Let’s jump into the world of recycled handmade paper! You probably remember making paper in elementary school or at summer camp. Mushy, bumpy paper that looked more like old oatmeal than it did anything you’d want to use right? Well, guess what: handmade paper doesn’t have to resemble your breakfast. Recycled handmade paper can be beautiful, flat, and usable.
I’ve been working on this DIY project for two months. See, I really really wanted to make my own business cards from recycled handmade paper. What could be more Salvage & Stitch? And I LOVE how my paper turned out in the end, but I went through some major trials and errors before finally feeling like I knew what I was doing. Meanwhile, I kept talking about making paper on Instagram, getting people all excited. I’m so happy I can finally deliver this tutorial because for a minute I thought I might never make the kind of paper I wanted to make.
And what about those business cards? They turned out great in the end! I ordered a custom stamp and used a standard sized business card to trace onto my handmade paper and cut out. Yes, they look like handmade business cards, but I’m an eco-friendly DIY blogger, I would hope they’d look a little handmade!
If you don’t have making business cards on the horizon, you can still use your recycled handmade paper for a variety of projects! Love letters anyone? Making journals? Also, it makes amazing watercolor paper. And of course, it’s a great way to recycle old paper like junk mail and old bills that you have lying around. I get blasted by a ton of nonprofits on the regular, so I’m always trying to reuse paper in creative ways.
I actually made the batch of paper photographed from old sketchbook pages, which I have a lot of!
Handmade Paper Trials & Errors
Here are some major things I learned before you start, so you can make sure to get the best paper possible. I made 3 batches of paper over the course of 2 months. My first batch was a terrible mess. It was lumpy, too thick, and oddly blue.
The second batch of paper had big yellow splotches from yellow flower petals. I recycled this paper into new paper and it turned out a pretty color of ivory. To make it ivory, I drained the water after I soaked it and used new water. The original flower petals were chopped smaller in the blender and looked really nice. Below is a photo of the ivory paper next to my first batch of white. The rose petals bled, but I decided I liked it.
ANY dried plant material you put into your paper will bleed color as your paper dries BUT fresh plants will shrink as they dry in your paper and could fall out. If you don’t mind the bleeding color, that’s fine, but if you want to fix this problem, steep your plants a few times in boiling water, like you would if you were making tea. Drain the water (or use it to dye fabric) and use the plant material for your paper. If you make some paper you hate, you can always tear it up and remake it.
You will get wet. Everything you own, your floors, table, counter, wet. Your pets will be wet. Your kids, wet. But it’s worth it. If you want to help with this mess, put down a tarp or a plastic shower curtain.
Your paper will dry the same texture as what it’s dried on. DO NOT dry it on terrycloth. Dry it on a flat cotton dishtowel for best results. You might find that your paper also wrinkles when dries, if so, just iron it.
What To Put In Your Recycled Handmade Paper
You can put a variety of really cool things in your paper. If you want to leave your sheets blank, that’s fine too, but if you’re going to go through all the trouble to make your own recycled handmade paper, you might as well make it fun!
Stuff to Add:
- Spent tea
- Flower petals
- Shaved wood
- Cotton Fabric scraps cut small
- Seeds (for plantable paper!)
- Pine needles
- Glitter (It won’t be compostable anymore, FYI)
- Paper confetti
How To Make Recycled Handmade Paper
The papermaking process goes A LOT better if you follow instructions. Don’t take shortcuts. The list of supplies might look extensive and quirky, but I guarantee you all this stuff is needed. I tried making paper without the frames using only the screen, or without the felt, and I ended up with mediocre paper.
- Used paper, old bills, or junk mail ripped into small pieces
- A bowl for soaking
- A large basin, I used a storage container
- 2 frames: wood picture frames are fine, I used the frames from old canvases I had.
- Mesh window screening
- Staple gun
- 2 rubber bands (to hold your deckle together)
- Blender (that you only use for crafts. I got mine used for $14)
- Some towels
- 2-3 pieces of craft felt
- Dishtowels for drying paper
- Fun add ins! Flower petals! Confetti! Your choice!
1. Soak all your paper in a bowl of water overnight. Short on time? Boil a kettle full of water and soak your paper until the water is cool (I tried both soaking methods, both work fine).
2. While your paper is soaking make your deckle (the screen part). Staple your window screening to one of your frames and cut off the excess. Leave the other frame empty. When you make your paper, the empty frame will sit on top of the frame with screen, sandwiching the screen between the two frames.
3. After you’ve soaked your paper, add it to your blender and fill the whole thing with water. It’s important to fill it with enough water because you’ll burn out your blender motor if you don’t! Blend the paper into a fine pulp. It will look a little like cottage cheese. (Note: You can add larger plants at the very end to break them up if you want.)
4. Add your pulp to your basin, and then fill it with water a couple inches deep. My cat really needed to supervise this part!
5. Add your add-ins if you haven’t already! I used dried rose petals that I purchased in bulk at my grocery store.
6. Place your empty frame on top of your frame with the screen, so that the screen and staples face up. You want to make sure to dip your deckle in with the screen this direction. Use your rubber bands to hold the frames in place. Your deckle is ready.
7. Dip your deckle into the basin, plunging it into the water, and lifting it back up. Let the water drain out, and you’ll see that pulp has collected.
8. Remove the top frame. You’ll find you have a pretty piece of mushy paper to work with. Immediately place a piece of felt on top of it and flip it over onto a towel.
9. Use your sponge to sop out the excess water through the screen. You’ll probably need to ring your sponge out a few times. You’ll know you can stop sponging when you’re not getting that much moisture back.
10. Remove the felt. Sometimes the paper will come off with the felt, other times it won’t. If it doesn’t, CAREFULLY peal your wet paper from the frame and place it back onto the felt. Put another piece of felt on top and repeat the sponging. This will help your paper to achieve a nice flat texture.
11. Carefully lay your paper out to dry on a dishtowel. It will take anywhere from 6-12 hours to fully dry.
12. Repeat the process as many times as it takes to use all your pulp. I always ended up with a little pulp at the end that wasn’t enough to make paper with. You can collect this pulp on your screen, ball it up, and save it for next time.