One of my absolute favorite recycled crafts projects is papermaking. It’s messy; it’s creative; and you end up with a useful finished product. With kids in the house, we end up with a lot of scrap paper that ends up in the recycling. Recycling with your municipality is great, but recycling your unwanted papers into brand, new paper? Now, that’s pure genius!
There are many different ways to make paper. I highly recommend reading Barbara Berst Adams’ article on the basics of papermaking to give you general idea of the process before you start working with kids.
Here, I break down papermaking into five basic steps and how to go through those steps with children. I’ll assume you have more than one child who will want to craft homemade paper. Believe me, if word gets out that you do something as fun as papermaking, your neighborhood kids will be over in a flash!
Materials You’ll Need:
- scrap paper in multiple colors
- liquid starch (optional)
- storage container or tote box
- deckle (homemade or store-bought is fine)
- nylon fabric or loose screen
- add-ins: moss, leaves, pressed flowers, postage stamps, small clipart, flower seeds
Step 1: Prep Pulps
Before the children enter the room, pre-soak and blend your paper scraps to make a watery pulp: Fill about half the blender with paper and fill to the top with water. To avoid burning up your blender, don’t overfill it with paper or underfill it with water. Include about 2 teaspoons of liquid starch if you plan to write on the paper to prevent it from bleeding.
In my experience, crafting colored paper is more fun than just making a white finished product, so I mix up a rainbow of colors and place them in separate see-through containers. The kids can eye them at the start of class and begin thinking of designs. I had one child make dark purple with glitter embedded in it because she wanted to make wrapping paper.
Plan on making at least two handfuls of pulp per kid. They might decide they want to make paper with two or three colors, which is perfectly acceptable, but they’ll only need a few tablespoons here and there. (See more on this below in “Tips for Papermaking Success.”) Let your kids be creative and don’t worry too much about mixing colors—their paper will look wonderful regardless of the color.
The options are endless so make up a few batches of colored pulp by using colored construction paper. You can also fiddle around with natural dyes if you want to turn the whole thing into a science project.
Step 2: Dip the Deckle
Have the child put two handfuls of paper pulp in the storage container or tote box, which will serve as your vat, and stir in any desired additives. Give the child the deckle, and have him or her dip it into the pulp and shift it a back and forth about five times so the pulp to circulates around evenly. Lift the deckle out of the pulp in a quick, confident, straight-up movement. This is the second hardest part of the papermaking process, but if time permits, make sure everyone gets a chance to do it.
Hold the deckle over the vat as the water drains out to avoid a mess. This might be a good time to mention that wearing aprons and clothes that can get wet and messy is a good idea for kids and grownups alike.
Step 3: Blot Excess Water
Have the child place the deckle on the table and lay the nylon fabric or loose screen on top of the wet paper to help protect it. Using a sponge, the child will slightly press into the paper, beginning in each corner and moving down to help squeeze out excess water. It’s imperative he or she doesn’t rub the pulp while blotting. Wring the water from the sponge back into the vat of pulp or into a nearby sink—onto a neighbor isn’t appropriate!
Step 4: One Last Squeeze
Once most of the water feels squeezed out, quickly turn over the frame so the wet paper is on top of the nylon fabric, with the deckle still resting on top. Place a hand towel over top and evenly pressing the weight of your hand into the paper. This will further remove water, which will make your paper dry in one day instead of two.
Removing water from the paper takes the longest so we break it up into stations and methods to keep it from getting boring. Always remind kids to not press directly onto the paper, as it’s still wet and delicate.
All that pressing can be tiring work so have the rest a minute while they wait in line to have their paper removed.
Step 5: The Pull Apart Station
This is the hardest part of this papermaking venture because it requires the most finesse. After the paper has been through all the other steps, it needs to come off of the deckle. If you want a child to do this, pick your most responsible and careful kiddo. Being as gentle as you can, slowly peel the paper from the deckle in an even motion. Place the paper on a flat surface in the sun to dry.
Once the paper is dry (which can take a day or two), you can press it flatter and smooth some of its wrinkles by placing it between two pieces of white copy paper and iron it on low to medium heat. If you’ve added botanicals, like leaves, be aware that the heat might change their color. You certainly don’t need to flatten it since homemade paper has a groovy texture and uniqueness about it.
Tips for Papermaking Success
- To help keep things running smoothly, demonstrate the process of papermaking before you let the kids try it themselves. This will help them have a picture in their heads of what it should look like and gives you an opportunity to explain all the steps before your attention is fractionated.
- Papermaking is a wet process. Aprons help keep things tidy, if not dry.
- Have every towel in your house on close stand by—you might need them.
- If a child wants to add botanicals or clipart to their paper, do this before moving on to step 3. Then, remembering to go in at an angle, they should dip their paper once more into the vat. The objects will shift a bit but the child can simply move them back where they want them. Once there’s a thin layer of pulp on top of the objects, the child should lift it quickly out of the vat and proceed with the remaining steps. It takes a lot of practice to get it just the way you picture in your head so tell them not to worry if it’s not perfect.
- If the children want to do their base paper in one color and then add some other colors in decorative swaths, have them make their base paper up to step 3. Then use a dosage cup or ramekin to add little bits of color while their base paper is still sitting in the deckle. You do not need to submerge the base paper in any vat for this step – just have them add color with the cup. Then they can continue on with steps 4 and 5.
- Drying outside is great way, weather permitting. Place the wet sheet of paper on a clean surface and weight it down so the wind doesn’t blow it away. However, if the paper is dried with folds or large creases, they’re basically permanent.
- Papermaking requires patience. Once each kiddo has finished a piece of paper and sets it to dry, let them play for a few minutes while you start cleaning up. After a few minutes, call the children back and assign them clean-up tasks.