Category: nature

Homemade Recycled Paper – “Flat” Monthly Unplugged Project

By , April 28, 2010 10:58 am


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

Don’t Forget The Birds! (Homemade Bird Feeder Ornaments)

By , January 23, 2010 7:37 pm

Today we sit stranded at home after a week of snow days and over four feet of snow!  The hungry birds hop busily about the bird feeders trying to fuel up before a cold night’s sleep.  It seems a good day to write that post about edible ornaments for the wild birds.

As I mentioned not long ago, every Christmas Eve the kids and I sit down and make edible tree decorations to hang on our trees outside as gifts to our wild birds.  We call it our Bird Christmas, but you could have fun making these at any time of year.  The squirrels often make off with many of our treats, but I don’t mind!

(By the way, although wire and dental floss are easy, if I can, I like to use natural cotton yarn or string for hanging since this is recycled by birds in the spring for cozy nests!)

Classic Pinecone Feeders: Send the children out to collect pinecones.  The bigger and more open, the better.  Mix peanut butter and bird seed together in a bowl.  Tie string or yarn around the pinecones to use for hanging (I find that it is a bit less messy to do this step before covering the pinecones in peanut butter).   Roll the pinecones in the mixture using a spoon to push it down between the scales if necessary.


  • No pinecones where you live?  Then use bagels!  Spread with peanut butter, sprinkle on birdseed, and the hole makes them really easy to hang.

Orange Cup Feeders: An adult should prepare the cups. Cut oranges in half and scoop out the insides to set aside for a healthy snack or a fruit salad (a grapefruit knife makes this job easy).  Use a metal skewer, knitting needle, or large darning needle to poke three approximately equidistant holes around the edge of the orange cup, near the top.  Thread string or yarn through the holes forming a hanger made of three strings.  Now for the kid part: Fill the cups with a peanut butter/birdseed mixture.


  • Fill with softened suet and birdseed, although peanut butter is more kid-friendly.  Suet is a great alternative for kids with peanut allergies though.
  • If you have orioles in your area, fill the cups with grape jelly.  Orioles like jelly and they are attracted to the color orange!
  • Easiest option – Don’t hollow out the oranges and just hang orange halves as is.  Orioles, robins, mockingbirds, tanagers, grosbeaks and cardinals like the fruit.

“Bird Tinsel”: Decorate shrubs and trees with strings of cranberries and popcorn (no salt or butter).  Thread the treats using a large needle and string, heavy duty thread, or dental floss.  Our popcorn didn’t string so well this year for some reason (perhaps our needle was not sharp enough) so we ended up just doing cranberries.  Use frozen or fresh berries.  I prefer frozen.  Frozen are less messy to string and thaw quickly once threaded.


  • Try dried fruits such as cherries, craisins, blueberries, papaya, apples or apricots.  How about peanuts in the shell?
  • String fresh orange slices.
  • Try other fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or rasberries.
  • Raisins come in many colors and sizes.  Experiment with different varieties to make pretty patterns.

FUN TIP:  When threading a variety of foods, have your children create repeating patterns.  The garlands will be pretty to look at and your children will exercise their art and reasoning skills!

Bird “Cookie” Ornaments: You can use cookie cutters to make shaped ornaments for your wild birds.  The easiest variety are made with stale bread (although fresh is fine too, but might be harder to cut).  Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes out of the bread.  Poke a hole near the top using a skewer or straw. String yarn, string, dental floss or wire through to make a hanger.  I have even hung these using a wire Christmas ornament hanger poked directly through the bread.  Very easy.


  • If you want to get fancy, you can decorate your “cookies” with peanut butter and sprinkle on birdseed designs.  The seed will stick to the peanut butter and you’ll have instant “fancy” ornaments that the birds will love!
  • For those with peanut allergies, or for a change, brush the bread shapes with egg white.  Sprinkle with bird seeds and bake on a baking sheet at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes (this will cause the seeds to stick to the bread).
  • Melt suet, mix with birdseed and pour into greased, shaped molds (or lined muffin tins).  Put in freezer to harden, or outside if it is very cold.  Use a skewer to poke a hole through when they are getting solid but not yet truly hard.  Remove from molds when frozen and hang outside.  (NOTE:  You can use commercially available rendered suet, get some from the butcher, or make your own suet mix from a recipe in the links below.  Be careful of vegetable based fats, they are not supposed to be as healthy for birds.  Also, ordinary animal fats can spoil and melt easily if the temperature is not cold enough.  Think – greasy mess on your deck and birds with indigestion.  More on all these issues here:  The Great Crisco Debate).
  • Try wiping your bread ornament in bacon grease.  I once read somewhere that Blue Jays and squirrels love this.  Perhaps a good way of recycling sink-clogging bacon grease?  The bread plus bacon grease would probably work a lot better in summer than straight bacon grease which melts very easily.  Also, since bacon grease is salty, it is advisable only in moderation and when a fresh supply of water is available nearby.  I have a heated bird bath that is hugely popular with my birds in winter, since it provides fresh water when all other sources are frozen.

Bird Goody Bags: Save your nylon mesh produce bags (the kind fruit, tomatoes, or onions come in).  Stuff them with suet, seeds and dried fruit.  You could even put in shelled peanuts or other nuts, unsalted is best.  Make sure they can fit through the holes – crush them if necessary.  Hang outside.  You can decorate these with fancy bows if you want them to look festive.



Change – Weekly Unplugged Project

By , October 25, 2009 8:19 pm

This week’s post is a change from other Unplugged Project posts.  The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was change.  We did lots of things this week that involve change, but no real sit down and do it kind of “project.”  None of these projects were planned around the theme, they just happened.

Change the world: On Thursday I took my oldest daughter and a few other children from her class to our local soup kitchen to help serve lunch and clean tables.  I am leading a community service workshop for our small Montessori school’s elementary class (6 to 9 year-olds).  If we want to change the world, we must start with the children.  More on this project later.

Small change (can change the world): Of their own initiative, my oldest daughter and two friends have formed a secret club called The Helping Hands Club (The HHC for those in the know!).  On Saturday they sold homemade chocolate chip cookies that they made (by themselves) and pumpkins (that they bought with their own money) to a few neighbors and made $21+ in small change for charity!  (Reminded me a bit of the great Heifer International Christmas ornament sale a few years ago.)

Change of seasons: It is fall in our part of the world and we walked together on this glorious fall day. The sky was blue, the fall colors vibrant, the air crisp yet comfortable. A fire is crackling in the fireplace now as I write this.

Changing the worm bin: Yes, the worms in our worm bin are still happily eating, reproducing, and pooping.  It was time to change the bedding and harvest the castings, so we did it today.  The kids love interacting with the worms.  We are trying a new harvesting method this time, more on that later if it works.


If you did a change Unplugged Project, then please link to your POST not just your blog in the Linky below. If you did not join in, then do not link, but you can always read more here about how to participate in the Unplugged Project. We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun and be creative!


3rd Annual Rock Flipping Day Results

By , September 20, 2009 9:48 pm


We all had a lovely time flipping rocks this morning for the 3rd Annual International Rock Flipping Day!  Honestly, I could not have imagined that rock flipping could be so interesting, but my children, my husband and I all had the best time wandering around flipping rocks (and putting them carefully back of course).

The children ran through our yard and the woods by our house searching for perfect rocks:

We learned that our rocks here are quite beautiful, very volcanic and full of holes:

This one actually showed a distinct lava flow pattern on it:

Under our rocks we discovered:


A small mushroom that grew up in the shade of two tightly stacked rocks:

A baby centipede  –  a teeny tiny yellow thread with lots of legs.  I apologize for the bad picture, but much of what we found was very small and hard to photograph:

Strange white beetles with legs and antennae, barely the size of a grain of rice:

The much expected “Rollie Pollies”  or Pill Bugs, but these guys were whiter than we had ever seen before:

Ants, LOTS of ants and eggs.  Much to our surprise we found that ants don’t just live underground, but actually use the holes in our volcanic rocks as homes and nurseries!

You can even see little dots inside the ant eggs in this photo, Each collection of eggs seemed to have a “nurse ant” to go with it:

A peanut that had been buried (and probably forgotten) by a squirrel – round thing in the middle of the photo:

A small cricket:

Mystery eggs? Not ant eggs and about the size of small beads. Any ideas?

A spider on a pretty rock.  Can you see it?:

What did you find under rocks where you live? Email Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta with a link to your post, or upload your photos to the Flickr International Rock Flipping Day Group.

I will post our feather Unplugged Project and the Linky tomorrow afternoon or evening.

Hope to see you then!

PS. Thank you Susannah for our Junior Rock Flipping Badge.  The kids will be excited about this tomorrow morning!

Flip a Rock Today!!

By , September 20, 2009 8:55 am

Today is the 3rd Annual International Rock Flipping Day!

Bored? Need something to do because your TV is off?  (Yes, today is also the first day of Turnoff Week!)

Then go out and flip a rock to study what is underneath.  Record your results via photos, poetry, art, diorama, cupcake replica, in other words, anything at all!  Post on your blog.  Or, add your photos to the International Rock Flipping Day Flickr Group.  Read more about it here.

It is a gorgeous fall day here, perfect for rock flipping.  We’ll head out later and I’ll post the results here on Unplug Your Kids.

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