Introduction to Handmade Paper from Plants

Handmade Paper from Plants

Submitted by: Elizabeth Adams Marks
UNIT: Papermaking - Crafts - Paper arts
Lesson: Handmade Paper from Plants
Grade Level: Middle school through high school


Supplies Needed:

  • Plant fiber (such as Abaca Pulp), recycled paper, or linter processed into pulp (see below)

  • A mould and deckle – a simple Embroidery Hoop, and a piece of net, or two small wooden frames and a piece of Screen Mesh, or a commercially made mould & deckle

  • A vat for each color or type of pulp – small Concrete Mixing Tubs. or large dish pans work well

  • Felt. – interfacing or Handi-wipe type absorbent material may be used

  • Sponges. or absorbent cloth to remove water from wet sheets of paper

  • Towels – One to couch on, one for your hands

  • A rolling pin. to remove water and flatten wet sheet of paper

  • Bucket to transport water

  • Paint Strainer. and Colander. to drain pulp during clean-up

  • Two acrylic or plastic serving trays to contain the water while working (optional)

  • Smocks. (optional)

  • Inclusions such as pieces of Thread., or paper bits, etc. (optional)

Intro to Handmade Paper from Plants



Using recycled paper to make pulp in a blender: Tear up Construction Paper., recycled mail envelopes, or other paper into 1" (2.5 cm) squares. The better quality of the paper, the better quality of the finished handmade paper. Soak the paper pieces in a tub for at least an hour. To make pulp, put a handful of wet paper pieces into the blender and fill with water. Pulse for about 12 – 20 seconds. Be careful not to put too many paper pieces in your blender or you may burn it up. This will macerate the paper into pulp.


Making pulp from linters with a wiz mixer: Cut up abaca (banana leaf paper) and cotton linters, (purchased from papermaking suppliers) into 1-2" (2.5 - 5 cm) pieces. Soak for 2-3 hours. Put ¼th of each linter into a 5 gallon (19 Liters) bucket with a lid and fill ¾ full with water. The lid needs to have a slit cut in the top to fit the bucket. Using a wiz mixer (an electric paint stirrer on an electric drill) mix the linter pieces and water for 15 minutes.


Processing plants before making pulp: Cut the stems, vines or leaves into 2-3" (5 - 7.6 cm) pieces. Process leaves and tougher stems separately. Soak plant material for 1-2 hours. Rinse. Put plant material in 8 qt. (7.5 Liters) stainless steel or enamel pot filled with cool water. Carefully add soda ash or sodium carbonate to pot and stir with wooden spoon or stick. [To figure the amount of soda ash needed: You may weigh the dry fiber before it is soaked and use 20% of the dry material as the amount of soda ash needed, OR use 1 TBSP soda ash per 1 qt. (.95 Liters) water. Sodium carbonate can be purchased from pool suppliers in 1 lb (.45 kg) containers.] Cook plant material for about three hours. Cool. Rinse well. The plant material must be cooked to remove non-cellulose materials from the cellulose fiber. Keep a written record of each batch of plant fiber if possible (see Helen Hiebert’s Papermaking with Plants for chart suggestions).


Note from Elizabeth: If you are making handmade paper out of recycled paper or cotton linters with kids and only want to add a bit of hay or seeds, etc, you don't need to cook down the plant material in soda ash (sodium carbonate). But if you want the plant material to be the main fiber, you must cook it in sodium carbonate to remove the lignin and anything that is not cellulose. Otherwise, it will deteriorate over an unspecified time depending on that particular plant. For example, if a newspaper is used to make handmade paper, its shelf life its that of a newspaper - a week or two. If you want to make art that is lasting, with a balanced ph, get rid of all acid and only use good quality recycled paper for the project.


(Tracey adds: You can make your own pulp as follows - Cut fibrous plant material like corn leaves into smallish pieces. Soak overnight. You need to boil it with an alkali to separate the lignin from the cellulose. Soda ash works well but so does plain old wood ash. Experiment with different proportions as there are many variables. Put bits at a time through a blender and there you have it... your own pulp, made entirely from plant matter. Makes for some wonderful textures. From Getty TeacherArtExchange post 9/01/2005)


Using processed plants to make pulp in a blender: Some plants, like daylily and hosta, can be macerated in a blender after cooking (see above). Other tougher plants, like corn shucks, need to be beaten in a Hollander beater (see below). Put a handful of cooked plant fiber into the blender and fill with water. Pulse for about 12 seconds. Be careful not to put too much plant fiber into your blender or you may burn it up. This will macerate the plant fiber into pulp. Plant pulp can be kept in an airtight container in a refrigerator for months.


Hand beating plant fiber: After plant fiber is cut, cooked, and rinsed (as above), the fiber can be beaten by hand with two paddles on a flat surface for 20-30 minutes until the plant material can be seen as individual cellulose fibers when tested in a shaken jar or bottle of water.


Hollander beater – Used to process many plant fibers. This type of beater is a table-sized or bigger water tub with a grinding wheel. Hollanders cost thousands of dollars, but are required for serious paper makers.


Making a sheet of handmade paper (HMP):

Fill each vat ¾ full with water and add 2-4 cups (.5 - .95 Liters) of pulp depending on the size of the vat and the thickness of the paper. Add formation aid if necessary to increase the viscosity of the water to slow the draining time when pulling a sheet of paper. [To make homemade formation aid, add 1 cup (.24 Liters) fresh or frozen okra to 1 liter of water. Keep in refrigerator overnight. 1 cup (.24 Liters) okra juice can be used per vat of water.] 2 TBSP internal sizing can be added to the vat at this time if the paper is to be used for watercolor or calligraphy.


Hog the vat by immersing both hands in the vat and shaking them softly below the water line. Do this between each sheet of paper.


Using a mould and deckle, you will pull a sheet of paper. The deckle (frame alone) fits over the mould (mesh screen over a frame). Holding the mould and deckle with both hands on either side with the deckle on top, with the mesh screen facing up, lower it vertically into the vat. Gradually tilt it horizontally towards you, making sure it is well below the surface of the water. Slowly lift it above the water, gently shaking the mould and deckle forwards/backwards, then right/left. Let it drain for 15-20 seconds. Gently lift the deckle frame and set it aside.


Turn the mould over and couch it onto a wet Felt.. The easiest way to get the wet sheet off the mould is to roll it onto a wet felt placed over a hump made from a rolled up wet towel. If the towel and felt are on a plastic tray, it will contain the excess water.


To remove the excess water from the couched sheet of wet paper, carefully move the freshly couched sheet on its felt onto another plastic tray. Place another felt or absorbent cloth on top of the wet sheet and sponge it gently while softly pressing. A rolling pin can also be used to gently roll the water to the sides of the sheet. If you push too hard, too quickly, the water will cause the fibers to bubble out, damaging the sheet of wet paper.

Hang the damp sheet of paper, still on its felt, on a clothesline or lay flat on a screen to dry. Drying time will vary.


Pressing a couched stack of wet sheets of paper on their felts with a hydraulic press is the best solution for removing the excess water when couching onto felts. When possible, wet vacuuming the couched sheet of wet paper through a stretched piece of silkscreen like fabric is very efficient. This is my preferred method. The sheet remains on the screen until dry.


Other ways to dry the damp sheet: Remove the damp sheet of paper from the felt and brush it onto a slick glass-like surface; changing the wet felts for dry ones while the sheets are stacked under weights; or stacking the wet sheets on felts between corrugated cardboard, wrapped in a sheet of plastic while a box fan blows air through the stack.


To cure paper: Keep it under a flat weight for at least a week after it is dry to keep the paper from curling. If the paper wasn’t restrained and is curled when dry, it can be spritzed with water and ironed with a warm iron, or spritzed and put under a flat weight between dry felts.


Sizing: Dry paper can be sprayed with starch and ironed. It is not the best method. The preferred method used by papermakers is internal sizing added in the vat or hot gelatin sizing brushed on dry paper. The paper must be sized to be used later for watercolor or calligraphy.


Inclusions: Small pieces of thread, bits of colored paper, Glitter., etc. can be added to the vat to add interest to the paper. Test questionable items for colorfastness before adding to the vat unless you don’t mind the colors bleeding. While some flowers are color fast and can be added, dried rose petals will bleed and possibly mold.



Handmade Paper (HMP)
Inclusions Couching
Hollander Beater
Recycled Paper
Mould & Deckle
Hog the Vat
Wiz Mixer
Abaca/Cotton (50/50)
Plant Fibers
Formation Aid
Hollander Beater
Pulling a Sheet of Paper


More on making handmade paper:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (10 page pdf file) pdf (Archive)



Asunción, Joseph. The Complete Book of Papermaking.. New York: Lark Books, 2001.

Bell, Lilian. Plant Fibers for Papermaking.. Oregon: Liliaceae Press, 1995.

Carriage House Paper

Hand Papermaking

Hiebert, Helen. Papermaking with Garden Plants & Common Weeds.. Vermont: Storey Books, 1998.

Papermaking Yahoo List Group

Hunter, Dard. Papermaking in the Classroom.

Karr, Joanne B. Paper Making and Bookbinding: Coastal Inspirations.. East Sussex, England: Guild of Master Craftsman Publication Ltd, 2003.

Lorente, Marie-Jeanne. The Art of Papermaking with Plants. (Paperback)

Petty, Gin. Bookbinding Journal

Reimer-Epp, Heidi and Mary Reimer. Encyclopedia Of Papermaking And Bookbinding..
London: Running Press, 2002.

Saddington, Marianne. Making Your Own Paper.. Vermont: Storey Communications, 1993.

Talas Bookbinding Supplies

Twinrocker Handmade Paper

© 2005 Elizabeth Adams Marks



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