Getting Started:
The Simplest Way to Make Your First Sheet of Handmade Paper!
by Catherine Nash

What you’ll need:

Equipment and Supplies

  • Recycled Junk Mail: used to make into pulp. Save photocopy paper only for best results, no glossy stock or newspaper (greasy ink)
  • Small buckets, large, plastic yogurt cups or the like
  • Kitchen blender: used to blenderize ripped up photocopy paper into pulp
  • Vat: used to suspend the blenderized pulp in water
    Easiest solutions: kitty litter tray or plastic storage tub or cement mixing tub...all work fine
  • Papermaking mould: used to scoop the pulp up out of the vat of water and fiber. Easiest solutions: a plastic embroidery hoop with plastic window screening on it or an old wooden picture frame (start small!) with window screening tightly stapled across it.
  • 2 old towels
  • Papermaking “Felts”: used to roll your freshly pulled sheet of paper onto Cotton sheeting or pieces of craft felt ripped or cut into pieces larger than your screen.
    “Handiwipes” also work fine!
  • Rolling pin
  • Formica: used to transfer your wet sheet onto for drying Counters work fine!

What to do:
  1. Gather used photocopy paper, dividing up color families and ripping each “family” into 1 inch squares or smaller. You’ll need at least 6 dry cups of each color. Soak overnight.
  2. Fill the blender with 2/3 full of water and one small handful of soaked paper. Cap and blenderize until the paper has been reduced to a mushy pulp. Perhaps for a minute. Listen carefully to the motor to ensure that you haven’t overfilled the blender. The best of us have burned out a motor or two!
  3. Fill the vat with water ‘til it is about half full. Add blender after blender of “buzzed” pulp, until you can scoop it. A small kitty litter tray can take about four to six blenderfuls of pulp. The real test is to pull your screen up and through the slurry (i.e. pulp and water), lifting the screen while holding it level. There should be no less than 1/4 inch thickness of pulp on your screen.
  4. Prepare your couching surface (i.e. where you will roll your wet sheets onto....pronounced “cooshing”.) First put a dry towel down (folded in half) to cushion the rolling action and absorb excess water. Dampen your “felts”, squeezing out excess water. Place your first felt onto the towel.
  5. Use your hand in a waving motion within the vat of pulp to mix it up. Tends to settle to bottom and needs to be suspended just before sheetforming.
  6. Sheetforming: Take your screen flat with the screen side up (not the side with the “depth”) fingers on the frame of the mould. Stretch out your arms hold the screen perpendicular to the surface of the water and scoop the screen down into the slurry, lifting it up completely level. The water will drain out the bottom. Drain for several moments.
  7. Couching: At the couching station, turn the screen upside down onto the dampened felt. Sponge out the excess water through the bottom of the screen. Carefully pull up on one edge of the mould, inspecting to see if the new sheet is releasing from the screen. Shake gently to help it release. Couching is a rolling action. If the paper fiber is sticking to the screen, place the mould back down, and squeeze some water onto the back along one edge (preferably the edge that seemed the most likely to release!). If you still have trouble, flood the back with 1/4 cup of water and try again.
    Most papermakers don’t sponge through the back of the screen, but I have had great luck with this technique and teach this way all the time.
  8. Experiment with different colors: you can pour another color onto your new sheet or sandwich a second sheet of another color on top. Additives such as flower petals or glitter can be added to the vat before sheetforming. This is just the beginning!
  9. Pressing: Take a second felt and place over new sheet and gently sponge through the back of it. You are not only removing excess water but you are pressing the paper fibers together. If you do this too fast, you can squish the sheet out of shape. Finally take a second towel, place on top and gently start to roll across it with the rolling pin, gradually adding pressure.
  10. Drying: If the sheet seems well adhered to the base felt, you can take it out to the laundry line, clip it and let it dry. Restraint drying: Take the base felt, lifting it up with the new sheet still attached and flip over onto a clean formica counter. Sponge through the back. Carefully and gently peel away the felt from the sheet which should be “sticking” to the counter. Take a drier felt or towel and dampened (not wet) sponge and press thoroughly. Your new sheet should peel off easily when dry.



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