What is Handmade Paper?

S. Mithra

Handmade paper is just that: paper made by hand. People create handmade paper by sifting pulp onto a screen and letting each individual sheet of paper dry. This time-consuming, creative process has been used in Nepal, Japan, China, and Thailand for centuries to produce exceptionally beautiful paper. Experienced and novice crafters alike can make their own customized paper at home, with just a few pieces of specialized equipment.

Papyrus plants were once used to make paper.
Papyrus plants were once used to make paper.

Back when Egyptians were writing on papyrus, all paper was handmade. Eventually, this process became automated, especially for paper that would end up going through a letterpress or printer. Now, handmade paper is a delicate, customized, specialty product. Commercially available products often use non-tree materials, such as onion skins, cotton, banana leaves, hemp, or other plants to protect forests from getting eradicated.

A scrapbooker might use handmade paper to create a custom photo album.
A scrapbooker might use handmade paper to create a custom photo album.

Increasingly, scrapbookers and book artists purchase handmade paper for its unusual inclusions, delicate weight, unique texture, and value as a one-of-a-kind piece. They use handmade paper in gift cards, wrapping paper, photo albums, announcements, wedding invitations, picture frames, and collages. Often, these sheets have vibrant colors, interesting additions like gold foil or real leaves, and rich textures that make them utterly distinctive. Webbed mulberry paper looks like puffs of translucent clouds that would dissipate if you blew on them. Yet, heavy, dyed hemp paper is smooth and thick like bark with a pleasing, smooth surface.

Paper egg cartons can be used to make handmade paper.
Paper egg cartons can be used to make handmade paper.

Making paper at home is a simple and fun project that recycles waste paper and gives crafters of any age an opportunity to learn about paper. To make the pulp, you must grind up (in a blender) different kinds of paper such as newsprint, glossy magazines, junk mail, wrapping paper, tissue, paper towels, brown grocery bags, printer pages, egg cartons, etc. You pour this pulp into a tub with some water. Add special inclusions, like thread, glitter, flowers, yarn, seeds, rice, onionskin, or bits of brightly colored tissue.

A field of cotton, which is sometimes used to make handmade paper.
A field of cotton, which is sometimes used to make handmade paper.

To form a sheet, use a frame that has been covered with a fine mesh screen of the size and shape you desire. You can choose sizes for cards, gift tags, circles, or later trim large sheets down to any size. Carefully dip the frame into the tub and agitate it until you get an even layer of pulp settled on the screen. It will be wet and lumpy.

Commercial handmade paper might be made with leaves from the banana plant.
Commercial handmade paper might be made with leaves from the banana plant.

At this stage, sprinkling more inclusions will keep them on the surface. Some people weave strands or place pressed flowers into a specific pattern. When the paper dries, either by air or in the oven, you can peel the sheet off the frame and have a beautiful sheet of handmade paper with deckle edges. Deckling is the uneven, organic edge resulting from hand-sifting the pulp.

Rice husks are used to make paper in many countries.
Rice husks are used to make paper in many countries.
Old newspapers can be recycled into handmade paper.
Old newspapers can be recycled into handmade paper.

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

If you want to make something like handmade paper invitations, I wouldn't use them as the very first products I made from recycled paper. It seems easy and it isn't that difficult, but it really takes a long time to get right so that the paper comes out well. You don't want to waste good materials on your first few tries, particularly if you are including sweet scents or things like rose petals or leaves.

pleonasm

@KoiwiGal - I would encourage people to experiment with different materials. You might be able to use a mixture of different kinds of papers to make the right weight of handmade recycled paper.

It often tends to come out the first few times as quite heavy and closer in quality to cardboard anyway. If you really want to make good quality stuff you are better off trying to use plant fibers as part of your mix. But if you're going to do that, it opens up a lot more work, since they need to be processed properly before you can use them.

KoiwiGal

Remember that if you are recycling into handmade paper, you shouldn't use paper that has already been recycled. Every time it gets recycled the fibers break down a little bit more, until it really is only good for things like toilet tissue.

If you want to be able to make good quality stock, then you need to recycle good quality paper, or it won't work out well.

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