Make Paper From Plants

Connect with an age-old process and the life cycle of plants to make fragrant, textured paper. See the photos on this page for step-by-step guidance in the papermaking process.


| June/July 2017



homemade paper drying

Paper made from local, native plants--here bromegrass, little bluestem, and iris leaves--is different from paper you'd usually encounter, and it's the result of a fun and creative process.

Photo by Allison Evans

Many of us are conscious of ways we can use resources sustainably, create things ourselves, and value the objects in our lives by making them with our own hands. But we don’t necessarily think of the paper we use on a daily basis and the huge amounts of energy and water consumed by commercial paper mills. When you make paper by hand with plant fibers from your own backyard, you’ll participate in a long-practiced art and connect with plants around you — just as you grow your own bright, oddly shaped tomatoes and make rich, flavorful sauce from them, savoring every drop.

Tear a piece of commercial, bleach-white paper. It’ll tear easily. The fibers, the stuff from which it’s made, will be barely distinguishable. Handmade paper is stronger, harder to tear; and when you do tear it, you’ll see the long individual fibers that bind it together. You’ll smell the earthy bromegrass or lily leaves that formed its pulp and the chamomile flowers you added to the vat. Handmade paper makes thoughtful stationery, special occasion cards or decorations, and gifts. It’s art; you could even just hang it on a wall.

Making paper from plants will tune you in to the characteristics of your local, native plants or the ones you’re growing in your own yard. You’ll notice which plants around you might make good paper, and you’ll attend to when their leaves or stalks are ready to be harvested. You can plant milkweed to encourage butterflies, for example, and later harvest its stalks or pods for making paper.

Choosing and Harvesting Plant Fibers

How to make paper. To make paper, you’ll harvest your material, dry it, cut it into pieces for cooking, simmer it to break down the fibers, and then process it in a blender or by hand-beating until it disperses into water to form pulp. But first, choose the type of plant fiber you’d like to use.

Types of fibers and harvesting. In this article, you’ll learn how to make paper from grass fiber and leaf fiber. Bast fiber (from the woody stalks of some plants) makes the strongest paper and is most commonly used by papermakers, but it’s also more time-consuming to harvest and process, so you might move on to this fiber after you try grasses and leaves. Not all plants make good pulp strong enough to hold together into a sheet of paper, and some plant fibers are usable but require many hours of beating by hand or with special machinery to break down the fibers. A good guideline for usable material: If the plant stands over 2 feet tall on its own, it most likely contains enough cellulose to make paper. To know for sure the practicality of processing any specific fiber into pulp, you’ll have to read other papermakers’ accounts or rely on your own trial and error.

You’ll need to collect at least 2 pounds of dry plant material to make it worth your while. A pound of dry grass material makes about ten 8-1/2-by-11-inch sheets, and 1 pound of dry leaf material makes about 15 sheets.





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MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
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