The Paper-making Introduction

Making your own paper is highly satisfying. A little time must be spent beforehead to prepare the mould and deckle and to gather equipment, but once everything is assembled, paper can be made time and again.

Brief history

For the most of its 2,ooo-year history, paper has been made by hand. Only since the Industrial Revolution has the process become mechanised. The technology of modern paper-making is very complex, yet the basic process remains so simple that even child can make paper.

Papers

Recycled papers can be used to make new sheets, including photocopy paper, advertisements, tissue paper, paper towels and wrapping paper. However, avoid using paper that has a lot of black type on it; the plainer the better. Newspaper, being highly acidic, will turn yellow and brittle too quickly. Glossy magazines are also best avoided.

Plant fibres required a little extra preparation before being blended into a pulp.  Some plants will only require cooking, while others will need the help of the alkaline solutions to break down the fibres. A standard alkaline solution made from fireplace ashes, soda ash or washing soda is adequate to treat most plant material. For tougher specimens, such as yucca or raffia, caustic soda is a stronger alternative. Wearing protective gloves when making and using alkaline solution.

Special equipment

A mould and deckle is the piece of equipment used to actually form a sheet of paper. The mould is simply a frame with a mesh stretched over it to catch the pulp and allow the water to drain through. The deckle is a frame, not unlike the mould, but completely open with no mesh stretched across it.  During paper-making the deckle rests on the top of the mesh side of the mould to confine the pulp to the size of the screened area, giving definition to the sheet of paper.

Mould and deckle sets are available through paper-making suppliers and through the auctions of second-hand equipment. Alternatively, pieces of wire screening or fabric mesh can be stretched over a picture frame to make a mould. An identical frame without the screening may be used as the deckle.

A vat is a container for holding a mixture of water and pulp that you form the sheets from. It must be able to accommodate the mould and deckle in the act of sheet formation. A regular kitchen sink is a good size for a mould and deckle set.

Felts are the pieces of fabric that each sheet of paper is “couched” or laid onto. The felt helps to hold the edge of a newly formed sheet as it is rolled off the mould. It also helps to absorb the water from the new sheet of paper so that the fibres of pulp can lock together to form a strong bond. Non-woven dishcloths are an inexpensive material to use, or try medium-weight sew-in interfacing – available from haberdashery section of department stores – cut to size a little larger than your mould.

To create  the couching pad and make the process of releasing the sheet from the mould that bit easier, a number of pieces of cut-up blanket may be placed under the first felt, and again over the final felt to protect paper sheets when pressing out the excess of water.

The pulp

The pulp is made by soaking and processing small pieces of paper. the addition of wallpaper paste, however, is what makes this a robust and lightweight medium that is suitable for making sheets of paper or three-dimensional objects.

Unused pulp  can be strained of water and stored in a fridge. Alternatively, squeeze out any excess water from the pulp and store balls of it in a freezer, or dehydrate them by air-drying and store in a dry place. However, reused pulp may be slightly lower quality than newly prepared pulp.

The paper-making

Once the pulp is in the vat, a couching pad has been prepared and the mould and deckle are at the ready, you can begin to pull sheets of paper. The first sheet is the most difficult to make. It may stick to the mould, or be too thick or too thin or full of holes.  With each piece you pull it will become easier, so do not worry when things go wrong.

 

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