One night the girl asked me how paper is made. Being a graphic designer, I actually learned about this in school and was able to give her a pretty thorough explanation which she was surprisingly attentive to. She then asked if we could make paper at home. Hmmm . . . Well, we can’t start with wood pulp and cotton or linen rags but we can recycle used paper into new paper. Many people don’t know this but the paper industry has been recycling it’s own waste since long before it was environmentally fashionable.
So the next day I started scouring the house for materials. I built a mold and deckle from some half inch wood trim and old window screen left over from other projects. I made it a little bigger than a half sheet of paper.
The kids bring home so many papers from school and I keep anything that is blank on one side in a scrap pile with the other art supplies. We went through a pile of mostly copier paper and pulled out all the pink sheets we could find. The girl and a friend tore up the paper into one inch size pieces, dropping them into a bucket of water which we allowed to sit out overnight to soften the paper so that it would be easier for my blender to chop up. The blender chopped up the pieces into slurry that looked rather like a pink milkshake. With the occasional piece of grass. . .
I poured the slurry into a rectangular plastic bin several inches larger than the mold and added water to make the slurry thinner. I put the mould on top of the deckle and the kids took turns slipping it into the water and watching the bits of fibers swirl around and settle onto the screen as they pulled it back up. After gently removing the mold, I laid a piece of felt on the wet paper, gently patted it to squeeze some water out, and then tipped the whole thing upside down onto a flat surface. I tapped the deckle a bit to get the paper to separate and left each sheet to dry in the sun. Wool felt would probably work better since it’s much more absorbent but I used cheap acrylic felt and it seemed to work fine. I admit to getting impatient and ironing the paper to dry the pieces. This also helped flatten the paper. When the paper is dry it will peel off the felt quite easily.
Our finished papers.
The girl proudly took several pieces to her teacher to show her exactly what we had done with her homework pages!
Click any of the thumbnails to view a larger picture. I included a lot of pictures because there were some parts of the process that I had a hard time finding clear pictures of. We are currently making a batch of blue paper. I’m going to count how many pieces we can make to see what the ratio is of old paper to new paper.
Here is a link that gives much more detailed instructions than mine as well as some interesting history about papermaking.