The idea of making recycled paper at home has always fascinated me. Seems like a super power for any stationery lover! But how hard is it to do? I tested it out.
At home with minimal supplies, making paper from recycled paper instead of from wood makes the most sense. We all have plenty of scrap paper lying around, and pulping that to create paper is easier than starting with wood. The basic method is to pulp scrap paper, spread it out in a thin sheet and then let it dry into a rough recycled paper.
Table of Contents
Paper making supplies
Since we’re trying to make paper in the least challenging way possible, I tried to keep the supplies very basic. Essentially you need some paper for the pulp, something to cut it up, a container to wet it in, a way to pulp it and something to spread out a sheet on. So here’s what I used:
- Scrap paper. The more plain the better, but printed material can have interesting effects.
- Plastic container to soak the paper in
- Mortar and pestle (or a blender) for pulping
- Sieve or other mesh to form the sheet on
- Kitchen towels or cloth to dry the paper
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Food colouring
- Leaves and flowers
Steps in the paper making process
1. Recycling scrap paper
For the scrap paper to recycle, you can use whatever you have around the house, but some kinds of paper will be easier to process than others. I used newspapers and a brown paper bag.
Newspaper is a good paper to recycle because it’s less substantial and is easy to pulp. Brown packing paper or paper bags can vary in thickness and some kinds can be quite tough to break down, but the facts that it is plain with no printing on it does give you some more consistent pulp.
The newspaper or any other printed material comes with a lot of printing ink on it which can dull down the colour of your pulp but we’ll look at some ways to brighten that up later.
To start, gather your paper. Cut it in to small pieces and strips with your scissor. Smaller pieces will soak easier so are preferred, but don’t spend hours on this part. Keep it quick.
2. Pulping paper (without a blender)
Soak your paper strips in water. Warm water might speed up the process but if you’re not in a rush anything goes. You’ll need to leave the paper to soak for a while anyway. A few hours is best but this will depend on the kind of paper you’ve cut up. Test the wet pieces between your fingers, when the’ve begun to soften, you’re good to go.
We now need to grind this mixture down into a pulp. A blender is a good way to do it, but since you may not want to blend paper pulp in the same container that you usually use for your food, finding alternative ways can be good. I wanted to try a mortar and pestle to do this so that’s what I did.
Pulping paper with a mortar and pestle takes a lot of effort to get to a consistent pulp, but it is simple enough to do as an alternative to a blender. There is something quaint about making your paper pulp in this manual way and it could help you really dial in the consistency of the pulp with more feel.
Having said that, if you’re making paper pulp in large quantities, get yourself a separate blender container and blades for your non-food experiments and use that instead. It will save you a lot of time.
3. Setting the paper pulp without a fabric screen
Paper pulp is set into a thin sheet on a fabric screen stretched over a wooden frame. This whole frame is submerged in a trough of paper pulp to collect a thin layer of watery pulp on the screen in regular hand paper making.
That requires a large amount of pulp, enough to fill a trough, the frame, the fabric screen and plenty of space. You may not have all this at home and probably don’t want to get into it when you’re just trying this out.
To set the paper pulp without a fabric screen, A turned to a plastic flour sieve. They are easy to get, they often come with a variety of mesh sizes and they’re an inexpensive tool to keep around for all sorts of craft uses.
To set my paper sheet, I placed the sieve on a kitchen towel in a larger pan to catch the excess water. I then poured the thinned pulp over the sive as evenly as I could to create an even layer of paper.
This is not going to produce as fine or even a sheet as the traditional method. It is also going to limit you to the size and the round shape of your sieve, but this is a pretty good way to practice this with minimal space and resources.
4. Draining and drying the handmade paper
Let the pulp sheet dry a little on the sieve with a kitchen towel underneath to catch the excess water.
While the sheet is still damp, you will need to gently peel it off the sieve. If your pulp was the right consistency, it should peel off with minimal tears and issues, but this depends on your mesh and your paper pulp so experiment.
If you let the paper dry on the sieve the pulp will adhere to the fine mesh and may be impossible to remove. So don’t wait too long.
Your fresh sheet of recycled, handmade paper should be dried between tough kitchen towels or pieces of fabric. You can place weights on it to flatten it out as it dries.
Carefully peel off the fabric or tissue if it sticks to your paper (that’s the reason to not use very thin tissue for this step) and congratulations! You’ve just made your first sheet of handmade recycled paper at home.
Embelishing your homemade recycled paper
Once you have the basics down, there are simple and fun improvements you can make in your homemade recycled paper.
Paper colour is one simple improvement. If you’ve used a lot of printed material in your pulp, it is likely to turn quite grey from all the ink. One way to brighten it up is to add some Hydrogen Peroxide from your local chemist or drug store into the pulp and let it sit for a while. It can bleach the pulp into a lighter shade and also helps disinfect it of any biological contaminants.
Once you’ve brightened the paper pulp, adding food colouring is a good way to make some pretty tints of paper.
If you’re leaning into the handmade aesthetic, another great addition is flower petals or bits of dried and flattened leaf. This can make for very unique paper. The way to do this is to lay out a layer of pulp on your mesh or screen, add in the petals or leaves on the wet sheet, and then add an additional thin layer of pulp on top to seal them in. All this has to be done when the pulp is still fresh and being set on to the mesh for best effect.
Paper making is an infinitely complex and nuanced art, but as you’ve seen here, the basics are surprisingly simple and approachable.
Starting your paper making journey with recycling scrap paper and using things you can find around a house is a great way to get into this wonderful craft. Or it could be just a way to better understand what goes into making that precious substance which is close to all our stationery loving hearts. Paper, magical paper.