One of my favorite arts and crafts projects is making recycled paper. It’s a wonderful activity for summer camp or spending a rainy day inside. It is a pretty messy process, so you’ll want a space that you can clean up easily. It is helpful to have access to an electrical outlet and a source of running water.
- Used printer/copier paper (white or colors), scraps of construction paper or tissue paper
- Plastic bins or aluminum lasagna pans
- Blender (that you won’t want to use for food purposes)
- Flat, clean piece of corrugated cardboard
- *Deckles – screens for squeezing out pulp (see notes below)
Rip used paper into 1 inch pieces. I usually just use whatever I can find in the recycling bin. I highly recommend adding colored bits of paper (from scrap construction paper, tissue paper or colored copier paper) to the white copier paper.
Note on combining colors: I usually keeps a “warm” colors batch (i.e. red, pinks, orange, yellow) separate from a “cool” colors batch (i.e. green, blue, purple) because mixing them tends to create a muddy blend. However, I encourage you to experiment and find your own favorite color combinations – some of the most interesting pieces of paper I’ve seen have looked rather dubious when they came out of the blender.
Add your shredded paper to the blender. (Make sure this is a blender you will not use for food preparation. It is very hard to clean out the paper pulp residue!) Cover the paper with water. Hot water will help break down the glues and dyes in the paper more quickly and create a smoother pulp (shredded paper and water slurry). You can use hot tap water or heat some up in an electric kettle. However, add enough cold water so that kids won’t burn themselves on the pulp. Make sure lid is on tightly before blending. When blending, every batch will come out a little differently. Experiment with different consistencies.
At this point, take a look at the deckle. Deckles are special screens used to squeeze water out of the paper pulp and create a flat sheet of paper. I made my own deckles out of 4 x 6 inch wooden picture frames I purchased at the craft store. I took polyester pet mesh (for screen doors, also available at the craft store), cut out pieces of the fabric and stapled them with a heavy duty stapler to the wooden picture frames.
The deckle has two sides: A flat side and an indented side. You want to hold the deckle flat side up.
Use a small cup (a repurposed yogurt container works really well) to transfer pulp from the pan onto the flat side of the deckle. May sure you hold the deckle over the pan to contain dripping water.
As you cover the deckle with pulp, use your hand or sponge to press the pulp against the screen of the deckle. This will help squeeze water out of the pulp.
When you have gotten your pulp as dry as you can from pressing on the flat side, take your deckle over to a flat, clean piece of cardboard. Gently flip your deckle so the pulp-side (the flat side) is against the surface of the cardboard. Use a sponge to continue to soak up water from the screen on the indented side of the deckle. Squeeze the sponge out into a separate container (like a pan or yogurt cup) to continue to remove as much moisture from the paper as possible.
Gently lift up deckle from cardboard. Allow your handmade paper to dry and then carefully peel it off the cardboard. Depending on your humidity and how much water you were able to remove from your paper, it tends to take between 1-3 days to dry. The completed handmade paper using this process will usually be about the thickness of cardstock.
Variations: You can add seeds or crushed flower petals to the pulp before spreading it onto the deckle. You can use leaves to create impressions on the pulp as it dries. An artist friend gave me rag paper scraps from one of her paper cutting projects that make the most gorgeous recycled paper.
Paper I made with kids on a rainy day when we couldn’t go out to the garden:
Tangents for this post:
We also made a video on recycled paper making, if you’d like more information on the process. It’s a bit long (~9 minutes). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTByDWXC06g