Craft Handmade Turkey Tail Mushroom Paper

By themselves or combined with other materials, shelf fungi are pretty, plentiful and perfect for making handmade mushroom paper.

by Susan Brackney
PHOTO: Susan Brackney

Lately, people have been using mushrooms to remove plastics from the environment and to make leather and even bricks. For my part, I’ve found that “turkey tail” mushrooms and similar fungi make great handmade paper. Featuring stripes in cream, brown, black and sometimes shades of blue, turkey tails are bracket fungi that colonize fallen logs.

To make your own mushroom paper, you’ll need:

  • a few cups of turkey tails
  • large canning jar with lid
  • scissors
  • blender
  • corn starch (this helps finished paper take ink better)
  • papermaking mould (screen) and deckle (frame)
  • a container large enough to accommodate your mould and deckle
  • loose sheet of screen mesh
  • cotton rags or old T-shirts
  • two thick boards and some C-clamps or weights (for pressing your paper as it dries)

A Good Soak

Compared to making standard recycled paper, working with cardboard-like turkey tails requires some extra steps. First, rinse off any mud or debris and remove stray bits of tree bark. Next, place the fungi in your large canning jar, cover it with water and tightly close the lid. Keep the mushrooms submerged at room temperature for two to four weeks, occasionally replacing the old water with fresh. Because older, larger shelf fungi are tougher than younger, smaller ones, some may require a lengthier soak.

This treatment softens the leathery fungi so they’ll be easier to pulp. Soaked turkey tails that feel spongey or rubbery are ready for the next step.

Chop Chop!

Give your mushrooms one final rinse, then use scissors to snip each one into small pieces. Place half a cup of mushroom pieces, one teaspoon of corn starch and four to five cups of water in your blender. Carefully, blend until the mixture looks uniform and soupy.

You may notice very short, hairlike fibers in the pulp mixture. These will add texture to your finished paper. Want a smoother end product? Keep blending and experiment with different settings to further break up these short fibers. Adding some shredded office paper to the pulp will also help smooth your mushroom paper’s look and feel.

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Now pour the pulp mixture into a large container. Repeat these steps until the liquid level in your container is deep enough that you can easily submerge your mould and deckle. (Alternatively, you can use a window screen and an empty picture frame to form your paper sheets.)

Agitate the pulp bath to more evenly distribute its contents. Then, holding the mould and deckle together with both hands, dip it into the container. Move it from side to side and up and down as you bring it up to the surface. This motion locks the fibers together in your paper.

Allow excess water to drain through the screening, then place the mould and deckle upright on a cloth to catch drips. Next, remove the deckle from the top of the mould.

Dry Time

Place a loose sheet of screen mesh over the wet sheet of paper, and use a soft cloth or rag to blot excess water. Carefully remove the loose sheet of screen. (Keep in mind that as long as your paper sheets are wet, they will be very fragile!)

There are many ways to dry handmade mushroom paper. One of the simplest is to lay one of your boards on a flat surface, cover with an absorbent cloth or several layers of rags, then invert the mould with the wet sheet of paper face down. Use another rag to blot the back of the mould’s screen. This helps loosen the sheet and will enable you to to transfer it from the mould onto the dry surface. To dislodge your paper from the mould so it adheres to its new surface, lightly strike the back of the mould with a flicking motion.

Remove the mould. Make sure the sheet is lying flat against the drying surface. Now, place another cloth over the top of the wet paper sheet, smoothing it carefully with your hands. Continue to layer dry cloths between the new, wet paper sheets you form. When you’ve finished, top with another absorbent cloth and place the other board on top. Use C-clamps to squeeze the boards tightly together, or place weights on the top board.

Periodically replace some of the wet rags with dry ones and re-clamp everything. Once your sheets are mostly dry, you can smooth them with a cool-set iron as needed.

To go deeper with mushrooms, check out Mushrooms for Dyes, Paper, Pigments and Myco-Stix and the North American Mycological Association.

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