I have always wanted to try making paper so I confess, that is why I chose the theme flat for this month’s Unplugged Project (paper was already taken). We finally did it and it was so fun! I am also fairly proud of our efforts because we recycled not only a lot of used printer paper and newspaper, but also a picture frame which became our deckle. It is amazing what you can do with old picture frames!
This paper was fairly brittle and could never be used for wrapping, however it would make nice note paper or scrapbooking paper. Also, don’t expect a smooth, fine paper. It is quite rough and well, homemade looking! I really love the look of it.
Here’s how we did it.
Make the deckle:
You can get fancy and use wood to construct a frame for your deckle, or buy a ready-made deckle at a craft store, but we did something different. I seem to have a love affair with alternative uses for picture frames, so I used one as the frame for our deckle.
Get an old 8″x10″ wooden picture frame (or other size, but the size of the frame will determine the size of your paper) or buy a cheap one at the dollar store. You’ll also need some aluminum window screen. If you don’t have an old screen at hand you can buy some cut to measure at a hardware store. I bought one foot of screen for $1.12. Aluminum is apparently better than nylon because it holds its shape better and is more rigid.
Cut the screen to the same size as the outside dimension of your frame. The aluminum screen cuts quite easily with a sharp box cutter or X-Acto knife. Staple the screen onto the back of the frame using a staple gun. Try and make it as taught as possible. That’s it!
Gather your materials:
We used old newspaper and some scrap printer paper. You can also use wrapping paper, construction paper, paper bags, any kind of paper really. Apparently there is an art to combining short and long fibers to achieve both strength and flexibility, but that was all beyond us at this point.
Also gather up some embellishments if you wish: flower petals, leaves, yarn scraps, glitter, foil scraps. We used construction paper punch outs that were left over after using a fancy hole punch.
You will also need a blender or food processor, some clean dish towels (or a scrap of felt) and a rolling pin.
Make the pulp:
Tear your paper up into smallish pieces about 1″ square, no need to be exact since they are going to be shredded in the blender (my 4 year-old really liked the tearing part).
Fill the blender no more than 3/4 full of water and add a handful of paper scraps.
Blend vigorously until scraps are shredded and combined with the water. Keep adding small amounts of paper and pulsing the blender until your mixture looks like watery porridge (should be about a 4:1 ratio of water to paper).
It might take a few tries to get the consistency right. If you find in the next step that the mixture is too watery, then pour it back in the blender and add some more paper. If it is too thick, then pour back and add some more water.
Last, add any embellishments to your pulp but don’t blend unless you don’t want to shred them up. Be careful you don’t add too much extra stuff because the more extras that are in your pulp, the less the fibers will stick together. You might want to add a bit of glue or cornstarch to your mixture if you put in lots of decorative items.
Make the paper:
Pour the pulp mixture into a basin that is large enough for your deckle to lie flat on the bottom. Tip the basin a bit and slide your deckle in under the watery pulp.
Swish it back and forth a bit to evenly distribute the fibers and lift it out of the water. You should see a thin and even layer of pulp over the entire screen. This is your sheet of paper!
Let the water drip through the screen until only a few drops are falling (a few minutes).
Meanwhile, prepare your towels. I put some folded newspaper down first to help absorb the water, then I topped it off with a clean, folded dishtowel. Apparently felt works really well for this too, but we didn’t have any.
When most of the water has drained from your paper, gently tip the deckle upside down onto your towel or felt.
Gently tap the back of the screen so the paper falls off onto the towel. It should fall in one sheet, but if not, keep tapping and it’ll probably all assemble OK on the towel. Cover the wet paper with another clean, dry dish towel folded in half and roll over it with a rolling pin until much of the water is squeezed out.
The tricky part is getting the paper off the towel. Carefully peel up one end until you can pull the sheet off in one piece. I found that it was actually a bit easier to put a large plate upside down over the paper, lift the towels and the plate all together, and then flip it all right side up so the paper lands on the plate (kind of like getting rolled pie pastry from a sheet of wax paper into a pie dish!). Gently peel off the towel and you’ll have a lovely whole sheet of paper on the plate.
Hang it with clothespins someplace to dry.
Newspaper/white scrap paper:
Newspaper/scrap paper and fancy hole punches:
White scrap paper only with grass and flower petals:
Newspaper/white scrap paper with red food coloring added to blender:
Newspaper/white scrap paper with blue food coloring and a bit of light weight kitchen foil added to blender (the foil shredded fine in the blender but I had to add a bit of cornstarch to the pulp because the paper wasn’t holding together well – next time I’ll use less foil, or use foil wrapping paper instead):
Tips & Notes:
- You can fix holes that occur when you tip your paper off your deckle by making another small piece of paper on the deckle and placing it on top of the holes. It will all blend in together and patch the holes when you roll it with the rolling pin.
- If your paper doesn’t look good, just toss it back in the bin of pulp and swish to break it up. Try again.
- I had read that bleach could be added to make the paper white. We tried that on one of our first simple newspaper sheets but it made no difference. Perhaps we didn’t use enough, or didn’t let it sit enough?
- You will find that your paper will be much lighter in color after it is dry.
- I really like with printed paper how a random word will surface every now and then and become part of the new paper. If you don’t like this look, then stick to plain paper, or grind your printed paper more thoroughly.
- Would soaking the torn paper in water overnight or for a long while help improve the texture of the result? Or pouring boiling water over it? See Mother Earth News for more information.
- I read that using already recycled paper for your pulp produces a sturdier result.
- A few paper-making friends had the following ideas for me: For color add cotton thread or string (embroidery floss apparently works well). Just cut up and blend with the pulp. Try a streak of ground dried chilis for interest (spices – great idea!), or sharpen some colored pencils and add the shavings. Thanks guys!
- There is a definite learning curve to paper-making. Our first few tries were not as successful as later ones. Just keep experimenting!
- Reader Clara beat me to it with the idea of paper for this month’s Unplugged Project and posted this comment:
“Did I send this already? Papermaking! Great recycling project, and artistic and usable! You soak newspaper for a day or so, add a few drops of bleach (or not) and put into an old blender. You strain the pulp and spread a layer on a very FLAT board, place cloth or other paper on top, and weigh down, allow to dry, and while still damp, you can add flower petals, small blossoms and thin leaves to make it pretty. This was in the early 80s, so if you have any corrections, PLEASE add them! You can add thinly shredded cotton cloth before soaking, and this colors and strengthens the paper. You get a cream colored very artsy looking stock. Enjoy!”
Thanks so much Clara! I think we’ll try your method next time. I like that no deckle is necessary.
Some really good advice from an expert: Instructables Homemade Paper