Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The $64 Question

Okay. My oldest son is helping me prepare kits for the papermaking workshop I'm giving for the Cullman Fiber Guild (click here for general information on papermaking). We've gotten all the molds and deckles prepared. Gotten the press bars and screens ready. Now he's putting 2 sheets of pristine, unused printer paper in each bag. I want the participants to make a sheet from unused paper as well as recycling junk mail in this workshop. As he folds and stuffs pages, he says, "I just have one question. Why would you make paper from paper?"

Uh. I guess I failed to stress the recycling aspect of this workshop. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Making paper from junk mail is a great way to reduce the amount of paper that we throw away. There are lots of uses for this handmade paper. Cards, memo pads, gift tags, arts and crafts projects, etc. However, I'm not sure I convinced him of the usefulness of making paper from paper. After all, I'm still using water and electricity to pulp the paper, water to form the sheets and (sometimes)electricity to iron the sheets dry, so it isn't entirely green, but it does reduce the amount of unwanted paper that is thrown into the trash. And at this household, junk mail seems to be mostly what we get, so maybe I'm doing a little bit to save a tree.

I explained the whole process of making paper from trees. And the process of making it from cotton or linen rag. Even from making it from old blue jeans (kinda hard to do with a home setup, but can be done if you really want to work a lot). I'm still not sure I made my case.

Anyway, if any of you are interested in recycling junk mail or other used papers, go here and here (12 videos on YouTube) for good instructions by Arnold Grummer, former faculty member of the Institute of Paper Chemistry, former curator of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum, and proponent of this quick and easy method of recycling paper. For videos of Japanese paper making click here and here.

Here are a few of the participants and some of the decorative papers they made during the workshop.

Mrs. G made her first sheet using mostly green paper (washed out in the photo) that she pulped to a fairly fine degree and then added more coarsely processed yellow and other colored papers. In the blender it looked like guacamole.

Mr. H. is a woodworker and hobbyist of many things and had all sorts of wonderful things to include in his pulp. Here's his first sheet below.

Everyone seemed to have had a lot of fun grinding up paper and sloshing around in pulpy water. I'll bet some folks used an iron more than they had in years! Maybe they will recycle their excess mail, too.

N.B. I still don't know if No. 1 Son appreciated my response to his "$64 question." For those of you who are of the 50+ generations, you might remember the TV quiz show, "The $64,000 Question."


  1. I made paper once. Fun project!

  2. Making your own paper does have some rewards: you learn a new skill, you use your creativity as well as paper scraps you already have, and you get a unique finished product. Not everyone wants all communications to be in the cloud.

  3. whenever i see handmade paper...i think how i really want to do that!!
    so what kinds of other things did Mr H add to his pulp?
    wow...paper from jeans seems like it would take quite a bit longer than paper from paper...i might just start off using the junkmail!
    looks like a pretty fun and creative thing to try...and with nice results! thanks! and i think you did fine answering the $64,000 question!

  4. Thanks for the info! Always good to see people try something new and beneficial and be happy too!

    "Say the secret word and share $2,000!"

  5. Great post, Melissa. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  6. CB: it is fun. The main thing is to make sure you actually use it after you make it

    FF: true. "in the cloud" for me is more like "in a fog"

    fw/lk: it's fun to see junk mail turned into interesting, decorative papers--try it!

    RG: You Bet Your Life and I used to love it when that duck dropped down out of the ether

    P: thanks. Hope all is well with you.

  7. A friend gave me a big bunch of handmade paper. I think I just used the last of it. Time to make my own! Thanks for the links. It looks like such a fun time!
    xx, shell

  8. The sheer beauty you can obtain of color and texture make it worthwhile. I took a paper making class years ago in conjunction with a bookbinding class and the journals we produced were little works of art.

    You've gotten me to thinking that this is something scrapbookers could do with all their leftovers of archive quality paper!