Saturday, May 12, 2007

Making Paper from Recycled Fibers

Homemade paper can be made from anything from junk mail to elephant poop (believe it or not: The materials needed to make paper at home are easy to obtain. A mold, or wooden frame with a screen stretched over it, allows water to drain out, but catches the fiber that forms the paper. Simply stretch a piece of old window screen over a picture frame, then staple it tautly in place. The container used to hold the water and pulp can be referred to as the vat. Make sure the vat is large enough for the mold, which will need to be submerged into the mixture. A sink or bathtub would be ideal, but a large plastic storage bin works just as well. Prepare a couching station next to the vat. Just place one of two baking sheets down, with a stack of newspaper wrapped in a towel on top. Spread a felt rectangle on top, making sure there are no wrinkles to interfere with the process.
An ordinary blender is needed as well, along with a few dozen felt rectangles, a wire whisk, bricks, and a sponge. Liquid starch can be added if the paper is intended for writing.

1. Preparing: First, assemble a variety of scrap paper. Junk mail, toilet paper, construction paper, brown paper bags, newsprint, cards, envelopes, tissue paper, and computer paper will all work. Try to find pieces without type or writing on them, as any ink will dull the color of the new paper. Separate the papers into rough color categories, and feel free to mix types of paper within those categories.

2. Shred or tear the paper up, and allow it to soak in water overnight, if possible. Though that is not necessary, it will make things easier.

3. Reducing to pulp: Fill the blender with warm water, and then add a handful of softened paper. Run the blender in short bursts until the paper is reduced to fine pulp. Repeat this process several times, emptying the blender into the vat, which should be filled half full of warm water. Add two teaspoons of the liquid starch into this mixture. Keep in mind that the amount of pulp will directly influence how thick the finished paper will be. Use the whisk to evenly distribute the pulp and liquid starch in the water.

4. Pulling a sheet: Submerge the mold into the vat, swirling it a bit to make sure the pulp that gathers on the screen will do so evenly. Lift it out slowly, waiting for excess water to drain off, and evaluate the thickness of the new sheet. If it looks too thick, scoop some pulp out of the vat; if too thin, add another blender’s worth.

5. Couching: After the mold stops dripping, carefully set the screen paper side down, onto the couching station. Use the sponge to press out excess water, and then carefully peel the screen off. If the sheet is somehow ruined, just scoop up the pulp and toss it back in the vat, stirring it up again. Cover the new sheet of paper with a piece of felt.

6. Repeat steps 4-5 until there is not enough pulp left in the vat to make a sheet of paper. Either add more of the same color pulp, or transition to a new color. There is no need to drain the water out of the vat—it will just make the first few sheets of the new batch speckled. Continue pulling sheets of paper until the couching stack has up to thirty sheets.

7. Pressing: It might be a good idea to move the stack to a bathtub for this step. Place the other baking sheet on top of the stack of newly made paper, then press down as hard as possible, pouring out any water that builds up. Stack the bricks on top of the stack, and wait for the water to stop pouring out. Gently separate the sheets, but keep them with attached to their felt backing.

8. Drying: There are several ways to dry the paper. Either hang it on a clothesline or rack, lay them out to dry on newspaper, or iron the paper on a cutting board covered with a dishcloth. Set the iron to the cotton setting, and do not use steam. Flip the stack after ironing for a minute, and repeat, flipping and ironing until the paper is quite dry, which should take about five minutes.

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