I love making cards and notes for all types of special days and celebrations. I often buy fancy papers, but lately I have been more mindful of the paper I receive from other sources, even the packaging or envelopes from my mail. In doing so I have developed a collection of small decorative papers, all waiting to have a second life, made into beautiful handmade cards and gift tags. But what do you do with the not so great looking paper… junk mail, receipts, written notes, or tiny paper pieces you can’t reuse?
Well, there is an easy, fun, and creative solution! Make new paper from recycled paper!
The process of making paper that we use most commonly today dates back nearly 2000 years, and involves beating fibres into a pulp form, making it easier to bond the sheets together. The introduction of using wood pulp as a source for paper making only dates back to the 1830s, which uncoincidentally coincides with the first major deforestation era, where hectares of beautiful forest landscapes were cut down and sent to paper and logging mills.
Today about 31% of our land is covered by forest. But we are losing substantial amounts of trees at an alarming rate, 27 soccer fields worth of trees per minute to be exact. Most of the impact humans have on the world’s forests comes from agriculture, but illegal logging is a close second, and part of those resources end up being used in producing millions of pounds of paper per year.
That paper, is typically used once, and sometimes not even recycled. There are things we can do to help with this problem, which can include looking for Forest Stewardship certified paper, saying no to junk mail, purchasing post-consumer waste products, or limiting our paper use altogether by choosing more digital methods like emailed receipts. But regardless of how mindful you are of your paper use, some things are still hard to avoid, and you may end up with overloads of unneeded paper after awhile.
On a lighter note! Instead of recycling all of your paper scraps, why not turn it into something useful and beautiful! Handmade paper made from old paper products is a great way to up-cycle materials in a fun and creative way. It is a great activity to engage kids and has endless possibilities for additives. It is also quite an easy process with the help of a few simple materials. Traditional handmade paper requires many materials like a paper press, mould and deckle (frame and screen), paper pulp press etc. You can still make paper even if you do not have any of these things, however, I have a few tool suggestions that make the process more streamlined for at home paper making.
A second-hand blender is probably the most important out of all these materials. It is used to blend soft water-soaked recycled paper into a pulp. You can make paper without one, it’s just more time consuming and requires very soggy paper and good ol’ fashioned muscle (beating pulp by hand). I also suggest a second-hand blender because once you use it with paper, pulp will be stuck in places you wouldn’t have imagined and from then on your blender might sound like you are blending rocks.
A Bin or Bucket
A bin is used to hold the pulp in the water and drain the excess water off your paper. You don’t really want to use your sink for this as paper pulp does a great job of clogging drains!
A Surface for your Made Paper
This could be anything from a wood board, to a piece of foam or felt (or fabric), to your kitchen table. I would recommend having a movable material here as paper can take days to dry depending on the size and thickness. I personally like to use a small piece of dampened felt on a 2’x2’ floor foam puzzle piece. These two materials help absorb water and don’t adhere to the paper when it is drying.
A Blotting Tool
This will essentially be what you use to help remove water from your paper after shaping it. A sponge works great as it soaks up water and rings out easily. I will often use an old dish towel or cloth because that is just more common in my house than a sponge. It is also a good idea to have more than one, especially if you are using cloths, as they get wet fairly quickly.
A Screen (Optional but very useful)
A screen of some sort will help you strain the pulp out of your pulp bin to create an evenly thick piece of paper that could be made into very thin sheets of writing paper. A screen is also mimicking what a mould and deckle would do for more precise paper making. If you choose not to use a screen, you will just be removing and shaping the pulp with your hands, which is a little more difficult to get even paper sheets and drain water. Great for decorative shapes though! If you do not want to make a screen, you can always use makeshift ones, such as grease splatter screens. The only difference is the shape.
Cookie cutters or shapes of some sort make it easier to shape and pour pulp into the cutter rather than sculpt the rough shape yourself. For this heart-shaped paper, I used a pancake mould I found at the thrift store, and it turned out to be extremely helpful. They also wipe down very easily, which means you could use regular cutters you still want to use for food.
For the purpose of this decorative paper making how-to, I will be showing a successful way to make paper without high-priced tools, and also showcasing making shaped paper pieces for things like cards rather than rectangular pieces of writing paper.
MAKING HANDMADE PAPER
Recycled paper Second-hand blender Shallow bin or bucket Blotting tool (sponge/ old tea towel) Foam or felt pieces Cookie Cutters Spoon or small scoop
Optional: Small screen Seeds for seed paper Dried flowers Natural dye, food colouring, or coloured paper to add colour
First you will need to soak your recycled paper. Rip the paper into strips and put them into a bowl or bin of water. The pieces don’t have to be super small, just small enough to not stick together in the water and fit nicely in the blender. Soak the paper overnight.
Once the paper has soaked, make the pulp using a non-food blender on pulse. Make sure to add water in with the soaked paper to make it easier on the blender. You may have to add in more water as you pulse the mixture. Water can be drained later so add as much as you need, and pulse until your pulp has a consistent pureed texture (pictured below).
Once you have your pulp, you can add in colour. This could be coloured recycled paper, food colouring, a tiny bit of paint, or even natural dye. I use and make natural dyes frequently from plant material, so after making pulp I mixed hibiscus dye in with the pulp and left it to absorb the dye until the next day. I had also made dye from purple onions skins by boiling them for about an hour, which makes a red/orange colour. Of course, if you are using a different method for adding colour you don’t have to let it sit again. Natural dyes require time for the fibres to absorb the pigment.
Next, put your pulp into a bin of shallow water. Limit the amount of water you place the pulp into if you plan to only make shapes, as you’ll be lifting pulp out instead of dipping your full screen (like you would when making thin paper sheets). If you are intending to use a shaped cutter, place the screen on top of the water bin balancing on the sides, and put the cutter on top of it. You can use a spoon or small container to scoop pulp into the shape and press it down evenly.
Once you have a screen full of pulp, your shape is made, and it has sat over top of the water to drain, remove the cutter slowly. Lightly blot the pulp shape with a sponge or cloth.
After the pulp shape has been blotted for the first time over the bin, move it to your drying surface. In one motion, flip the pulped screen onto a felt or fabric piece. Blot the pulp again with the screen still on (drier pulp means easier removal from the screen). Slowly remove the screen starting from one corner. In the process if your pulp piece gets disturbed, just pick up the pulp and place it back in the pulp bin to try again. The more you repeat these steps, the better you’ll get at it, so your first try may not be a masterpiece. Without a screen: build the pulp shape directly onto the felt/fabric drying surface, and then blot it carefully.
Next, the waiting game! Wait until the pulp dries, which can take a few days. Blotting the paper is very important to help the paper dry, so if it is taking an incredibly long time to dry, try blotting with the sponge more next time.
Once it feels damp you can try flipping it by peeling it up from the felt, or using a hair dryer to speed up the process. You can also use a homemade press to squeeze the water from the paper, but chances are, unless you intend to make hundreds of sheets of paper, you probably don’t own one. You can easily mimic a press by alternating layers of felt and pulp paper, then stacking the pile with heavy objects. I used a homemade wood flower press that worked great for straining water. You can also just let it air dry without pressing.
When the paper has dried, peel the paper off of the fabric it dried on.
You have now successfully made paper from recyclables! Yay!
Even though these directions may seem long, making paper at home is a fairly simple process. There is so much variety to how paper can be made from recyclables, and the options are endless when it comes to additives like colour, seed paper, and sculpting! Making paper is very forgiving when it comes to mistakes, which allows for so much experimentation.
Use that ugly paper you have and make yourself some beautiful paper! If you have fallen in love with the process of paper making, and are looking for more, I would highly recommend this book, Papermaking with Garden Plants & Common Weeds by Helen Hiebert.