How My Handmade Paper Is Made

How My Handmade Paper Is Made

Published On: 03-04-2012 02:20am

Comments: 2 - Hits: 0

Category: Papermaking

I first became interested in making handmade paper when I saw some products at a card shop that were made with natural dried leaves.  Being attracted to the natural realm, I thought the items were beautiful and began to research the art of papermaking.

I started by reading several books about handmade paper.  I was amazed at all the possible creations that could be done with paper pulp and natural materials, including fine art landscapes and many different types of paper with natural fibers, such as cotton, grasses, and cornhusks.

In this blog, I will take you through the steps I followed to make one of my batches of recycled paper with natural dried ferns. The steps are illustrated with photos. 

The first step for making recycled paper is to collect some clean refuse paper. Do not use cardboard or very thick papers because they are too difficult to process.  The thick paper will not break up as small as lighter weight paper.  However, if the final desired effect is a dappled quality, using various papers may be just the ticket! After collecting the paper, it is cut into small pieces about 1" square in preparation for processing.

There are two types of recycled paper I make. One type has the refuse papers separated into different colors and shades of the same color, which will retain the main color within that batch. The other, has the refuse paper boiled in a solution of water and soda ash to remove most of the ink from the paper.  After processing, the paper is off-white and retains small black specs from residual ink. This can be left alone, as with the paper used on my box with yellow petals and ferns, or can be colorized with pigments added to the pulp in the vat. I have not used pigments to color my paper, but I have used tea bags to create a natural tan paper, such as is seen on my "paper rose box" and jewelry chest. The descriptions of my products describe what process was used to create each piece.

The small pieces of paper are placed in a solution of water and soda ash, and boiled for approximately 2-3 hours to clean and soften the paper.  Soda ash is sodium carbonate and is safer than other alternative chemicals.


After the paper has cooled, it is placed in a blender with a preparation of water and size. The sizing helps to strengthen the paper and make the sheet somewhat stiffer for durablility. There are many types of sizing, and the type you choose depends upon what the paper will be used for.  I used methylcellulose for my paper. The paper is beat into a pulp in small quantities.  Do not over process it, or the paper fibers will become too short and the paper will be flimsy.


The pulp is added to a vat with water. I added the pulp directly to the vat without draining. The pulp is then suspended in the water and is able to be scooped out to form the sheet.  As you work, stir the vat often to keep the fibers suspended.


At this point, any inclusions to the paper are added.  For this batch I added dried ferns.  The ferns were prepared prior to making the paper. I boiled and then soaked fresh ferns in plain water for about 15-20 minutes, rinsed them thoroughly, and then placed them in a single layer in between paper towels for 30 minutes. I observed the paper towels at the end of this period to look for possible staining.  If the towels are turning brown, I repeat the process and blot them further, so my final paper is free from staining. The flowers or leaves can be pressed and dried after there is no staining.  They can also be dried in the microwave! (I prefer the "pressing" method.)

When adding items to the pulp, you can choose to have them embedded completely, partially embedded, or on the surface.  When adding fabric fibers or plant fibers, I want them totally interspersed within the paper fibers, so they are stirred in the vat more vigorously.  In this example, the ferns are exposed so they are placed on the surface of the water before I pull each sheet from the vat.


The pulp is scooped from the water with a mold and deckle, which is a set of two wooden frames in the exact same size.  I made this mold and deckle out of 1" square hardwood, coated in polyurethane to waterproof the wood.  The rust-proof metal L-shaped corner plates keep the frames square.  The deckle is left open, and the mold is covered with a nylon mesh stretched tightly over one side.  I put waterproof tape, in this case duct tape, around the edges of the mold to prevent pulp from getting between the screen and wood.

The frames are held together with the deckle (open frame) placed on top, and the mold (screened frame) placed underneath with the screen side up. Draw the mold and deckle in a smooth movement toward you, leveling it out as you pull it from the water.  The pulp will lay on top of the screen, and the water will drain slowly from the pulp. As the water is draining, it is necessary to gently shake the mold and deckle from side to side in each direction, aiding the paper fibers to overlap. This strengthens the sheet and evens out the pulp as it settles on the screen.  If the water drains too quickly, there are additives you can put in the water to slow the drainage time.


After the water is completely drained, remove the top frame carefully, being sure not to drip onto the newly formed sheet. This will distort the surface and show up on the finished paper. If you find it necessary to start over, just turn the mold upside down over the vat and touch the surface of the paper to the water and allow it to return to the vat.  This method is called "kissing off". Make sure you stir the vat and get the pulp mixed back into the water.

When you complete the sheet of paper satisfactorily, it is ready to be transfered to a couching mound. This is a slightly raised area in the center of a tray, which catches the excess water draining from the paper. The mound can be made of folded newspapers or rags, and is covered with a piece of material called a felt.  The felt is an absorbent material which is placed between each newly formed sheet of paper.

The paper is transferred by touching the sheet of paper onto the mound starting with the edge closest to you, and gently pressing it down in a contiuous rolling motion. Once the top edge is touching, continue the rolling movement in the oposite direction, lifting the edge closest to you off of the mound last as the paper is transferred. With practice, the paper will stay on the mound.  The paper transfers easier if the mound is slightly raised, kept wet, and is smooth, not lumpy.  Cover the sheet of paper with another felt.  The mound is ready to receive your next sheet!

When the stack is completed, cover the top with one last felt. I used a rolling pin to gently press some of the excess water from the stack.  The stack, also called a "post", is transfered to a press, and put under pressure overnight to remove as much excess water as possible. 


I made a press for this purpose out of two plywood boards and 2x4s cut into four pieces.  All the wood is coated with polyurethane to waterproof the press.  The 2x4s sandwich the plywood between them, using bolts and wing nuts to adjust the pressure used to squeeze the stack of paper.  These are shown side-by-side above. They would be turned so the bolts are upright, with the nuts facing up; remove the washer, wing nut and top board to place your "plywood/paper stack sandwich" between; replace the board, washer, and nut; and screw the wing nuts to tighten them gradually.  The water will drain from the paper best if you place the press on an angle so the water can roll away from the paper. This press can also be used to press flowers and leaves when drying them.


The next morning, I removed the stack and hung up each sheet to dry while still on its felt.  Once the paper is completely dry, it can be pulled from the felt and stacked again without the felts.  If the paper needs to be completely flat it can be put under weight for a day or two to flatten it further. The paper can also be flattened with heat from an ordinary household iron, but I did not need to pursue this method.


There are many things you can do with handmade paper. You are only limited by your imagination. It takes some practice to get skillful at forming and couching the sheets, and learning what types and quantities of chemicals are needed for processing. It is also a time consuming process, but it is gratifying to continue an age-old art of papermaking and follow in the footsteps of artisans that preceded us.


Reader's Comments

By natureloftart on 02/20/2014 @ 05:02pm

Most of my papers were made from paper I recycled from ordinary paper, office copies, and "junk mail." These papers were uncoated; not the type that have a high gloss surface. Sometimes I cooked them in a soda ash solution, which cleans and softens the pulp. Sometimes I would make the paper straight from colored paper to preserve the colors, although you can also dye the paper after cleaning it. I never worked with dyes. I will also mix other fibers into the paper to add strength, which I'll talk about next. I used three different types of pulp to add to the recycled paper, and in some cases I made paper from them directly. The first is cotton linter, which is bright white, and is derived from the silky fibers that adhere to cotton seeds, called cotton linters. The second is abaca pulp, which is an unbleached, cream colored paper made from banana leaf fibers. The third is kozo, often used to make Japanese papers. It is made with the inner bark of a Paper Mulberry plant. All three are available in sheets from an art supply or paper making supply company for paper making. Adding these fibers gave the recycled paper added strength when I used them. I did not add them all together; I used each one separately. I never made paper directly from tree pulp. The closest I got was using corn husks, which required cooking down before it could be used for paper making, so I'm guessing that using tree parts would require similar treatment. I did try adding bark and dried brown leaves to paper, but it was difficult to make it without brown staining. I hope this answers your question! If you are interested, perhaps I will do a blog on my corn husk paper. Thank you for your comment!

By Guest on 02/20/2014 @ 10:20am

are the papers made from any tree you come across or is there a specific one ?if so what is the name of the tree

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