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Making paper by hand

>> Saturday, September 3, 2011

I've been taking over the house once again with my latest creative project -- papermaking.  (Thankfully my husband doesn't seem to mind, and he even stepped in to take some photos of the process so I could share them here.)  

I met a local bookmaker, Laura, here in Nashville soon after moving to town.  We then met up for coffee to chat about books and new techniques we wanted to try.  We decided that papermaking should be our first project and we wasted no time with getting started.  We made these lovely lavender sheets of paper last week, and we've since made a new batch of raspberry-sherbet-colored paper and have several bags of paper pulp in my fridge prepared for our next papermaking adventure.  

The bowl above is filled with little torn-up scraps of paper leftover from making books.  For about a week, I collected all of the little bits of paper that were too small to be reused.  Then I soaked them in water for about 12 hours.  Then Laura and I blended the paper scraps into pulp using her smoothie maker that she donated to the papermaking cause ("the sacrificial blender," as my husband called it).  

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the blended paper pulp this time.  You might expect it to look like a gross and gooey mess.  But it's surprisingly soft and has a really luxurious feel to it.  It's actually quite nice to dip your hands into it during the process.  

Next, we added our pulp to a large vat of water.  Then we'd dip our mould and deckle (made by Laura!) into the vat to pull a sheet of paper.  With each sheet I pulled, I loved seeing the assortment of speckles and flecks of paper that happened to make it onto the mould because they remind me of the books I'd made with those different decorative papers.  

After pulling the sheets, we'd press them from the mould onto pieces of cloth, and eventually set them out to dry in my living room.  (It's been much too humid to dry them outside.)  It took about a day for the sheets to dry completely.  Once dry, Laura and I got together again to gently peel our sheets of paper off of the cloths.  

And here's the end result:

We experimented with using different types of cloth to press our wet sheets of paper on to dry.  The textures of the cloth effects the final texture of the paper.  You can see an examples of the different textures below.  We used linen, felt, and cotton to achieve different textures.  The sheet on the left was pressed onto felt; the sheet in the center was pressed onto linen, and the sheet on the right was pressed to a wrinkly piece of cotton.  We also experimented by rolling wet sheets of paper onto plexiglass, which yielded an incredibly smooth texture. 

I love textured paper.  In fact, such textures are the namesake of my business: linenlaid&felt.  (You can read more about that in the FAQ section of my website.)  While commercially-made papers of these names are made to resemble the textures of these cloths, making paper by hand allowed for us to create these textures ourselves.  Laid paper refers to the lines impressed by certain types of papermaking molds, like those that I used in Italy.  

Both Laura and I have already put our new sheets of handmade paper to use.  I made two Italian longstitch journals last week with suede covers and pieces of our handmade paper as decorative accents inside.  It has been a while since I've made a book for myself.  I'm typically busy working on custom orders, books for my shop, or gifts for friends, so I decided to take the time to make a book just for me. 

The book on top is the one I've decided to keep.  Because these books have the suede straps that wrap the book and keep it shut, it will be the perfect portable book to keep with me to jot down notes on the go.  And as an added bonus, I'll always have an example of my work with me to show as a response to the blank stares I often get when I tell people that I'm a bookbinder.  The other book that I made (the one bound with lavender thread) is now for sale in my etsy shop.  

Laura kindly made a monogrammed bookmark for me using the paper that we made together.  She makes the most adorable miniature books and book jewelry, and she will also be selling her work at the Handmade & Bound festival in a few weeks.  I love seeing the little purple pages peeking out from the little book and knowing that our handmade paper is going to good use.  


Lizzie September 3, 2011 at 6:20 PM  

Ooh, what fun! I'd have liked to join in with you. It's nice that you have got to know someone who shares your interests, since you have moved house.
I love the "sacrificial blender" comment - so funny!
My DS made paper last summer, while he was on a "Children's University" course. They used all kinds of stuff - old jeans, old paper, banana peels... He brought home a sheet of banana paper and it was really nice.
Maybe we need to get ourselves organised, find an old blender (I am not sacrificing my lovely blender!) and get on with making more paper ourselves.
The journals are fab. I love the contrast of lavender and rusty orange - it just works so well.
The little mini-book bookmark is gorgeous - Laura is clever.
Looks like you have had so much fun!

Tammy September 3, 2011 at 8:48 PM  

Gorgeous papers! In my previous experience with handmade papers, the papers cracked when I folded them. Is it possible that my pulp mixture was too thick? What do you think? Thanks.

PrairiePeasant September 4, 2011 at 6:39 PM  

Your papers are beautiful! I love making paper and have all the equipment--I just need to set aside some time to do it! Maybe finding a friend to share the fun, like you did, is the answer! The paper blends wonderfully into your style in your leather journals.

Katie September 5, 2011 at 10:54 AM  

Hi Lizzie! It was a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to our next batches. We prepared some extra pulp last time we got together, so I have some bags of cream, blue, and peach pulp waiting for me in my fridge for next time. The paper that your son made sounds great! One of my friends brought some banana paper back for me from her trip to Africa, and I love it! And I'm so glad Laura was willing to provide the "sacrificial blender" because I love making pureed soups and smoothies too much to use mine... :)

Thank you, Tammy! Hmmm, I'm not sure why your paper would have cracked. I've made some pretty thick paper (I've even pressed multiple wet sheets together to make extra thick sheets), and it still seemed to fold without cracking. What type of paper did you blend to make your pulp? Maybe if you didn't start off which a high quality paper pulp, the fibers may have been too weak? Other than that, I'm not sure what the problem may have been.

I'm so glad you like the papers and the journals, Laura! I think that finding a friend to be your papermaking companion is the perfect motivator. I'd been hesitant to try it at home since I didn't have all the fancy equipment that I had access to in college, but finding someone who wanted to give it a try with me was just the kick start I needed. If you do make some paper, I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tammy September 5, 2011 at 3:25 PM  

I used recycled photocopying paper from our recycling bin to make the pulp. This may be the reason why it cracked. I will try again with a higher quality of paper when I get the opportunity. Thank you for the suggestion.

Katie September 5, 2011 at 10:27 PM  

Tammy -- Hope that helps! Let me know how it works out next time you try it. It might also be helpful to experiment with making thicker and thinner sheets (by adding more or less pulp to your vat of water) and see if the thickness of the paper has an effect on it or not.

Corinne September 7, 2011 at 9:36 PM  

When I used to make my own paper, I would stock pile junk mail (advertisements are really colorful!). With the incredible amounts of this stuff that I'd get, I was never without supplies to make paper! Great work, by the way - love the books!

Katie September 8, 2011 at 3:28 PM  

Thanks, Corinne! When you made your own paper using junk mail, did you use both glossy and matte papers? Would using glossy papers change the texture of the finished handmade sheets?

Nakia November 17, 2011 at 10:41 AM  

These are beautiful!

Katie November 17, 2011 at 12:01 PM  

I'm so glad you like them, Nakia. Thanks for reading my blog!

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