Junk mail, envelopes, ripped wrapping paper & tissue paper, paper bits from complex-cutting exercises in school, copy paper/print-outs, art work papers that are gladly recycled as it was just exploration and the end-product doesn't make it to the memory box... all are fair game to be reused/recycled to make hand-made paper in our house.
A quick search on the web would provide the details and variations for making handmade paper at home. But, the basic idea, as explained to her dad by my five-year-old, is:
- First we rip old paper into tiny bits so we can make new pretty paper
- Then, we put the bits and water into the noisy mixie that Amma uses for making my smoothies
- Then, we pour the oatmeal from the mixie into this round or square thing
- It sits on top of the water in the tray, and Amma shakes it for a bit
- Then she takes it out and presses it to squeeze out water
- Then, she puts it on top of a pile of towels and felt and rolls the rolling pin
- Now we have the new paper, which is still wet; so, we leave it out for drying
The not-so-easy part about this process, for me at least, was to get the molds ready as suggested on the web. Size of the hand-made paper and its shape depends on the mold, naturally. And typically, a 5x7 or 8x10 old photo frame fitted with tulle or window screen seems like the standard approach.
I was looking for ways to use things I already have at home. Rather than stapling/gluing a piece of window screen to de-glassed old photo frame, a simple kitchen sieve along with gripper sheets cut to required size seemed to be a great alternative, for me at least, so far. And, a roasting pan becomes the water-tray for pouring and agitating the pulp to form the handmade paper.
When Ana got her own paper-making kit from Santa last Christmas, we had a nice little wooden frame and tray that works well for small hands. Of course, the quality of the kit was rather inferior, as after the first few batches, the wooden frame started falling apart and the screen started fraying leading to agonies when we had to peel the wet paper off the screen to roll out for drying.
Things I found useful:
- Roughly measure the packed bits of paper, by volume, and add about 3 to 4 times the amount of water to make the pulp; too thick or too watery pulp naturally affects the finished paper
- Allow the bits of paper to soak in the water before whipping to pulp
- Sort papers by color for ripping and mushing them to pulp to create finished papers with distinct colors; else, it seems too muddled and "dirty", as Ana puts it
- Place the frame in the water-tray preferably close to the top so the pulp floats; gently agitate to spread the pulp evenly - more pulp within the same mold results in thicker paper, naturally, but, too little pulp results in ripped 'hole-y' paper that is hard to take out and dry; I played with it a bit till I can just eyeball and adjust the amount of pulp needed
- If using only white papers, can add a bit of food color or paint to tint the handmade paper
- Can work in some glitter or pressed flowers or fresh herbs. I like to use rosemary, fennel, oregano and especially lavender leaves from our home-garden
- Can stir in some hardy flower seeds to make it into a handmade seed-paper and send it to friends with planting instructions
- Place the freshly squeezed hand-made paper from the mold between sheets of felt fabric placed on top of folded towels and roll with rolling pin to press out as much water as possible; this worked well as the wet hand-made paper peels off felt fabric very easily
- If we can get it dry enough, can pick up the wet paper by the corners and hang them up for drying on a clothesline, securing the corners with clothespin
- Add in small amounts of lint from the dryer, pieces of string, bits of colored paper etc. for an interesting finish
- Sift through the web for other ideas; and keep experimenting with tools and technique for various textures and smoother finish
It is a labor of love. Each sheet of hand-made paper is processed one at a time, so, assembly-line precision is hard to achieve. Which is what adds to the beauty of each sheet, I think :) On a good day, without Ana's "help", I can make about 6 sheets of paper within half-an-hour to 45 minutes and let them dry overnight by the heating vent.
When D came back from Bhutan with pictures of handmade paper-making process there at the Institute of Zorig Chusum, as well as a small gift package of handmade paper for me, I was smitten.
I know this is more of an indulgence... in today's busy life, it is just as easy to send our papers to the Recycling Center and go out and get hand-made paper from the store to satisfy our art/craft purposes... and we still do that, and don't think there is anything wrong with that.
But, the satisfaction of making a few, and sending it to friends with whom I share similar fondness for paper products and crafts, and showing my daughter hands-on how the slogan Reduce-Reuse-Recycle can be adopted in our daily lives, seems to make it worthwhile.
Of course, Ana is not quite at the stage where she can complete the whole process of paper-making independently, but, I like that she likes to help: rip paper to bits, pour the pulp onto the frame, roll the rolling pin briefly... she seems to get the general picture of the process.
And, this lead to discussions about other ways of making paper - especially the papers we use in the first place to make these hand-made ones :)
Now, we have a dedicated little carton into which she stows away paper she wants to recycle and remake into handmade paper. And, she thinks twice about doodling in her art notebook or easel paper - choosing to use the whiteboard rather than "wasting" paper. So, between this and the compost habit, she seems to be on the right path to taking care of Mother Earth.
Some uses we've put these papers to:
- Send seed-paper cards as Spring greetings to friends and family
- Embellish with buttons, raffia, even simple embroidery and turn them into unique greeting cards or works of art
- Use some for interesting cut-paper and torn-paper collage, painting/coloring them as needed for the project.