How to Recycle your own Paper

When I was applying to graduate school, I joked around that my back up plan would be to live in my parents’ basement, making paper and wearing tinfoil hats. I would call my endeavor “paper from the underground.” Fortunately I made it into grad school, but I still like making paper from time to time.

For the miraculous art of making paper out of paper you will need.

1. paper. I use junk mail, because I get enough of it. The color and weight of the paper you start with will affect the final product, but I like the effect the color differences give it. (Everything will turn into some shade of grey or brownish).
2. a blender. I have heard of other people using a mortar and pestle, but that seems like way too much work to me.
3. a big plastic tub.
4. Some sort of framed screen. In this example I am using an actual window screen purchased at Lowes. I’ve also stapled window screening to a frame made from canvas stretchers. Screen over embroidery hoops could be cool for making round paper. Just remember that whatever screen you use has to fit all the way into your big plastic tub. So don’t make it too big or you will have to use a kiddy pool for your tub!
5. Fabric to dry the paper on.
6. A sponge.
7. Fabric starch. This is actually optional, but without it any ink applied to the paper will run all over the place. Also, the starch adds firmness to the paper so I highly recommend it.

Paper shredder (faster and easier than tearing up all your junk mail by hand)
food coloring (for making colored paper)
flower petals

To prepare:
Get out your supplies. Plug in that which needs to be plugged in. Spread cloth on the floor to dry your paper on. Fill your big plastic tub with enough water to submerge your screen.

Step One:

Shred or tear paper into small pieces (around the size of your thumbnail if you are tearing it by hand) and fill the blender to half-way. You can also put flower petal and leaves (also torn to small pieces) in the blender.

Step Two:

Fill the blender the rest of the way with water. Add a splash of fabric starch. I don’t really measure when I do this, but I would imagine one of my splashes=approximately a teaspoon.

Step Three:

Blend the paper and water concoction together, starting with the lowest setting and working your way slowly up until you have greyish-brownish goop. This goop is known as pulp. I prefer to call it goop.

Step Four:

Pour the goop into the big plastic tub. You will want to put several blender-fulls of goop into the tup before you make your paper. If you would like to add glitter to the tub full of water, your paper will come out sparkly–but be warned! Your work area will also be sparkly, probably until the end of time.

Step Five:

Submerge the screen in the goopy water and pull straight up in order to catch the goop on the screen. You want to make sure that the goop is on the side of the screen that has no lips or raised edges. The whole surface should be flat. Allow as much water as possible to drip off.

This picture shows the goop-covered screen. In the backround, you can see paper awaiting its recycling fate and a plaster bird-hat in need of repair. The plaster hat is not necessary for this project.

Step Six:

Put the screen goop side down on the waiting cloth. Do this as smoothly as possible so that the pulp doesn’t shift. Use a sponge to soak up as much water as you can, and also to press the pulp onto the fabric. This will help remove bubbles. I use a big car-wash type sponge because I make big pieces of paper. Use what ever sponge you want. Do not drag the sponge across the screen–doing so will pull bits up pulp up through the screen, which is not what you want. Squeeze the water out of the sponge and repeat a couple of times.

Step Seven:

Starting on one edge, gently pull the screen off the fabric. The pulp will stay behind on the fabric as a new piece of (rather wet) paper. It helps to hold the fabric down while you pull. Let the paper dry over night before trying to remove it from the fabric. When it is dry, bend the fabric at one edge of the paper and it should come up easily.

Tada! Paper made from paper!

(kitten not included)