If you are a craftsy person or someone who likes to experiment with new things, you might like to try making your own paper. You can make handmade recycled paper from old scrap paper or scrap fibers such as cotton — even dryer lint. Many types of plant fiber make usable paper, though using raw materials can be a lengthy and a somewhat more complicated endeavor than using scrap paper.
What You'll Need
lots of scrap paper
a couple of wooden frames that should be a little larger than the size you want the finished piece of paper to be
a window screen a little larger than the largest frame; it has to go over the frame and attach to it
staples and hand stapler or staple gun
old blender, preferably not one you'll want to use again for food processing
a large rubber or plastic tub, big enough to immerse the frames in
pieces of felt or wool larger than your frames, at least two per sheet of paper
a rolling pin
anything you would like to put into your paper — herbs, flowers, seeds, etc.
cornstarch to mix into the slurry and make the paper easier to write on
flat, edgeless cookie sheets
optional items, including large cookie-cutter shapes, an apron, and extra towels and rags
You may have many of these supplies around the house. Papermaking supplies can also be purchased at craft and hobby stores. The frames and screen are called a mold and deckle, and the tubs are called vats.
Collect a lot of scrap paper. Be aware that not all paper is a good choice for making your own recycled product. Newspaper will turn everything gray, and magazines are too glossy and will make everything gunky. Avoid any glossy or waxy papers such as gift wrap. Your best choices are junk mail, office, computer, and copy paper (colored paper is fine), and envelopes.
Once you have all your paper, rip it up into one-inch squares or shred it into small pieces. This helps break the fibers down and makes for easier processing.
Once the paper is all ripped up or shredded, soak it in a tub of warm water for at least two hours; soaking it overnight is preferable.
To make your mold, cut your window screen an inch or two larger than the frame, then stretch it over the frame and staple it to the back side. If you want your paper to have straight edges you'll want to use a second frame with no screen; this is called the deckle. The deckle sits on the mold and defines the shape of the paper. If you want the uneven edges that are characteristic of handmade paper, don't bother with the deckle.
After your paper is finished soaking, mix it up in your blender at a ratio of one cup of paper to 2–3 cups of water. Start with 2 cups; if the mixture is too thick and lumpy add another cup. You want a thick slurry, like a really thick smoothie consistency, not runny and watery. If you want to write on the paper, add a tablespoon of cornstarch. This process is called sizing and makes the paper less porous so it does not absorb the ink.
Blend the mixture on medium high until it has the consistency of thin oatmeal.
Experiment with colors by adding food coloring. Pour it in and mix very briefly. You can add flowers or other herbs or materials now or wait until you pour it into the mold and add by hand. Do not blend seeds in the blender. If you want to make plantable paper, wait until your pulp is ready.
Once your paper is blended into a nice slurry of pulp, fill your tub with about two inches of water for every blender-full of pulp.
Pour the pulp into the mold, then lower the mold into the tub of water at an angle and shake to distribute the pulp evenly over the screen. If you are using a deckle, place it over the mold now, gently shake it back and forth, and pull both the mold and deckle up out of the water tub gently. Let the water drain, allowing all the excess water to flow back into the tub.
If you don't dip the pulp into the water, this is the time to add materials such as seeds, flowers, and herbs. Mix them around or place them where you want.
Use a sponge, cloth, or towels to dry the excess water off the back of the screen.
Lay a piece of felt or wool on top of the paper on the screen and turn the whole thing over — mold and all — onto a hard surface such as a flat edgeless cookie sheet. If the paper doesn't come off easily, dry the back of the screen some more, tap it, or carefully peel the paper off.
If you have not already done so, add flowers, herbs, or seeds to the paper mixture. If you choose, make imprints in the paper by pressing plants, leaves, or even textured objects such as lace into the paper. Leave the objects there until the paper has dried.
Cover the paper with another piece of felt and roll over it with a rolling pin to bind the fibers together and to help imprint any designs. This will help your paper dry faster and flatter.
Keep adding sheets of paper to the pile as you make them; just separate each one with a piece of felt so they don't stick together.
Sandwich all the paper sheets together and keep them lying flat by piling books or boards on top of them. If you really get into the homemade paper process, you could make a simple paper press from boards and C clamps. Kitchen cutting boards are also very effective for pressing the paper to keep it flat.
Leave the sheets alone until they are dry. Drying time can vary, but start by leaving the sheets overnight. Store the sheets so they remain flat until you are ready to use them.
This whole process can also be done with plant fibers, but plant fibers have to be cooked and processed, which can be extensively complicated.
The whole handmade paper making process may sound a bit hard and time consuming, especially for a busy couple planning a wedding. It may also take a lot of handmade sheets to have enough paper for custom invitations, but if you keep it simple and just send out postcard sized-invitations it'll be a lot easier if you make the paper yourself.
If you find you really enjoyed the papermaking experience and you'd like to get a little more creative, two books by Helen Hiebert are wonderful resources. Check out The Papermaker's Companion: The Ultimate Guide to Making and Using Handmade Paper and Papermaking with Plants.