I recently read an article about how paper made from rags or fabric is much more durable and lasts a lot longer that wood pulp paper. As I was reading this, my eye caught the leg of some pajama bottoms that had recently become unwearable hanging out of the bin, and the game was afoot.
This instructable takes you through the process of deconstructing an item of clothing and upcycling it into hand made paper.
Step 1: Part 1: Preparing the Pulp - Materials
Fabric - needs to be natural fibres (no polyester)
Scissors - good sharp fabric scissors
Baking soda or soda ash
Large non aluminium pot
Step 2: Making Soda Ash
Soda ash is used to help break down the fibres and clean any lignin, sugars, starches, and waxes off the material. This is obviously very important when you are working with raw material such as flax or other grasses, but also good to do when making paper from preprocessed fibres like fabrics.
Making your own soda ash is easy. Tip the baking soda into an oven dish and put it in the oven at 200F for an hour. All you are doing here is burning off the carbon dioxide and water to leave you with dry soda ash.
Put your soda ash into a jar and label it !
Step 3: Cutting the Fabric
This step was the most challenging for me... I'm not dreadfully patient, so sitting around cutting a pair of pajamas up into tiny pieces was a bit of a nightmare! You also need to be very careful when dealing with sharp scissors - I cut myself inadvertently a couple of times (not paying enough attention..)
Cut the seams out and cut fabric into rectangular blocks. Mine were about 30-40cm x 20-25cm. Fold them along the long edge into a tube about 7cm wide. Both of these measurements will need to be adjusted to fit your situation! I found a 7cm tube to be the right size for my hand. Cut thin slices off the end of the tube.
Gather up some of the slices and hold them tightly in you hand. Cut thin slices off the top to make pajama confetti! I made mine quite small as I did not want to overtax my blender or have chunky paper.
Again - try not to cut bits off your hands!
Step 4: Preparing the Pulp
Put the confetti in the large pot and add cold water. Add some soda ash to help clean and break down the fibres. The amount of soda ash you will need appears to be an inexact science. I used about a 1/4 of a cup for this project, which may have been over the top. Anyhoo..
Turn on to a medium heat and simmer for an hour or so (up to four hours for raw materials), stirring intermittently to make sure nothing burns to the bottom. This does make your house smell like a laundry so if you don't want that you could do it out on the BBQ :)
The larger the pot the better for this process - it is prone to boiling over and making a heck of a mess!
Let the mix cool down and then wash the confetti under the tap to get rid of the soda ash. I did this by squeezing the soda ashy water out of the confetti then putting handfuls of it into a sieve and running the water through it. Squeeze it dry.
Once clean you can start blending it. I used a small handful of confetti and filled the blender 1/3-1/2 full of water. Pulse the blender to get the best results. Listen to your blender and make sure not to burn the engine out by over loading it.
Pour the blended pulp into the sieve and squeeze out the extra water. I recycled the water back into the blender so I wasn't using gallons.
Tip: do the blending outside or in your laundry - you get water everywhere!
Step 5: Part 2: Making Paper - Materials and Set Up
Screen (or mould and deckle) - the size of your screened area will be the size of your paper.
Water bath (container bigger than your screen that can be filled with water)
Second flat screen (not necessary but v helpful!)
Blotting materials (towels felt, paper towels, sponges, newspaper etc)
I cleared off my kitchen bench and set the water bath on one side of the sink, and the towels/blotting stuff on the other.
Fill the water bath about half full of water. I used warm water so my hands didn't get cold :). If you don't want water dripping all around the water bath you may want to lay towels underneath/around it.
Lay out your blotting materials. I used a smoothish towel with a bit of paper over it. I had a stack of paper towels to one side
Step 6: Making Paper
I tried two methods for scooping the pulp out of the water. You can either pour all your pulp into the water and then dip your mould/deckle to scoop the material out, or you can submerge your mould/deckle and pour some pulp into the deckle. I found I could manipulate the pulp more using the second technique - I used a wooden skewer to move it to areas I needed it and was able to make a thinner paper because of it.
Either way, once you have the pulp generally in place you give it a bit of a wiggle to make sure it is spread evenly and the fibres are knitting.
Lift the mould/deckle from the water bath and set down to drain. You can remove the deckle (the bit without the screen) at this stage. I set the mould with the paper on it down in the sink, placed the second screen over the top on the paper and pressed down gently to remove excess water. I then daubed the surface (through the screen) with a sponge to remove more water.
Step 7: Drying
Moving to my blotting area, I placed a paper towel (you could use a bit of fabric) over the new paper and blotted it down. I then carefully flipped the mould, new paper and paper towel over so that I could remove the screen. You do this by lifting carefully from one end - use something to lift the edge of it refuses to let go!
I covered it with a bit of paper towel and an old dishcloth before using my rolling pin to squish some more water out. If you are going to use a rolling pin do not press down much at all as it shifts the fibers and you end up with holes and uneven patches in your paper.
I recycled paper towels though a warm oven so I wasn't using thousands of them! I found a combination of sponge cloths, towels and paper towels worked best for me.
Once you have removed all the water you can, remove the blotting paper by carefully peeling it off from one end. Lay the paper out on a flat surface to dry in the sun. You can also oven dry it, iron it or press it between layers of felt (or other absorbent materials) if you want to make sure it is flat. I tried a bit of everything and results were similar.
Step 8: Finishing
Congratulations! You have just upcycled an old piece of clothing into paper. I use this paper primarily for making cards - either by itself, or stuck onto the front of a plain card :)
I did try using my ink print technique:
and had mixed results. The paper tends to be a little too soft and the ink sticks to it in places. That said it produced a pleasing result where I got it right!