We’re all familiar with recycling, but how about “upcycling”? This is a recently coined concept that I adore. Upcycling goes beyond the good measure of putting waste to work in some new way; it actually makes the waste more wonderful, as well. When we upcycle, we convert seemingly useless materials into new items that are both functional and fabulous. Recycling is grand, yes, but upcycling is divine.
One of my favorite examples of upcycling is the creation of handmade paper from junk mail, old grocery lists, magazines, napkins and the like. This simple process offers a unique opportunity to take a pile of unattractive scraps and create the prettiest paper imaginable. Its delicate hues and fibrous texture make it the perfect building block for stationery, collages, frame mats and craft projects galore.
While ancient Egyptians are credited with inventing papyrus paper from flattened slices of plant stems, paper as we know it originated in China some 2,000 years ago. It was reportedly made by mixing mulberry bark, bamboo, rags and water into a pulp. The liquid was then pressed out, and the resulting “paper” was hung in the sun to dry. When it comes to handcrafting paper today, not much has changed about the process except that we can now upcycle all of that household paper that would otherwise be bound for the recycling bin.
Here’s a simple papermaking recipe to get you started on your way to upcycled artistry. Don’t be timid: Experiment with a variety of paper scraps, fiber bits, even dryer lint! Go wild and add small flower heads, petals, leaves and seeds. Frolic with essential-oil fragrances by adding a few drops to the pulp before straining. The possibilities are infinitely beautiful.
Here’s what you need:
- a wooden picture frame (backing and glass removed)
- sturdy window screen (enough to fit your frame)
- flat thumb tacks or small u-nails
- a food processor or blender
- paper, fabric scraps, dried weeds, etc.
- unsweetened Kool-Aid or food coloring; optional (For natural food dyes, try www.indiatree.com.)
- a sink or container slightly bigger than your frame filled with 2 inches of water
- liquid starch; optional
- fabric squares cut to fit the inside of your frame
Here’s how you do it:
- Lay the frame front side down, and position the screen evenly over the back of the frame. Tack the screen securely to the frame, covering the opening of the frame completely.
- Separate your scrap paper into basic color groups. (If you mix them, you’ll get a brownish result.)
- Tear, shred or cut scrap paper and other materials into 1-inch strands. (Find hand-crank paper shredders at www.amazon.com.)
- Place a generous handful of paper shreds in the blender with 2 cups of water and blend until liquefied.
- Keep blending more paper and water until the blender is full of thick pulp. For more intense color, add unsweetened Kool-Aid powder or food coloring. Or add bits of dried weeds and flowers just before you quit blending.
- Fill your water vessel with 2 inches of water. At this point, you can add 2 teaspoons liquid starch to the water (not necessary, but it will prevent inks from soaking into the paper if you plan to write on it once it’s dry).
- Holding the frame face-up, put it into the water vessel, pour a thin layer of pulp into the frame, and shake gently to distribute the pulp evenly over the screen.
- Slowly lift the frame full of pulp, keeping it horizontal. When it stops dripping, lay the frame on a newspaper-covered countertop and press a fabric square evenly onto the pulp.
- Use a sponge to soak excess moisture through the fabric square.
- Holding the fabric against the frame, carefully turn the frame over on top of another stack of dry newspaper and tap it lightly so that the paper pulp falls with the fabric square to the counter. Gently press out any bubbles and repair loose edges. Leave it to dry.
- Repeat the steps above until you have used all of your pulp.
- Allow paper pulp to dry completely on the fabric squares. This may take a day or two, depending on the thickness. When it’s dry, peel it free.
Just like that, your pretty upcycled paper is ready to perform!