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Zelda L. Gordon and Frank G. Johnson.
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 STUDIO Z multi-media arts
Zelda L. Gordon / Frank G. Johnson / dba Studio Z
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 505-344-6102  e-mail Frank   e-mail Zelda
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MAKING PAPER AT HOME

Making paper is one of many projects that stems from my obsession with recycling discards into arts and crafts, which I'm told is now called "upcycling." You will note in the following photos a variety of items I am able to reuse in my art projects. The most essential tools are the blender and iron, both of which were long decommissioned from household use but still serve me well in the studio. Not shown is the piece of equipment that really renewed my interest in papermaking - the shredder. Periodically, I put my accumulated scrap paper through the shredder in batches by color, composition or weight.

Above: A couple of batches of shredded paper. On the left, art papers with a high rag content are a good base ingredient. In the white bag I have shredded ledger paper - remember that stuff? And at bottom right I have a jar of dried honeysuckle flowers. Dried plant material adds nice color, texture and patterns to the paper.

Some batches are too small to put through the shredder. If I have just a sheet or two of a very good color, I go ahead and tear it up by hand. Colorful tissue paper dissolves easily and adds strong color to the paper, but by itself it does not make a strong piece of paper. The packing material on the right looked promising, but it was too tough on the blender.

So here's my studio kitchen staged for making slurry. Slurry is the wet pulp that turns into paper. I have my sorted batches of shredded paper, my old blender, utensils and cups for stirring and measuring, rags for the mess (did I mention the old blender leaks?) and containers for water (which I re-use as I go along) and for the slurry.

Use lots of water, not too much paper. I've got about 4 cups of water in the blender (you can see it's been used before) and about 4 tablespoons of shredded paper.

After a minute of blending, I have a batch of thick slurry. Note that there is a secret ingredient to the right of the blender - a pack of cigarette rolling papers. I was given two big bags full of these Drum rolling papers by a friend who liked the tobacco but not the papers that came with every pouch. I have encountered the stash many times over the years and thought there must be an art project in there somewhere (paper wedding dress?). It finally dawned on me that these were the perfect addtion to my slurry, because they are bleached pure white and contain a bit of adhesive, which adds needed sizing to the paper. Sizing, like starch or glue, creates a stronger, firmer sheet of paper. I add about 10 ripped-up rolling papers to each blender batch. Don't have a stash of rolling papers lying around? Use envelope flaps for that important dash of glue.

Pour the slurry it into a tub, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Add 2-4 more cups of water to the whole batch at the end to thin it out a bit. Note that I am making two batches at a time, which gives me more control over the colors. Each container, when full, will make 2 large sheets of paper.

Here is my mold and deckle ready to go into the tub. The mold is the frame that is stretched with a fine screen. It sits on a frame of equal size. The deckle is the taller frame that sits on top. The mold and deckle (frames and screen) that I use to make the large sheets were made for me; the size (14"x14") was determined by the size of that blue tub, which was about as big a vessel as I figured I could easily handle and store.

The mold and deckle sandwich is placed in the tub, which is filled with water just to the point where it is covering the screen. The water that pours out through the screen can be scooped out and reused.

Here I have my mold and deckle in the tub with the water, and my slurry is ready to pour. Note my butter knife on the counter - I'm going to stir the slurry well with it before pouring.

Sorry, I did not have a 3rd hand for taking the photo of pouring the slurry! Sloshing that stuff into the mold just right takes some practice, as does lifting the mold and deckle out of the water, without tipping it one way or the other, so you get an even layer of slurry. This photo shows the excess water draining out while I prep for the next steps.

I have carefully removed the deckle, and continue to let the sheet drain. Do not let any drips of water fall onto the sopping wet sheet of paper or you will make a hole in it.

Courage! Tip the mold onto a dry blanket. A heavy wool blanket is best. The material I am using here is too light to stay put and wrinkle-free. (Eventually I found that old wool army blanket of Dad's that is perfect for this process.)

This process is called couching; it is where we release the paper from the mold and then from the blanket. First, sop up as much water as possible with the sponges. This excess water also gets recycled.

Ta da! Tapping the frame of the mold with my butter knife helps release the sheet of paper. It is still very wet.

Now I can lay another piece of blanket on top and begin ironing out the water.

Couching continues. Iron and iron! Don't let anything wrinkle! Carefully grab the two blanket squares with the paper between them and flip; replace with dry cloth (use thinner, smoother material as you go along); iron some more. Keep going!

Still very wet! Note that the color will become paler as the page dries.

The new page will also be prone to buckling if it is left to air dry.

This is where the weights come in. The pages are layered between squares of fabric (no wrinkles allowed) and weighted. Every day for two or three days, I change out the damp fabric for dry and go through the process again. (In commercial papermaking, conveyor belts take the paper through a series of rollers, presses and drying chambers to accelerate and standardize the drying process.)

These smaller papers were made using common household items that are usually discarded, like coffee cans and foam packing material. Two layers of screen - a piece of heavy gauge screen supporting the finer screen - are laid across the tub, pan or can that will catch the excess water. Watch here for more demos!

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