How to build a papermaking starter kit

Paper crafts are hot now, and one of the hottest is making homemade paper. It’s easy to do and requires minimal investment. With a little effort, you can recycle junk mail and other unwanted paper into an interesting hand-made paper suitable for greeting cards, bookmarks, and scrapbooking.

To assemble a starter kit for this craft, you will need a few items you probably already have around the house. To make a mold for the paper, you will need a piece of window screen and a wooden picture frame. Staple the screen to the frame. You can make a frame from wood if you like. A stiff piece of the plastic canvas will also work for a mold. Next, you will need a dishpan or other rectangular basin, large enough to set the frame or mold down inside. You will need a large sponge and several pieces of white felt. These are available in the craft department for about 20 cents each.

A blender is the most critical piece of equipment needed, although an iron and ironing board will also come in handy. Of course, you will also need scraps of junk mail or other unwanted paper. A roll of waxed paper is optional, but it does provide a nice place to lay the paper sheets while they are drying. A small bottle of liquid starch completes the list of needed supplies for papermaking. The starch is included because it helps the paper have a better texture for using with ink. Ink will tend to soak into paper made without starch.

To use the kit, first tear the scrap paper into pieces. Half fill the blender with paper pieces and add warm tap water to cover. Starting at low and increasing the blender speed, process the paper pieces for about a minute. Look at the resulting pulp and see if there are any visible paper pieces. The goal is to break the paper down to its fibers. Blend until the mash is as smooth as possible.

Place the paper pulp into the basin and add more warm water. Repeat the procedure until the basin is half-filled with thin slurry. The thicker the pulp mixture, the thicker your finished paper will be. Stir two teaspoons of starch into the slurry, agitate it a bit, and dip the mold into it. Lift the mold slowly and let the excess water drain back into the basin. Set the mold down on one of the felt pieces.

Dab the top of the paper mold with the sponge to remove more excess water. At this time, your paper is very wet and very fragile. Place another piece of felt on the paper and invert the mold. Now, carefully remove the mold. Lift it slowly and make sure all the paper fibers are staying together and not coming up with the mold. If you are using plastic canvas, the paper will have the texture of little squares. If you wish to retain this texture, gently blot the paper with the sponge and let dry. To speed up the drying process, you can place another felt piece over the paper, and iron the whole thing on a low setting.

The pulp you make in the blender will be a dark gray if you use magazine type junk mail. When it dries, it becomes a pale, flecked gray that is very nice-looking. The edges of the homemade paper are irregular and attractive. Of course, the paper may also be cut to the desired size.

Do not dump the unwanted pulp down the drain, or you are likely to clog it. One way to get the most out of it is to take an old window screen, place it over the bathtub, and pour the slurry over it. Pour gently and evenly around the middle of the screen. Let this dry, and you will have a large irregularly shaped sheet of homemade paper suitable for crafting.

When you master the basic technique, it is time to begin experimenting with materials. Try sorting the scrap paper by color, or using different types of paper, like tissue or cardstock. Try adding minute scraps of yarn or aluminum foil. Find other natural fibers, such as those in plant stalks. It is thought that the first crafted paper was made in A.D. 105, by Ts’ai Lun, and that he used rags, mulberry bark, and hemp. Remember that when experimenting, some of the experiments may flop, but others may be lovelier than you ever imagined!

When you master

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