Learn To Make Homemade Recycled Paper

Learn to make homemade recycled paper using household tools and articles. This article is aimed at the interested amateur.

The importance of paper today is inestimable. It is the bearer of thoughts, recorder of knowledge, promoter of commerce, and it is the surface on which lie many of the world's greatest artistic treasures. Making handmade paper appeals to our increasing awareness of the need to conserve resources and to recycle materials. The proliferation of upmarket stationery shops, selling beautiful (and expensive) notepaper, wrapping paper and greeting cards, is evidence of the fashionable trend for exquisite paper made by hand rather than by machine. The raw materials for papermaking are free and widely available. Waste paper can be recycled to make new paper, and we all know how much paper we throw away each day. Newsprint and glossy magazines, however, do not make very good paper, but there are other sources of waste paper, such as packaging and discarded envelopes, which you could recycle. Printing inks are washed out during the papermaking process or you can add a small amount of bleach to the paper pulp to remove the color. Vegetable fibers are another source of raw material. Paper can be made from celery, iris, gladioli, straw, wheat, bamboo, potatoes, reeds, or beans; each gives a different color, texture, and even scent to the finished sheets of paper. Coarse stems and leaves leave particles of fiber in the paper, which add to its natural "handmade" appeal.


Most of the equipment you need can be found in your kitchen. Items include scissors, large kitchen knife, small kitchen knife, wooden spatulas, tweezers, plastic funnel, measuring jug (quart size), colander, vegetable shredder, large stewing pot, soup spoon, measuring spoon, plastic pails in different sizes, powdered gelatin, corn starch, commercial fabric dyes or powdered pigments (to color the pulp to produce tinted paper), meat grinder, mallet, mould and deckle*, large tub, felts (pressed), razor blades (single edge), graduate glass cylinder, masking tape, wax crayons, an apron, paper towels, an electric blender, an electric hand mixer, and a hot plate (gas or electric). Once the frame has been secured, material** is stretched taughtly over the frame's edge, fastened with brass nails or staples, and then excess material is trimmed off. Small strips of ¼-inch dowel may be placed on the underside of the frame to gently support the screen material. A suitable deckle may be constructed of picture frame moulding of approximately 1-inch width with a recessed underside. The moulding is cut with a miter box and fastened together so that it can easily rest upon the mould. All four corners are capped with copper stripping and secured with small brass brads. If glues are to be used in construction of either the mould or deckle, they should be insoluble in water.

Making the pulp

Ask paper merchant outlets in your area for waste paper and off-cuts and also businesses for their shredded paper. You may also include vegetable fibers such as celery, straw, wheat, and bamboo, but remember that the fibers must first be shortened and separated into fine fibrils or strands similar to bamboo after it has been crushed or beaten with a mallet; tear paper into small pieces. Place the material in a large pot and cover with boiling water; add a small amount of caustic solution to the water to remove impurities from the material. Place the pot on the stove and after simmering for two to five hours, drain the liquid and repeat the process once again. By now the material is a pulpy mass with a somewhat slick and fatty appearance. Much of the unwanted dirt and lignin (an organic substance that acts as a binder for the plant material) has been separated from the crude pulp. The pulp is mixed with clean water and placed into the blender where a bladed apparatus will shred the mass and draw it out into a semi-liquid, fibrous state. The pulp is then poured into a tub or "vat" and more water is added to give proper consistency for casting or forming the sheet on the hand mould. The creamy pulp, scooped up by the mould with the deckle frame attached, is given a two-way rolling shake to "throw off the wave" - this intertwines and crisscrosses the short fibers (the deckle is fitted over the mould to prevent excess pulp from spilling over the sides of the mould as it is drawn from the vat.). The fibers are now drawn together by the force of the strong suction created as the mould is brought to the surface. A thin stratum of pulp has now been formed on the mould. The mould and clinging matted sheet are allowed to drain briefly. The deckle frame is removed from the mould, revealing a slightly irregular edge around the periphery of the sheet, and the latter is "couched" or pressed face down onto the awaiting dampened felt. The mould is lifted, leaving the newly formed sheet on the felt. The process is repeated until the felts and paper, which have been stacked upon each other, are built into a pile or "post" The post is then inserted between two flat boards or placed into a press, then squeezed to remove excess water. Sufficient pressure is applied so that the fibers are matted well enough to allow removal of the paper from the felts. The paper is then placed in the open air to dry slowly. The felts are washed and prepared for their next use. Once the sheets of paper have dried to normal moisture content, they can be "sized" (this is done if the sheet is intended to carry aqueous media such as water color or ink to eliminate feathered bleeding of the drawn image); sizing may be done in the form of alum, powdered rosin, corn starch, animal-hide glue, unflavored gelatins, and other starchy substances. Use no more than one teaspoon of powdered rosin per quart of wet pulp mixed with water. Starch powders require that about one level tablespoon be used with the same volume. The handiest prepared and pre-measured additive is unflavored gelatin in small packets available in grocery stores. One packet per quart of wet stuff is all that is needed. The sizing will be quickly and evenly absorbed. The sheets are immersed in a shallow tray of prepared "gelatin sizing", removing them, and then repeating the pressing and drying procedure.

Projects include sheets of notepaper and envelopes, simple blank books for use as photo albums or recipe books, greetings cards decorated with pressed flowers and leaves, lampshades using textured paper, and special-event invitations. You may want to consider marketing your handmade paper to printers, calligraphers and artists; package the paper in plain, but attractive boxes and include a logo that will identify your particular range of handmade paper to the public.

*The mound is an important piece of papermaking equipment, and actually makes the sheets of paper. Usually rectangular in shape, it consists of a screen with a wooden edge (wood for the frame should be 1-by-2 inch pine strips clear of any knots or irregularities; 2 8-inch strips and 2 13-inch strips are joined together to make the frame. The corners are mitered at 45-degree angles and screwed with ¾-inch flathead wooden screws. Flat L-shaped metal braces should be applied to the underside for greater strength and rigidity. These must be brass, as should all hardware used throughout the mould-making process.

**In your search for material, consider using fabric such as printmaker's tarlatan, coarse cheesecloth, or burlap. On top of this is usually a second, separate wooden frame called the deckle (a removable wooden frame that fits the mould exactly and creates a raised edge).

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