enough paper in your pulp mixture, the paper fibers will be thin on the deckle. Just add more blended paper. If the pulp is too thick (making the deckle look like it’s holding a big messy wad) add more water to the tub to thin the pulp. You can do this step of filling and lifting the deckle over and over until you get the hang of raising it to get the thickness you want for your paper. (We added some old light blue paper pulp for this batch, and left some of the white paper in larger pieces while blending, for contrast in our finished sheets.)
Helpers with pulp tub
Flower petals in pulp
Formed sheet in deckle
One thing I didn’t mention above is having additional mesh sheets to fit inside the deckle. I place one loose sheet just inside the frame before pulling up some pulp. (These extra sheets merely make it easy to get the wet, fragile sheets out of the frame.) Once I get the hang of the paper thickness I want, I put down another screen over the pulp and run a fat dowel over the “sandwich” to squeeze out excess water before taking the new sheet out of the deckle. You can add seeds, leaves, etc. to the pulp mixture in the tub, OR these can be sprinkled quickly to the deckle as you bring it up from the water BEFORE you add the top screen that’s used to squeeze out water. The girls made paper with seeds and petals sprinkled on top of the pulp before pressing, leaving the underside plain so they could paste a note on it when folded as a card. (Ink runs on most handmade paper.) This also helps your decorative material press into the wet pulp. You could add glitter, sequins, stars, etc. from a craft store. I have added the metallic foil lining paper of cigarette packs to the blender to give a touch of glitter to my paper.
Once you are satisfied with the pulp mix and decorations in your deckle and a lot of water has drained off back into the tub, transfer the wet “sandwich” (the two mesh sheets with wet pulp in between them) to a towel and press the remaining water out carefully with a sponge or even a rolling pin. When most of the water has been drained off, the sheet should easily come loose from the deckle if you turn it upside down on a dry towel.
Wet pulp in deckle
Rolling out water
Hanging to dry
Wet sheets layered in fabric
Now put your new sheet of decorated paper somewhere to dry. Whatever surface touches the pulp will imprint on the finished paper. For example, if you stack wet pulp sheets between thin kitchen dish towels to dry, they will have a different texture than if stacked between terrycloth bath towels. I often stack my new sheets between layers of white craft felt. I have placed wet sheets on my living room window glass to dry, which gives them a very smooth finish on one side. If you use fabric between the sheets for drying them, you will get flatter sheets by putting some weights on top of the stack. How long they take to dry depends on the room temperature, relative humidity, thickness of the sheets you have made and absorbency of the material between the sheets. The sheets I put on my windows dried in several hours although they tend to adhere to the glass if you let them get fully dry. (My windows needed cleaning anyway!)
Weights on wet sheets
Extra pulp draining
Seed Card, cut
You may hasten the drying by changing the absorbent toweling after the new sheets have dried some and are firmer. Handle carefully because the sheets are still very fragile at this point. If you added some long fibers (cotton linters) to the paper pulp in your tub, the wet sheets will be less fragile. After you have made all the paper you want, you can save any remaining pulp for another batch. I strain mine through the large bags made to strain paint. Let it drip like a jelly bag, and then squeeze out all the excess water. This pulp may be stored in the freezer, or allowed to dry fully before another papermaking session.
Dried sheets, each side Extra dried pulp
After your paper is dry, you can cut it to size with scissors or a razor knife. The craft scissors available with decorative cutting blades create some nice edges. If you are making “seed cards” you might want to cut them into smaller pieces, perhaps the size of a playing card. The neighbor girls who helped me make paper today will insert their seed cards into Christmas cards for their teachers, along with a note that they made the paper, and some planting instructions.
Thumbnail Photo: iStockPhoto.com #4262763, © Levent Abrurrahman Cagin, used by permission. All other photos are copyright by the author, all rights reserved.