How paper is made

The process for making paper was invented in China in the second century B.C. And until 1799, all paper was made one sheet at a time. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, papermaking became a major industry that provides us with countless products, including books, newspapers, notepads, packaging material and boxes. In fact, modern papermaking machines can make a sheet of paper 26 feet wide and nearly 40 miles long in just one hour. While the technology has changed dramatically over the centuries, the basic steps are simple enough for you to make your own paper by hand at home or in the classroom. Here’s how to do it:

The process needs a lot of water, so work in an area that won’t be harmed by moisture. To get started, you will need the following:

  • two 8-inch by 10-inch picture frames (without the glass)
  • one 10-inch by 12-inch piece of wire window screen to be sandwiched between the two frames
  • one large tub or a 26-quart cooler chest that will hold at least 2 1/2 gallons of water and that is big enough to dunk the picture frames
  • 1 quart of liquid household laundry starch
  • two large sheets of blotting paper
  • one roll of paper towels
  • one brown paper bag
  • construction paper
  • a rolling pin
  • an iron
  • a blender
  • water
  • a smooth metal surface, such as a cookie sheet or metal countertop
  • blow dryer (optional)

Step 1

Tear several sheets of paper towel into small pieces and place them in a blender. Add small pieces of brown paper bag for strength and small pieces of construction paper for color. Then add water and blend until the paper has dissolved to pulp and makes a soupy mixture. Pour this mixture into the large tub and add approximately one cup of starch per gallon of water. Fill the remainder of the tub with water and mix thoroughly until the ingredients are evenly dispersed in the water.


Step 2

Sandwich the window screen between the two picture frames. Grasp the frames tightly in both hands and dip them sideways (not flat) into the tub of water near the edge. Slide the frames down and across the tub until they are resting flat on the bottom. Move the frames from side to side so the pulp is distributed through the water. Then allow the pulp to settle.


Step 3

Lift the frames straight up and hold them tightly together until most of the free water has drained through the screen. Allow one to two minutes for draining time.


Step 4

Carefully remove the top frame and set it aside. Then remove the wire screen on which the pulp has collected.


Step 5

Lay the screen on the blotting paper with the pulp side up. Place a second sheet of blotting paper on top of the wet pulp and press it gently with your fingers to squeeze out excess water. Take a household rolling pin and lightly roll it over the blotting paper to even it out.


Step 6

Gently peel the blotting paper away from the screen. The wet sheet will stick to the blotting paper. Starting at one corner, carefully peel the sheet off the blotting paper. Carefully spread the sheet over a clean, smooth metal surface and apply several paper towels. Slowly but firmly roll across the paper with a rolling pin. After removing the paper towels, the damp sheet can be dried with a blow dryer or set aside to dry. If dried naturally, the paper will be rough and curled. Use a warm, dry iron to smooth out the sheet and give it a smooth finish.


Variations

Making paper by hand is truly an art with as much diversity and possibility as the individual artist’s imagination allows. Once you have mastered the basic papermaking process, you may want to experiment by adding other ingredients and other types of paper to your basic mixture to create unique sheets. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Newsprint: By adding newsprint to your mixture, you can create a smoother surface finish.
  • Construction Paper: Colored construction paper can be used to dye your sheet various colors.
  • Notebook Paper: The addition of standard notebook paper to your pulp mixture will produce a finer, much smoother sheet. However, it will take longer to drain because the pulp fibers are so tight.
  • Thread: Pieces of sewing or embroidery thread can be added to create a unique texture as well as thin accents of color within the sheet.
  • Kraft Paper: Kraft paper, such as a brown paper bag, will make a coarse finish.
  • Fabric: Bits of fabric can be mixed into the pulp to create unusual sheets, which can be used for art projects and decoration.
  • Leaves and Grasses: Put various leaves and grasses in the blender with the torn paper to add texture and color.