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In ancient times, Egyptians made paper from papyrus, a wetland reed, while the Chinese used mulberry. Today, most paper we write on is made from tree pulp and is processed and bleached in a factory.

But there are people, known as papermakers, who are keeping ancient traditions alive. They create paper out of scraps of cloth, flower petals, vegetables and other unusual items.

"The great thing about paper-making is that you can participate at a range of levels, making small sheets at home very inexpensively," says Roberta Lavadour. She sells her unique papers to the public from her Oregon shop.

Once you've created paper, there are a variety of uses for it. "Many printmakers, collage artists and book artists use handmade paper in their work. It is also used for stationery, invitations, and wrapping paper," says Lavadour.

When choosing where to make paper, keep in mind that the process is very messy. "You'll be very lucky if you don't spill quite a bit of water, and when you beat the pulp, it'll spatter everything nearby," says Doug Jones of Iowa. He first made paper with his daughter, who was in fifth grade at the time.

Further, there will be pulp residue wherever you hang the paper to dry, he says. So you might want to avoid the formal dining room table as a set-up place. A few college art departments, art shops and artists' workshops may have facilities you can use.

Lavadour has a simple recipe to make paper. Used paper is torn into two-inch squares, then added to a blender two-thirds full of water. The blender changes the paper to pulp, which is then put in a rubber tub of fresh water.

"Lots of fun things can be added to the pulp, such as glitter, flower petals, and small bits of colored paper," says Lavadour.

Once done, papermakers need to scoop the pulp evenly from the tub using a mold and deckle.

"A simple mold can be made at home by securing a piece of nylon screen in a small embroidery hoop. A second hoop is then used for the deckle, which is used to form the outside edge of the paper," she explains.

The paper then needs to be hung and dried properly. This paper, however, is not durable enough for bookbinding or stationery.

You need a lot of equipment to make paper that is durable. Fortunately, Jones says most of the equipment is probably already lying around the house. His list consists of pruning shears, a knife, two buckets, caustic solution, rubber gloves, goggles, a mallet, a blender, a stainless steel pot, a sieve, a framed screen (or mold), a tub, and a large surface on which to pound and dry the sheets.

Getting Started

There are several beginner's kits available for under $20, notes Lavadour. Using more complex fibers or making larger papers means a bigger equipment expense. A special blender called a Hollander blender is needed, which can run for several thousand dollars, according to Lavadour.

For large sheets of paper, you will need to buy a professional mold and deckle, which can run from $500 to $2,000, she says. Simple starter mold and deckle kits, available from paper-making supply stores, cost from $25 to $65 in the U.S.

People who like making paper can later attend a university art program to polish their skills and perhaps even sell their finished works as art. Other papermakers use handmade paper to assemble unique wedding invitations, cards or wrapping paper, or sell paper-making supplies to beginners.

There are also paper studios that supply special handmade papers to artists. These studios will employ talented papermakers.

Lavadour says paper-making is definitely becoming more popular on an amateur level, as well as on a professional level. "Books, kits and workshops for beginners are springing up all over the place," she says. So too are university programs catering to this form of art.

"Making simple sheets of paper is just the beginning," says Lavadour. She encourages those interested in paper-making to explore and experiment with watermarks, pulp "paintings," embedded objects in paper, and embossed paper.

Paper-making can be dangerous. You need to be careful when dealing with caustic solutions. However, injuries can be prevented with goggles and rubber gloves. "I wouldn't count it as more dangerous than any of a number of other activities that need adult supervision," says Jones.

"We're in the same arena as kitchen knives, hatchets and drain cleaner here. When used with care for appropriate purposes, they are important and, at times, essential tools. When used carelessly for inappropriate purposes, they're all quite dangerous."

Lavadour says another risk is electrocution. "I have to be very careful about having an electric blender in an area where the table and floor are often wet," she explains. If you begin to work with outdoor plants and barks, it helps to know which are toxic, too, she says.

Jones says that paper-making is easy enough for anyone to try. "Aside from the mess, the possibility of snarls of pulp stalling your blender, and sheets of paper that aren't useful because they have holes or lumps, I don't know that there's a whole lot to go wrong," says Jones.

Mary Reimer recommends papermakers bring a little coordination, patience and a good mold and deckle set to the project. In addition, those starting out might want lessons.

"Lessons provide good technique and help to allay some problems, but anyone can start by reading books and following directions."


Gomez Mill House
Interesting histories and information on how to make paper

Museum of Paper-Making
Take a virtual tour of this museum and learn the histories

Articles on Paper-Making for Beginners
A list of links

Botanical PaperWorks
Check out this paper-making business

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