Papermaking workshop in Sheila Nakitende’s Studio. Photo by Women’s Studio Workshop, via Flickr.
What you’ll need:
- A mould and deckle (or, if you want to make your own, 2 old picture frames or 2 inexpensive stretched canvases, plus a piece of fiberglass or aluminum window screen)
- A blender
- Recycled paper (office paper, tissue paper, etc.)
- A plastic vat (larger than your mould and deckle)
- A staple gun (if you have one already)
- Duct tape or strapping tape
- Several sheets of felt, newspaper, fabric, or towels
- A sponge
- A clothesline
- Optional: Confetti, flower petals, string, or bits of thread (to add color and texture to your paper)
The mould and deckle
Making a mould and deckle. Illustration by Alison Kolesar from Papermaking with Garden Plants and Common Weeds by Helen Hiebert.
- Remove the existing canvas if there is one, then use a staple gun to affix a piece of window screen—made from fiberglass or aluminum—that is cut slightly smaller than the frame. Apply duct tape or strapping tape to cover the staples and the edges of the screen. If you don’t have a staple gun and are making a small screen, you can just use duct tape to secure the screen to the frame.
- You will need a second frame that is the same size as the mould to use as your deckle. (Learn more about making your own mould and deckle here.)
Making pulp with a blender. Illustration by Alison Kolesar from Papermaking with Garden Plants and Common Weeds by Helen Hiebert.
- Fill your blender ¾ full with water, and add a handful of recycled paper (the equivalent of one standard sheet of office paper). Use plain white if you want white paper; printed/recycled office paper will yield a light grey, and/or you can mix in some colored paper. Experiment with various paper types (text weight, 100% cotton, card stock) to vary the resulting colors and textures.
- Put the lid on the blender and turn it on. I usually start at a slow speed—such as “mix”—and then switch to a higher speed when I hear the blender running smoothly (after about five seconds). If the motor sounds strained, turn it off and check that the pulp is not wrapped around the blades, or that there is not too much pulp in the blender.
- Dump the freshly beaten pulp directly into the vat if you will be making paper right away; or, you can collect it in a bucket and store it for a few days (it will start to smell if you leave it too long). Continue blending the pulp by the handful.
- The ratio of pulp to water varies, depending on how thick you want your sheets to be. Start with a few blenders full of pulp in a vat and see if you are happy with the thickness. Then, add pulp or water as necessary. As you make sheets, you will need to replenish your pulp.
- At this point, you can add other small decorative elements to the pulp, like flower petals, confetti, or bits of string or thread. Note that natural elements (like flower petals) might bleed or turn brown—you’ll have to try it to see what happens!
Dipping the mould and deckle into the vat of pulp. Illustration by Alison Kolesar from Papermaking with Garden Plants and Common Weeds by Helen Hiebert.
- Agitate the pulp in the vat with your hand to create a homogenous, evenly mixed solution.
- Thoroughly wet the mould and deckle with water. Then place the deckle on top of the screen side of the mould, making sure that all edges and corners line up.
- Hold these two pieces together as you dip the mould and deckle into the vat at a 45-degree angle to the bottom of the vat, scooping underneath the surface of the pulp and pulling toward yourself.
- Bring the mould and deckle parallel to the bottom of the vat, lift them up out of the mixture, and shake—left to right and back to front—to interlock the fibers. Shake it semi-vigorously (like you are panning for gold), until you see the fibers starting to settle on the screen.
- Be careful not to shake it for too long; when you see that the fibers have settled on the screen, you can remove the deckle. Set the deckle aside, gently tilt the mould, and watch to see that the sheet on the surface does not start to slip off.
- To couch, set one edge of the mould down on one edge of the couching material, with the wet sheet facing the couching material.
- Carefully lay the entire wet sheet onto the couching surface, and apply even pressure on the back of the mould’s edges and screen to ensure that the sheet transfers to the couching surface.
- Lift one edge of the mould, peeking underneath to see that the sheet has released, and then remove the mould.
- Lift one sheet of paper (attached to its couching surface) and place it onto a dry felt or newspaper (something that will absorb some of the water).
- Next, place a dry sheet of fabric or interfacing on top of the sheet to protect the wet paper’s surface, and gently but firmly sponge water out of the sheet.
- Wring out the sponge repeatedly as you continue pressing over the entire sheet.
Drying. Illustration by Alison Kolesar from Papermaking with Garden Plants and Common Weeds by Helen Hiebert.
- Make sure the sheet is pressed and firmly attached to the material, and hang it on a clothesline.
- When dry (this can take up to 24 hours, depending on the humidity level), peel the sheet off of the couching material, and put it under weight if you wish to flatten it.
- If you want a really smooth and flat sheet, you can try transferring the wet sheet from the couching material to a smooth surface, like a countertop or window.
- You can even dry sheets on textured surfaces, such as wood or walls, to give your sheet a unique surface.
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