Making paper by hand

Anne Storm van Leeuwen outlines a very simpliflied process of making paper. An introduction the old craft of papermaking.

Writer and Photography / Anne Storm van Leeuwen

What is paper?

Paper becomes paper by a process of macerating various cellulose fibers, floating these fibers in water, collecting them on a screen, and allowing this new sheet to dry.

The macerating (beating) process works water molecules deep into the fiber. The water sticks to sites on the cellulose and holds the fiber together in a damp sheet. As the water evaporates in the drying process the fibers come closer together and form new bonds, this is the hydrogen bonding process.

My first introduction to papermaking was in 1987 during a workshop in Colorado. An intensive papermaking workshop at the Carriage House Papermaking Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts and a week working with a papermaking master at the Fabriano Hand Papermaking Museum in Fabriano, Italy have added to my knowledge and skills. While I acknowledge that I am continually learning more, the paper I make has been excellent for my alternative photographic work. The paper is acid-free, strong, and only has internal sizing (if desired).

Image left: Roberto Rapanotti (Fabriano papermaking master).

Paper is not only a medium for sheet forming but also a medium for art (casting, sculpture and pulp painting); in this article I will discuss sheet forming. There are many articles and books written on the basic papermaking process and also kits available from art supply stores, here is a very simple introduction to process of papermaking.

I outline a very simpliflied process of making paper. It is important to remember that papermaking is an old craft that has high standards and these instructions are meant only as a fun introduction the the medium.

Papermaking 101 – using a blender and recycled paper

Supplies needed:

  • Paper that can be recycled, office paper, mat board, etc
  • Mould and Deckle, use 8 artist stretcher bars. Join four bars for the deckle, join the other 4 bars for the mould. Stretch fiberglass screen across the mould and staple tightly. Moulds and Deckles are also available at most art supplies stores sold in papermaking kits (see resources)
  • Plastic basin, vat (Rubbermaid is good), large enough to immerse M&D
  • Sponge
  • Felts, any fabric to lay new, wet sheets on (to “couch” onto), acrylic felt (sold by the yard), kitchen towels will do
  • Blender, not used for food
  • Rolling pin, or boards

Image right: Anne with Roberto Rapanotti (papermaking master at the Museo della Carta Fabriano, Italy).

1Tear paper into small pieces and soak for 1/2- 1 hour (or so).

2Fill the blender with warm water and place a handfull of the soaked paper into container. Turn the blender on and run slowly, then increase speed until the pulp is a smooth consistency. Length of time will vary depending on texture of paper desired.
Image right: Hollander type beater (“Critter” made by New Zealand artist Mark Lander).

3Fill the plastic basin vat about 1/2 full of water, add about 1 blender full of pulp. (The more pulp used the thicker the paper). Agitate the water/pulp mixture with your fingers, it should be “soupy”.

4Rinse the mould and deckle briefly in water then place the deckle on top of the screen side of the mould. Dip the M&D into the back of the vat and gradually level it out and lift out of the water. You now have a layer of pulp on the screen, if there is too much pulp or you are not happy with the sheet, simply touch the screen onto the surface of the water to “kiss-it-off” and start again, do the same thing if sheet appears too thin. Allow this “new sheet” to drain for a minute or so. Remove the deckle.
Image right: Moulds and deckles.

5To “couch” this sheet place the one edge of the mould onto the a wet “felt” and gently lay the paper onto dampened fabric. (Couching is the term that describes laying the sheet onto a “felt”. Now take the sponge and remove water from the back of the screen. Gentle rock the mould on the felt. Next lift one edge of the mould and continue removing the mould. The wet sheet of paper should remain on the fabric. If not, press the mould firmly onto the fabric and try again, remove the mould. This may take some experimentation.

6Place another piece of fabric on the new sheet and start the process over. (M&D into the water, pull a sheet, drain, couch onto felt, remove mould, etc.) make 10 or so sheets of paper. You can now use your rolling pin to gently roll excess water out of the “post” of paper or press the post between boards. You might separate the sheets in the post to allow move water to be squeezed out. This not only removes water but strengthens the paper.

7At this point you can take each piece of paper on it’s felt and hang to dry or put it under pressure for a smoother surface and allow to dry. After the paper is thoroughly dry it is ready for external sizing or it can be used without sizing depending on the purpose of the paper’s use. The size, shape, and texture can be adjusted according to content of images to be applied the the surface.



Anne Storm van Leeuwen makes beautiful handmade papers and prints her cyanotypes and gum bichromates on these papers.

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