I love it when you can take something completely useless that you would otherwise throw away and make it into something functional and beautiful! One of those useless items is junk mail! Usually it’s covered in print, so it doesn’t make good scrap paper, especially if it has personal information on it. Then it’s straight to the shredder or rip it up before tossing it. You COULD give it to your little ones and let them have fun scrunching it and tearing it up, but that’s about all it’s good for, right? Well….. I’m going to show you a few awesome things you can do with your unwanted mail. This also includes any used scrap paper, old bills to be shredded, leftover homework, tissue paper that no longer looks pretty, toilet paper (unused!), paper towels (unused!), and almost any type of paper that you would otherwise throw away. I’m going to do this as a series of posts, so this doesn’t get super long!
First off, we’re going to recycle that paper into new paper! Already recycle your unwanted paper? Awesome! Unfortunately, we don’t have recycling pick up services in our area, and recycling ANYTHING means hoarding big piles, lugging it to the recycle bins at the dump, and waiting in line since everyone seems to do it on the weekends! So, to be honest, we don’t recycle as much as we used to since living here.
Have you ever seen that pretty homemade paper that looks like linen? Or has colorful thread or dried flowers in it? Or maybe you received a wedding invitation on plantable paper with seeds in it? Most of the time what you’re looking at is homemade paper. And what is homemade paper? It’s just the process of recycling old paper! And that’s what I’m going to show you how to do.
Don’t get overwhelmed by this. It is very easy. Once you have all of your tools and supplies assembled, it’s really easy to pull them out each time you want to make paper.
First of all, you will need a mold and deckle. Huh? What’s that? For your benefit, I’ve included a glossary of terms at the very end of this post. Go check it out. I’ll still be here! You can purchase a mold and deckle kit at most craft stores. However, I’m going to show you how to make one for a fraction of the cost. If you would rather buy one, skip down 3 pictures, and start reading where it says, The Supplies.
1. two empty wooden frames – one bigger than the other (check your thrift stores and yard sales!) I recommend small frames for beginners and then working up to a full size sheet of paper.
2. window screen
3. hammer and short nails or a staple gun
Place the window screen on top of the larger frame. Nail it down or staple it while pulling the screen tight in all directions.
You can see in my picture that this frame once had a screen on it. It got a lot of use and wasn’t as tight as I wanted, so I put a new screen on.
1. paper to be recycled
2. a plastic tub that is wider and longer than your mold and deckle and preferably has a lid
3. large spoon
4. a blender
5. heavy towels (like bath towels)
6. several thick sponges
7. several pieces of white felt
9. heavy books or equivalent (optional)
10. a paper shredder (optional)
11. an iron and ironing board (optional)
12. wire kitchen sieve (optional)
13. Ziploc bags or similar (optional)
I recommend doing this outside. You can do it inside. Just pick a place that has water friendly surfaces.
If you have a paper shredder, awesome! If not, you can tear your paper into small pieces. I would try to stay away from really thick paper especially if it has shiny print. Remove the plastic from envelope windows. Magazines and newspaper are ok! The mix of paper you use will determine what your new paper will be like. You can mix different kinds to get different thicknesses and textures. What I’m going to show you is the SIMPLEST form of paper making. There are so many fun ways you can do this and things you can add to your vat or mold. Let’s keep it simple for now.
Fill your tub with warm to hot water. A lot of people skip this step and go straight to the blender. Trust me, it’s worth it. Your blender won’t have to work so hard and you’ll get smoother pulp. Add your shredded paper. This is an awesome kid activity! M did a lot of this himself. Obviously, children should not use a paper shredder, and young children should not use a blender.
So I’m going to stray one step from simple, but it’s still easy. One of the easy ways to color your paper is to add a little bit of shredded, colored tissue paper. This batch will produce lime green paper. I have a lot of junk mail envelopes with the blue security print in this batch. Basic color mixing: blue + yellow (tissue paper) = green. If you use white printer paper with a lot of black print on it, your paper will usually result in an off white color (linen). Just like most things that are wet, your pulp will be a lot darker in color than what your finished dry paper will be. Use a large spoon to push all of the paper under the water. You can definitely use your hands if your water isn’t too hot. M loved this! The paper will stick all over you though. Let the paper shreds soak in the hot water until they are soft. This only takes minutes for regular printer paper. Thicker paper will take longer.
Add some of the hot water. There are no specifics to this. You just need enough liquid to help puree the paper. You don’t need to add anything else. The bonding materials in the original paper are enough to bond new sheets of paper. Blend it up. Yay for outdoor outlets! For beginners, I suggest blending it as smooth as you can. Add more hot water as needed and stir it once in a while (while it’s off). If you’re worried about dulling your blades, use a separate blender just for paper making (again, check your thrift stores and yard sales). Keep the leftover water in the tub.
Pour the pulp back into the tub. Don’t worry if you have a few leftover shreds of unblended paper in there. It will just add character to your new paper. Just pour a little at a time. You’re going to have to experiment with how much you need when you make your first piece of paper. I always add more warm water at this point too. It helps to have several inches of the water/pulp mixture in the tub. You’re going to be sticking your hands in this, so warm verses cool water is a personal choice. Put a thick towel folded in half next to your tub. Have your felt and sponges ready.
This next part might be hard to understand. So if you have questions, please ask in the comments below. While holding your mold and deckle, submerge your hands into the vat. Gently swirl and stir the pulp to try to evenly distribute and suspend the fibers in the water. Don’t create large waves. Now lift your hands out, and with the water moving, scoop the mold and deckle down to the bottom of the tub. In other words, start with the mold and deckle at a 90 degree angle with the deckle facing away from you. Insert it into the water starting at the side of the tub closest to you, and using a scooping motion, move it to the bottom of the tub so it is flat again. The goal is to get underneath as many of the fibers as you can. Then gently stir the water again, moving your hands towards you and away from you. Take the slightest pause in the middle of the tub and immediately, but gently, pull your mold and deckle straight up out of the water while keeping it level. Whew! Did you get all of that? Again, if you have questions, please ask!
It’s actually really easy! That whole process only takes 5 – 10 seconds. If you can get your pulp evenly distributed, and pull straight up, you’ll have an even sheet of paper on your mold. This is where you’ll need to decide if you should add or take away pulp to get the desired thickness of your paper. The more paper you make from one vat, the more pulp you’ll need to add.
Let the excess water drip off of the mold while you hold it over the tub. You can tip it slightly to let water run off the corner. While keeping it straight, lift the deckle straight up and off of the mold. Put a piece of felt on top of your newly formed sheet of paper. If you’re making small paper, put it close to the edge so you can fold the felt on top of it in a later step. You can also turn your mold upside down and put it on felt that way. The paper won’t fall off and will stick to the mold. Put it on the towel. The felt should be in between the towel and mold so the back of the mold is facing up. Take your sponges and start sponging up excess water. Squeeze them out periodically into your tub. Switch to dry sponges and let the damp ones dry to speed up the process.
Next is to couch the paper. For beginners, the easiest way is to keep sponging and replacing the towel if needed until the mold pulls away leaving the paper on the felt. If you have little patience like me, you can sponge it to a point where you can peel the paper off the mold. This is a little bit risky. The wet paper will easily tear and it might fall wrinkled onto your felt.
Here is a fully couched paper. See the wrinkles? Oh well. It’s also normal for some to stay behind on the edges of your mold. This is especially true if your deckle wasn’t flush with your mold. In this case, my nails were too long and prevented the deckle from completely touching the screen. Once you get the hang of it, you can really produce a lot of paper fast.
All that’s left is the drying process! You can let it dry naturally or do a few things to speed it up. I like to fold my felt over the paper. I can usually fit two pieces of paper per piece of felt. If your paper is bigger, just place another sheet of felt over it. With an iron on low – and I stress LOW! – you can iron over the felt to dry more of the water. Craft felt sheets are synthetic and will toast if your iron is too hot. Ask me how I know!
From here you can leave it in the felt to dry. You can also stack the felt and put heavy books on top to help them dry flat. Let me tell you, your paper will take days or even weeks to dry this way! So another option is to open up the felt, tip it over, and let them peel off onto a water safe surface to dry. I like to use my ironing board, because once they are dry, I iron them flat (iron on low!). This is similar to ironing sewing patterns if you’re a sewer.
(This picture shows wet verses dry)
You could really speed up the drying process by using the iron directly on the wet paper. This takes practice and skill. At all costs you want to avoid actually ironing the paper, but instead press it with the iron (again on low!). Trust me, your paper will crumble and stick to your iron if you at all rub the iron on it while it’s wet. Always leave a corner peeking out of the iron so you have something to grab onto to pull it off. Your paper won’t evenly dry this way and you may end up with some scorch marks. But it’s a good method for the brave and impatient!
Experiment with different colors and textures. Veer away from the simple and add embellishments to your paper! You’ll have a nice pile of paper like this with natural deckle edges! Some of these have some yellow thread in them.
Now, don’t throw away your vat of pulp!! First of all, you can save it and make more paper with it in the future or mix it in with other vats. Second of all, I’m going to show you some awesome things you can do with that pulp in other installments of this series. I’m also going to show you what you can do with your new paper.
To save your pulp, you can just cover it up, but only do this for the short-term. Otherwise, pour the contents of your tub into a wire sieve. Do this outside and NOT over your drain please. The sieve will collect the pulp the same way the screen on the mold does. You can use your fist to squeeze a lot of the water out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Store your wet pulp in an airtight Ziploc bag or something similar. So far, I’ve had batches of mine keep this way for 3 years and counting. I just use what I need when I want it.
If you’re not already following me or subscribed by email, make sure you are so you are notified of other installments of this series! You can find the email subscription link on the top right side of this page. And one more reminder: if you have questions about this project, PLEASE ask, and I will do my best to answer them. Now start recycling your junk mail and I’ll meet you back here for Part 2!
Glossary of Terms
Mold and Deckle - A 2 part frame used to make the paper. The bottom part is the mold. It is larger and has a screen on it. The upper part is the deckle. It determines the shape and size of the paper.
Pulp – A mix of plant fibers and water.
Vat – The container that holds the pulp from which the paper is produced.
Couch – (pronounced “cooch”) The process of transferring a newly formed sheet of paper from the mold to felt.
Deckle Edge – The natural, untrimmed edge formed on the paper by the deckle.
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