How to Make Rag Paper

Making rag paper was popular before the advent of mechanized paper mills.
Making rag paper was popular before the advent of mechanized paper mills. (Image: paper image by musk from Fotolia.com)

Before the advent of mechanized paper mills and wood sulfite pulps, people made paper from old clothing. Historically, the rags people used for papermaking were linen, but fabric made from cotton and hemp also make high-quality paper. You can find rag paper made from cotton and linen at office supply stores, but you can also make your own. Making paper is a time-consuming and messy process, but your efforts will yield sheets of paper unlike anything you can find in a store.

Things You'll Need

  • Cotton, linen or hemp fabric
  • Fabric scissors
  • Paint bucket
  • Hollander beater or industrial strength blender
  • Plastic tub with high sides
  • Shallow plastic tub
  • Mould and deckle (wooden supports with a mesh screen stretched across the top and a removable wooden frame)
  • Wooden boards
  • Industrial polyester felt sheets
  • Weights (heavy books, doorstops, etc.)
  • Sheets of cotton blotter

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Cut the fabric into squares that measure approximately 1 inch, place the cut fabric into your paint bucket and fill it with enough water to cover the fabric scraps.

Allow the scraps to soak for at least 24 hours; saturating the fibers with water will make them break down faster during the pulp-making process.

Find the zero point of the Hollander beater, which is a piece of papermaking equipment with a moat-like tub and a rotating cylinder (beater roll) with macerating blades that break fabric into pulp. Open the beater's top to reveal the beater roll. Move the roll back and forth with your hand as you turn the crank on the side of the beater counterclockwise. When the beater roll starts scraping against the metal plate that rests beneath it, stop turning the crank and set the counter to zero. Turn the crank clockwise until you reach 30 on the counter.

Plug the beater's drain and fill it to the halfway point with water. Plug in the beater, turn it on and add your soaked fiber, one handful at a time. Once you've added all the fiber, turn the beater's crank counterclockwise (this will lower the beater roll) until you reach 20 on the counter. Allow the beater to run for 10 minutes, and then move the counter down to 15. Continue lowering the beater roll in increments of five every 10 minutes. When you get to zero, allow the beater to run for another 20 minutes, or until the pulp has the texture of soft, fluffy clouds.

Prepare pulp in an industrial strength blender if you don't have access to a beater. Fill the blender one third of the way full of water, add two or three handfuls of rag squares and pulse in 30 second increments until the pulp has the consistency of soft, fluffy clouds.

Pour the prepared pulp into a plastic container with high sides.

Place a wooden board on a flat surface away from the area where you will be pulling sheets of paper and stack three pieces of damp felt on top. This will serve as your couching stand.

Fill the shallow plastic container one third of the way full with water and add between six and eight cups of pulp. Agitate the water and pulp mixture with your hands to distribute the fiber throughout the water.

Hold your mould and deckle on either side and submerge it in the pulp and water mixture. Lead with the bottom edge of the mould and deckle, and use a scooping motion as you guide it into the water. Once you've submerged the mould and deckle, pull straight up to create a sheet of paper. Shake the mould and deckle gently to the left and right and up and down, allowing the water to drip from the bottom of the mould.

Remove the deckle when the dripping subsides and couch the sheet of newly-formed rag paper onto the wet felts. Hold one side of the mould in your right hand and place the other side against the couching stand. Grip the side positioned against your felt with your left hand and push the top of the mold down. When the face of the mould is flat against the felt, begin lifting up the left-hand side. Pull the mould away when you've lifted it completely off the sheet of paper.

Place another damp felt on top of your freshly couched sheet and continue pulling and couching until you run out of pulp.

Set a second wooden board on top of your stack of paper and felts and cover it with weighted objects. This will press some of the excess water from the sheets of paper. Allow the stack to rest for 15 minutes and then remove the weights.

Stack three dry felts on a wooden board and transfer one sheet of paper onto it. Place another dry felt on top and transfer a second sheet of paper to the new stack. Continue in this manner until you've transferred all of the paper onto the new stack. Cover with a wooden board and weights and allow it to sit for 15 minutes.

Remove the sheets from between the felts and dry them between sheets of cotton blotter. Place a stack of four sheets between each blotter; this will keep the paper from drying too quickly and cockling around the edges. Keep the stack of blotter between wooden boards and under weight to keep the paper from warping during the drying process.

References

  • "Papermaking"; Jules Heller; 1997
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