Handmade paper – ah – we’ve been wanting to make for months now. Finally, last week we accomplished this project. I can’t begin to express the sense of satisfaction and joy we all gained from this experience. By ‘all’, I mean Pari, I and even Avie! Glad we chose Saturday to do the second part of this project for the hubby was a great help and support.
Come to think of it, the joy of making stuff yourself is something else. In these times when WHATEVER you need is just a click away – and is mass manufactured by machines – no love, no passion, no learning – it’s high time we started valuing the worth of handmade things.
Through this article, I invite you to embrace handmade and support our artiste and artisans, those centuries-old traditional crafts (that are fighting hard to survive) and the stories that are an intrinsic part of the things made by those passionate, hard-working hands.
Now, I’ll dive into the ‘How-to’ of this project, for this post is going to be LONG! I initially decided to break the tutorial into two parts but then decided against it, thinking it might be convenient for you all to find the entire process (with pics) at one stop.
It SOUNDS tough, but REALLY is Easy!
Before you start reading ahead, I’d like to ease you up and share that the tutorial is long not because this project is cumbersome or complicated, but because I wanted to share each and every small and big step, tips, learnings and work-arounds.
So, please don’t get discouraged thinking it’s a tough or complicated project. The truth is, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself unstopable. You’d want to go on making your own paper! Honest :-)
Now, join me on this learning journey :-)
This is the list of things you’ll need for this project:
- Used paper – printed computer papers / old note book pages/ bills/ receipts
- Note: Newspaper will lead to muddy-looking paper pulp and thus will affect the colour of the final paper you make.
- A rectangular mesh/net made of steel/iron/nylon/acrylic – stretched and nailed over wooden frame (see picture below)
- Note 1: You can simply take a picture frame, remove its backing and stretch a nylon gauze over it. Or, you can get made one by your carpentar like we did. We used an iron mesh/gauze. The kind of mesh you use will lead to the type of paper. Hey, you can even use a fruit basket with nylon/acrylic gauze. Doesn’t matter if the basket is round.
- A blender
- Large rectangular tub
- Number of cotton rags and towels
- Optional – dried and pressed leaves and petals
- Starch – corn-starch or rice starch (as we used)
The nature of this project required that we spread it over two days.
In the afternoon, we collected used computer print-outs (my projects from college days!) and sat down to shred them into long, narrow strips. We could have torn them with hands but used scissors instead.
When we’d cut-up a big pile, we soaked them in a container (a ‘kadhai’/pan in our case!) and let it be for half a day and one whole night.
By now, our soaked paper was soft enough to blend into a pulp or mush. I used the grinder that I normally use in kitchen. You can use an old spare one if you don’t want to use your regular grinder.
We filled the jar half with the shredded paper and added enough water for it to move smoothly without friction. It took 3-4 rounds to pulp-up the entire portion. Infact, we blended the pulp once again to get a really smooth and uniform textured pulp.
Note 2 : At this stage, we did one important thing. We added rice starch and gave a nice blend one final time. I’d saved the starch from the rice I’d cooked during lunch. So, basically, I strained the coked rice into a colander to collect the starch.
Adding rice starch makes the paper easier to write on, not allowing the ink to smudge.
Note 3 : Here on, we could have proceeded to start making our paper. But, due to a faux pass that I commited, we had to wait another couple of days. I had wrongly estimated the size of the tub that we had. I thought the red tub we had will be big enough for the mesh tray to go inside straight down. But, no, the tray was just a tad wider than the tub, which meant we couldn’t immerse the tray into the tub without tilting it. And tilting would not give us the desired result.
So, I went hunting for a wide rectangular tub that evening and the next. But, no help. One that we found was expensive. I didn’t want to spend that much when we had no other use for that tub except for a project like this.
Pari and I were desperate to arrange something or our pulp would go waste.
And then, I found a work-around.
Our old samsonite suitcase!
Go on to see how beautifully it worked – without spending Rs. 500 or so on getting a new tub.
1. We first poured the pulp into the suitcase (read tub!) and added enough water to allow the mesh tray to immerse completely when lowered straight down horizontally
2. Mix the pulp and water solution thoroughly so that the pulp is spread uniformly through out water.
3. Now, lower the tray straight down. You might have to exert some pressure as you push it down horizontally through the water (here, Pari and her friend – Libna – went on to play for sometime – dipping hands, feeling the mush!)
4. Once the tray is immersed in water, slowly bring it up to the surface so it gathers pulp all over the mesh
5. You might need to move the tray a little left and right to make sure the pulp is layered uniformly
6. The aim is to collect a thick layer of pulp over the mesh
7. Lift the tray out of water to see to make sure you have gathered a thick, uniform layer of pulp. If yes, lift it straight up above water and hold still till the water is strained and all you have is pulp. If you see holes somewhere, dip the ray back again and repeat
For this stage, you should have set a table with towel spread over it.
8. Place the tray with the pulp over the table
Note 4: At this stage, you can insert pressed leaves and/or petals into the pulp. We made papers with leaves as well as without.
9. So, to inlay dried and pressed leaves and petals, place some where you want and press them gently down so as to bury them. Make sure they go in or else they’ll fall off when the paper dries.
9. Layer a thick cotton rag or a towel over it and press to soak the water. You might need 2-3 towels to soak up any excess water
Note 5: Here on, it’s a little tricky. Now is when you have to move the paper out of the mesh tray. The paper tends to get stuck in the mesh. Also, since the walls of our tray are higher than required, it wasn’t easy to move the paper out without some of it breaking. After trying quite a few ways, we cracked this mystery and can vouch it to be a very effective way to take the paper out nice and intact
10. We placed a butter paper on top of the mesh and pressed it down to cover the pulp from corner to corner.
11. Over the butter-paper, I placed a box almost the same size as the inside of the mesh tray.
12. Then, I overturned the tray. So, the box was facing down and the mesh was facing up
13. Pari and her friend tapped the mesh gently all over and I slowly lifted the tray checking simultaneously that no part was stuck to the mesh while I was lifting the tray. Or else, that portion of the paper would break from the whole
14. Once you lift the tray out, you’ll have the paper on top of the butter paper placed on the box
15. Now, lift the butter paper with your paper over it; remove the box underneath and place it back on the table
16. Now, turn the paper upside down and slowly peel off the butter paper.
17. Place another rag on the paper. So, you have the paper between two rags of cotton cloth.
18. Roll a rolling pin over it – from end to end. This will squeeze out any left-over water and flatten the paper nicely
19. Remove the rag from top of the paper gently.
20. Let your paper dry for a few hours or overnight – depending on the amount of sun that day.
Our papers dried in just 3 hours! It was so sunny.
Here’s how the embellished paper looks!
21. To get a really smooth finish, you can keep a cloth over the paper and iron it hot.
The loving recyclers that we are, we wouldn’t let even a little pulp go waste. But, the small amount won’t work for a large mesh tray. So, another work-around.
I located an old strainer from the kitchen and Pari worked out a way to gather pulp in it – good enough to make small, round paper sheets.
I’d like to add here that the sensory experience of immersing hands in mush is really joyful for children. Even us.
They look so beautiful, I feel like using them as coasters when serving dry snacks etc. What do you think?
We plan to make some cards and accordion books using these. And, of-course we’re excited to make many more papers now that we’re confident about the technique.
These papers are truly a labour of love.
Next time, I’m going to try adding colours to the pulp. Also, herbs and essential oil – to make them aromatic, may be! I can’t wait to get on to another batch of paper.On the subject of handmade paper, I’d like to share this interesting learning links: