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

  • 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
  • Dry iris leaves completely, bundle, and then cut into 1/2-inch pieces for cooking and blending.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Simmer cut plant material with an alkali, such as washing soda.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Cooked milk thistle, before it's broken down further in a blender.
    Photo by Jeff Hansen
  • Step 1: Fill a vat with water and a few handfuls of pulp. With one hand, "hog" the vat--stir the pulp around and disperse it evenly in the water. Wet the mould and deckle.
    Photo by Jeff Hansen
  • Step 2: Hold the mould and deckle together and insert it at a 45 degree angle into the water. Then, as you reach the bottom of the vat, turn it parallel to the water's surface and pull it up out of the water.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 3: As you pull up the mould and deckle, shake it gently back and forth to settle the fibers. Hold still and parallel for several seconds to let the water continue to drain out into the vat and let the fibers settle.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 4: Set the mould and deckle on the edge of the vat, lift the deckle, and sweep it swiftly over the paper and to the side (without dripping).
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 5: Hold the mould up over the vat to drain the rest of the water, holding until it only drips. The paper will stay secure on the mould.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 6: Lay the mould, paper side down, onto a felt. Gently press all areas of the mould to help release the paper. Then, with pressure from your hand on one side of the mould, pull up by shifting pressure to the other side in a fluid motion. The paper will release onto the felt.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 7: While the paper is still on the felt, sponge out excess water or place the paper in a press to squeeze out water (or wait until you've pulled multiple sheets to load them all into the press). Then, pick up the wet paper from the felt and place it on your drying surface, such as Plexiglas or corrugated cardboard. Roll smooth with a brayer or similar tool. The paper will be delicate but should hold together well at this point. Label it if you're using different materials.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Step 8: "Kiss the mould onto the water's surface to remove pulp, add more pulp to the vat if necessary, and continue pulling paper.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • When finished pulling paper, strain the water from the vat thruogh a mesh-lined strainer into a bucket, and reserve the pulp for later use.
    Photo by Kristi Quillen
  • Construct a homemade press to squeeze out more water. You'll find many ideas online.
    Photo by Jeff Hansen
  • You can dry paper on Plexiglas or corrugated cardboard, which allows airflow.
    Photo by Jeff Hansen
  • When you make paper from plants, you can see individual fibers and interesting textures, like in this paper made from little bluestem grass.
    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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