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Make Your Own Paper

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Papermaking is a simple process that has so many possibilities for the graphic designer. In this chapter from their book, Robin Williams and Carmen Sheldon show you how to make your own paper.
This chapter is from the book Tools and materials
  • Cotton linters or papers
  • Large plastic tub
  • Blender
  • Papermaking screen (wooden frame with screen attached) and deckle (empty wooden frame)
  • Shallow tray larger than papermaking screen
  • Piece of plastic window screen same size as deckle
  • White craft felts
  • White tea towels or cotton napkins
  • Press bar or a clean household sponge
  • Household iron

(or use a papermaking kit from or a craft store)

Papermaking is a simple process that has so many possibilities for the graphic designer. The beautiful feathery edges that you get, called deckle edges (the hallmark of handmade papers) are one reason I like making my own paper.

You can also put a variety of elements right into the paper pulp to create perfect background textures for many graphic design pieces. I am always finding new things that can be mixed in the pulp for interesting effects.

Although this process looks like a lot of trouble, it actually takes a lot less time than you’d think. And it is extremely satisfying.

  1. Fill a plastic tub (large enough to put your papermaking screen in) half full with warm water.

    Fill a blender to the four-cup mark with warm water.

  2. If you’re using recycled paper, tear it up into small pieces and put a large handful in the blender. If you have purchased whole sheets of cotton linter, tear up the sheet into small pieces. (If you want to use old rags, first see pages 146–147.)

    Be careful! My darling students have caused the sad end of several machines this way. And be sure to use plenty of water.

    These linters (which look like heavy lint) create a very white paper, just aching for some color or inclusions. These are also terrific for paper casting—see the next chapter.

  3. Whiz the paper in the blender thoroughly. You usually want a fine-grade pulp—the finer the pulp, the smoother the paper. (And the more pulp you put in the tub, the thicker the paper.)
  4. Pour the pulp into your large plastic tub of warm water. Depending on the size of your tub, it will probably take more than one blender full of pulp to get the right proportion of pulp to water. My eight-gallon tub takes three or four blenders full of pulp.
  5. Swish the paper pulp around with your hand until the pulp and water are thoroughly mixed.

    Hold your papermaking screen vertically, screen side towards you, and plunge it vertically into the plastic tub of pulp. Do this with as little wiggling and movement as possible. Smooth, graceful, quiet hands make better, even sheets of paper.

  6. When you hit the bottom of the tub, turn the papermaking screen horizontal—screen side facing up.
  7. Pull the screen straight up with one deliberate motion. You want the pulp evenly distributed on the screen, so if it’s lumpy or thin on one edge, dump the pulp off your screen, stir it gently, and try the process again.
  8. Put your papermaking screen into an empty tray to catch all the dripping water. Put the empty wooden frame (the deckle) on top of your pulp. Match it up with the sides of the paper screen and press hard; this creates that lovely feathered (deckled) edge.
  9. Carefully remove the deckle without disturbing the paper pulp.
  10. Put a piece of window screen on top of your paper pulp.
  11. Using a press bar (if you have one, shown above, perhaps from a papermaking kit) or a book wrapped in a plastic bag or a clean household sponge, press the water out of your sheet of paper.

    Press hard. You want to get out as much water as you can. However, you don’t want the screen to move, so hold it firmly in place as you press the water out with your free hand.

  12. After you’ve gotten out as much water as you can, wipe the water out of your big tray with a towel.

    Gently peel off the window screen and set it aside.

  13. Put a piece of white craft felt (or clean pieces of an old sheet) in the bottom of the dry tray.
  14. Turn over your papermaking screen and put it down on the white felt, paper-pulp–side down. The paper pulp should be in contact with the felt.
  15. Using a press bar or clean household sponge, press out more water. This is called “couching” the paper (pronounced “kooching”).
  16. Pick up the felt and screen. Using a fingernail, tease a corner of the paper pulp off the screen. This usually works to start releasing the sheet of paper from the papermaking screen.
  17. Gently dump the sheet of paper onto a dry felt or a piece of an old sheet.
  18. Now you can iron your sheet of paper (on the “cotton” setting) between pressing cloths or tea towels. Or hang it up to dry, or lay it on a clean, flat surface to dry naturally.

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