Introduction: Backyard Papermaking!
Papermaking has a long and historic tradition dating back thousands of years. There are a lot of types of paper, from brown paper bags with Golden Arches printed on them to fancy artist's paper with deckled edge and watermarks.
Making your own paper is a good way to recycle all of your scraps that you'd normally throw in the bin, a great method of creating something suited to your needs as an artist or hobbyist, and a fun backyard or kitchen activity. Basic home papermaking is easy, cheap, and useful for kids, professionals, and everyone in between.
The beauty of home papermaking is that it can be done with things from around the house or using things basic stores stock.
Here, I’ll explain how I make paper!
There is a wide range of supplies that papermakers utilize, but here, I will boil it down to a few essentials that can be found around the house or at the hardware store and some optional materials that may be helpful!
Paper can be made out of many things (cotton, plant fibers, abaca, wood) but I will be making my paper out of paper scraps, the kind you can find all over the house! Many kinds of paper will do great for paper making, such as printer paper, construction paper, junk mail, notecards or post it notes, newsprint, trimmings from thicker watercolor or printmaking papers (Stonehenge, Arches, etc). These papers are all easier to process with simple equipment, unlike plants, which need to be boiled, and cotton or linen, which produce a finer quality paper but need to be processed using a heavier duty blender called a Hollander Beater. One thing to keep in mind is glossy paper that feels kind of like plastic is not good for papermaking and should be avoided. Another thing to consider is thicker or better quality papers will make a better quality paper, just as newsprint might make a paper that tears easier.
I am going to be using a blender I found at my local thrift store for a little less than ten dollars. It is best to have a dedicated blender for this task because you don't want what you blended making its way into your smoothies! A thrift store blender works best, is inexpensive, and is easy to replace if it breaks. If you don't have a blender for this purpose, do not despair! You can use any sort of mashing tool (including your own two hands), but it will take a bit longer and you will want to be diligent in breaking up fiber.
I use a plastic storage tub, the kind you can get at Target or IKEA or any department store. The bigger the better! If you want to work bigger than those size tubs or are able to spend a bit more, papermakers often use concrete mixing tubs from big box construction stores that are a bit more expensive but a lot bigger, or some who are working to make giant sheets will build a makeshift tub by making a frame with construction lumber and line it with plastic tarps or a shower curtain. Necessity is the mother of invention!
-Mould and Deckle
A mould and deckle are fancy terms for a frame with a screen stretched on it (mould), and an empty frame (deckle). In essence, the mould captures paper scraps and the deckle makes it a square shape. These can be purchased (or a silkscreen can be substituted) but are easy to make. To make, you can purchase two frames from a wide range of stores, such as thrift stores or art stores. Frames from the dollar store might be a bit harder to adjust but are still very usable. You then take a screen (I use window screen for keeping out bugs, from the hardware store) but you can use any mesh that lets water through. You might have an old cheesecloth or mesh on hand that could work. Simply stretch it over one frame and duct tape the edges (or use a staple gun if you have it).
-Paper towels/ Rags
It's gonna get wet. You should have a bunch on hand.
-A table or as wide an open space to work on
Keep in mind it will get wet. I'd try to do this outside, but if you are unable to, the kitchen, with its wipe down surfaces, is a safer bet than a carpeted bedroom.
I would say this is optional, but papermaking can be messy and there are a lot of variables to where people make it at home, so I would say it is best to have it!
This is going to be what you transfer the paper pulp to. You can use craft felt that is sold very cheaply at department stores, but it is not as good as a pellon from a craft store (which can be about a dollar a foot, so very cheap). For basic papermaking the difference is not noticeable!
Optional but helpful if you have it:
I would never go out and buy this just to assist in my papermaking, but I already own one so it is a big time saver for me. Otherwise, you can tear up your paper by hand, but it takes a bit longer!
Some papermakers will boil up some gelatin packets or use a commercially available sizing that they add to their paper
This is another alternative to drying your paper. You can also place a piece of plywood on a stack of smaller felts with paper on them and stand on top to press out the water to speed up drying time. However, a felt is better and cheaper!
Step 1: Set Up Your Space!
When I make paper at home, I typically work in my backyard patio. There is a large table there but set up anywhere you feel comfortable getting wet! Notice I've used an old shower curtain to cover the table for my own convenience. A good tip is to store the bulk of your supplies in your tub for easy transport and access.
After I've set up my tub and my screens, I found a clean place for my felt. When I used a sheet of plexiglass, I just laid it out on the ground, but for my felt I found another table to keep it on.
You want to find a space for your blender that is relatively dry. I have an exterior socket on my patio that I plug my blender into. This is easier than having to go inside frequently.
If you aren't using a blender you can set your tub of paper scraps up at your same worktable.
Step 2: Time to Pulp Your Pulp!
Now it's time to turn the shredded paper into pulp.
Soak your paper scraps in some water. This will make it easier to break apart.
When I shred or tear paper, I like to group similar colors or kinds of paper together. That way, I can make a colored sheet of paper without having to use any chemical inks or dyes, and it's more of surprise for me how the colored paper turns out. If you wanted to, you could squirt some acrylic paint into the blender to manipulate the color.
In this case, I saved yellow junk mail, orange manila envelopes, and ruled neon green notecards. After this photo was taken, I added some more red papers to the mix to make the color more of an orange, rather than "kale smoothie". Keep in mind when your paper dries it will invariably dry lighter in tone than you expect.
Make sure you have a good amount-- the more the better! You can always strain out the pulp you don't use and save in the fridge for a day or two.
When filling up the blender, I typically fill it around halfway with water, then add the paper, but I don't measure it out or anything like that!
Blend until there are no clumps and it has the same consistency as a smoothie. Don't drink it though!
If you don't have a blender for this purpose, this is where you mash the paper up with your hands until it is pulpy and broken up as you can get it.
Step 3: Fill 'Er Up! Or, Agitating and Preparing the Pulp for the Mould and Deckle
Time to pour the blended pulp into the tub!
I would repeat the process of grinding shredded paper into pulp and pouring it into the tub several (i.e. 3-4) times to have enough pulp to make a few sheets. Feel free to add the water from the tub to the blender to save yourself a trip to the kitchen sink or hose.
When you first pour the thick pulp into the basin, it will look like the second two photos. Pretty? Yes! But you're going to need to roll up your sleeves (or imaginary sleeves) and put your hands in the water. Run your hands through the water to agitate the pulp and mix it evenly through the entire basin. It shouldn't be all in one area and the water should take on a new color.
Step 4: Using the Mould and Deckle
This is a mould and deckle. The mould is on the right of the first image, and essentially it is a frame with a screen pulled tight over it. This serves to catch the pulp in the basin. On the left of the first image is the deckle, which is a frame that creates the shape of the paper. If you wanted say, a circular sheet of paper (Crazy, I know!) you could cut out a circle from a sheet of foam core and it would do the same job as the standard deckle. A deckle edge is the ragged, natural edge of a sheet of paper and is prized by papermakers and printmakers, but here I am getting a bit ahead of myself!
You will want to place the deckle on top of the mould, and hold the two together. Dip your mould and deckle into the tub, going in at an angle, and pull up. You should have pulp on the mesh. You can move around the mould and deckle/ shake it gently to even out the pulp so there aren't clumps. It should sound like the gentle pitter patter of rain as drops of water drip down back into the tub.
Step 5: Transferring Your Paper!
In this step, we will explore a process called "couching" (coo-ching). This is how we are going to transfer the paper to the felt so it can dry. I will be using one giant sheet of felt, but you can also use the smaller felts or cut the felt into rectangles that are a bit larger than the size of paper you plan to make.
Press your mould face down on to the felt, and pull up the mould from the same edge you put it down on.
If you are troubleshooting, sometimes I find spritzing more water onto the felt and more water in the pulpy sheet makes the transfer easier. I find using the flat side of my hand on the screen can be helpful to transfer the paper. Keep in mind if you mess up you can simply scrape the mess into your tub and try again!
If you have multiple smaller sheets of felt that the paper is now transferred to, you can stack them, place a piece of board on top, and stand on the pile to push as much water out of the pile as you can. If you have a larger sheet, cover the entire sheet with paper towel and press water out of the sheet. You want as much water out of your wet, transferred sheet as you can get so that it dries fast and easy!
Step 6: All Done!
Leave your paper to dry in a safe place for several days. Drying time will vary wildly based on climate and humidity. I left these sheets outside on a very sunny day and they were dry within a few hours, but it has also taken days for my sheets to dry in the past. You will notice the sheet is pretty yellow, though it looked orange on the felt. Part of the joy of my style of papermaking is the unpredictability in the process and coloration (I was not expecting birthday cake speckles), though if you wanted a very specific sheet of paper, it would not be difficult to do. I mentioned the deckled edge earlier. You can see that the edge of the paper is ragged and appears torn, but this is a desirable attribute of paper to papermakers and printmakers. If you don't like it, you can easily trim the sheet square. Keep in mind you can add inclusions such as confetti, seeds, pressed leaves, or sparkles. You can draw, paint, print and collage the finished sheets or turn it into gifts. In short, a whole world of customization opens when you pull your first sheet.
Papermaking is a joy and activity uniquely suited to recycling and a "trash to treasure" ethos, especially in how I have demonstrated it. I have written up a simple version of the process so that it is easy to get started. Feel free to substitute materials, processes, and tools to your ability, and good luck making your sheets of paper!
Participated in the