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Papermaking with rags

I’d never made paper before reading Carmen’s instructions here, and I was intrigued to see if I could make paper from cotton and linen rags, old clothes and napkins. I discovered there was just one extra step in the process, shown below.

Before following Carmen’s directions starting from Step 1 (pages 141–145), first do this:

You’ll need:

  • Cotton or linen rags
  • A non-aluminum cooking pot
  • Baking soda
  • Strainer
  1. Cut up some old linen or cotton item into tiny pieces. Do not use wool or synthetic fabrics!

    If you are using new fabric fresh from the fabric store, be sure to wash it first to remove the sizing.

    In this example, I’m using a leg from a pair of well-worn and well-loved linen pants that were falling apart but I just couldn’t bear to throw them away. Thank goodness I didn’t.

    Use good sharp scissors to cut the fabric into tiny pieces.

  2. Put the fabric in a non-aluminum pot with plenty of water.

    Add a few spoonfuls of baking soda.

    Let it simmer at a low boil for at least an hour. Keep an eye on it because it will boil over, as you can see above. Don’t worry—it cleans up easily.

  3. Rinse the soggy fabric through a strainer. Rinse it well to get out all the baking soda.
  4. Now go to page 141 and follow Carmen’s directions for making your own paper.

    Make sure you put plenty of water and not too much fabric in the blender at a time—fabric is sturdier than paper and the extra work the blender has to go through can burn out the motor. Guess how I discovered that interesting tidbit.

I have a book press because I’m learning to bookbind. I discovered it makes a great paper press as well. I put various objects under the damp paper sheets and pressed them between paper towels and old bed sheets to create impressions in the paper. You can always use bricks or heavy books instead of a press.

I cut out a stencil (with my nifty hot-tip stencil cutter-outer, as shown on page 159) and placed it under a damp sheet of my new linen paper. It turns out that impressed shapes appear better on light-colored sheets. So I used a gold leafing pen and colored in the barely visible imprint from the stencil, as shown above.


In this example I mixed in pieces of bark with the paper pulp. These added elements are called “inclusions.” You can put all kinds of things in your paper pulp—dried flowers, bits of glitter, pieces of metal leaf, small cuttings of threads and strings, confetti—anything as long as it is dry. You don’t want your paper to mold, so fresh plants and flowers won’t work very well.

My talented student, Nichole Coggiola, gave me this lovely sheet of paper with bark inclusions; I scanned the whole sheet because I love the edges. I used my photograph of a Boca musician and gave it a warm sepia tone in Photoshop, using the Hue/Saturation palette (click the Colorize button and adjust the tones). In InDesign, I used the eyedropper tool to sample colors out of the sheet of paper and photograph for the typography. I like to tie the images and backgrounds together for unity and elegance.

In this collage, I bought the piece of washi paper with the chunks of newspaper already embedded in it (you don’t have to make EVERYTHING yourself). I combined that with my own pressed leaves and other elements for this piece on recyling.

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