It’s not as daunting as it seems. It just takes a little preparation, a little time, and a bit more patience. The patience part coming at the end of the process when the paper is layered and you are painstakingly peeling it off the board with the most delicate of digits and making sure it doesn’t rip or tear, or you don’t loose your cool and throw the whole set up across the kitchen table! However, with practice and patience this will become second nature.
The great thing about making your own paper is not just the smug feeling of recycling otherwise useless bits of paper, (I use the shredded paper from my shredder so its already cut up for me), but the endless amounts of textures, thicknesses, colours you can create, and not to mention the creative ways to embed all sorts of leaves, petals, fibres, twigs and anything else you desire to compose interesting patterns and surfaces.
The set up is quite simple and the frames, (mould and deckle), can also be homemade for various shapes and sizes. You will need:
- A Mould and deckle (I’ll explain in a moment)
- shredded paper
- blender or food processor
- tub of water big enough to fit the deckle in
- cloth for drying
- hairdryer for drying (optional but recommended)
- Newspaper to lay the sheets on before hanging up to dry in order to absorb excess water.
- waterproof surface or tablecloth
The Mould and Deckle.
These have been used since the start of paper making and consist simply as two wooden frames of equal size, one having a cut of muslin cloth stretched over on side and sealed to the frame. These can be bought or made, however A4 sizes tend to be quite expensive (around £35 upwards) so for the sake of a few bits of wood and some muslin cloth (or even old picture frames of equal size and shape), I’d recommend making one. They are used to ‘fish’ into the pulp and water mix which catches on the muslin cloth and sets into the frame where it can be peeled off and dried.
1) The Soak.
Any paper will do, depending on the finish you desire. Try to stay away from anything shiny of coated with plastic, newspaper will give a grey tint, but is ok to use up to about 20% newspaper won’t tinge the colour too much.
Shred the paper up into roughly 3cm squares, or pass it through a shredder so that it absorbs water more efficiently when soaked and is easier to pulp. The next stage is to soak it overnight in cold water, or if pressed for time it can be simmered for around an hour which gives the same results. This is to break the fibres down so that it sticks together more effectively. The longer it soaks the better, but if soaking over night and left too long the paper starts to smell.
2) The Pulp.
After the soak the paper can be drained and wizzed in a blender or food processor in small batches to give a fine pulp which will be directly mixed into your water bowl. Wizz it with a little water to ensure ease of pulping. Don’t wizz it so it turns to liquid, but you want to make sure the fibres have been broken down to give a firm consistency. The finer you grind it, the smoother the paper will be. It is here that a bit of experimentation and measuring should be practised.
3) Mixing the Pulp and Water.
Directly add your pulp to some cool, fresh tap water in your bowl and mix it around to get a constant even cloudiness. Make sure this is always being stirred as to not create layers and sediment at the bottom. The ratios depend on how thick you want the paper. Below I have written out a chart of the different ratios I experimented with and some pictures of the resulting paper.
4) Dip and Dry.
Once the water and pulp is mixed, simply line up the mould (the empty frame) onto the deckle (the one with the muslin) and use it as a scoop, submerging it in the cloudy mixture and lifting it out, making sure it is completely FLAT, otherwise you will get sloping paper!
Keeping the two frames together it is important now to get the paper as dry as possible so that it doesn’t tear when removing it. Trying to remove it in one piece is an art form in itself and will require a lot of practice runs so set aside a few days of experimenting before you decide to make anything worth while. It could possibly save you ripping out your hair! Rubbing the underside with a cloth helps draw the water out from the bottom, then use a hair dryer on the top. You will quickly get a knack for when its ready to peel as you can see the amount of water left in it. Too dry and it will stick to the mesh and also tear.
If it gets too dry, slightly wet the underside again to allow the paper to peel off and not stick. Also, make sure the edges are especially dry as this is where water collects, and it is also the first point the page will start to tear.
Another good tip is to set up your station before hand with water proof sheets underneath the bowl, (it’s a messy job), have a few cloths to hand for drying yourself and the paper, and an area with newspaper to lay the pieces down to soak up excess water before hanging to dry.
The smaller the frame, ie A5, the easier it is so I recommend starting with this. The larger you go the harder it is to peel off undamaged which takes a lot more skill and precision. However it is possible to make 2 A5 sheets, and when fresh out of the deckle can be slightly overlapped and pressed together with a rolling pin. This also takes a bit of practise but yields surprisingly smooth results.
Once a basic grasp of consistency and a little skill and sleight of hand has been achieved a bit of customisation can be introduced. After the pulp has been mixed with the water you can add all sorts of petals, leaves, fibres, feathers and anything else to create extra texture. The more creative the more fun.
The other great thing about this is that you can freeze any excess soaked paper to use whenever. Be warned a LITTLE goes a LONG way!
Ratio of Water:paper
Making sure thee is enough water in the bowl to submerge the deckle and as I said,bearing in mind that even a small amount of pulp goes a VERY long way, I started with 3l of water in a washing up bowl to around 1 cups of pulped paper.
Just remember every time a page is made the amount of pulp and water goes down so if you dont top up the pulp slightly every 3 or 4 pages, the consistency will get thinner.
3l : 1cup Great texture, but way too thick for drawing or writing. Good for collages and layers, but the surface creased up while drying, making it difficult for drawing or writing on. As you can see it was taken off too quickly and was still wet resulting in tearing.
5l : 1cup Much thinner and much more eligible for writing, however I was determined to get it a little thinner. Also the thinner the paper, the faster it takes to dry. If making your own frames, it’s a good idea to maybe make a few deckles so that you can get three or four on at a time. This one was also too wet when I took it of the deckle and it slightly ripped.
7l : 1cup Finally I got a piece that I was happy with. A much more manageable weight, I’d probably still go thinner, but 7:1, or 3.5:0.5 is a good starting point.
Once dried the pages can be put in a press to flatten and smooth them out, ready for use.