Hello there! My name is Megan van den Bergh of Nutmeg Press, and I love to make paper!
For this post I’ll be explaining the Western style of handmade papermaking. There are quite a few different fibers to choose from and they are all very good for different reasons, depending on the purpose your paper will serve (invitations, business cards, etc.). The paper you’ll see me making in the following photos is made of 1/3 hemp and 2/3 cotton (tree-free!). It should be noted that although I chose not to pigment this paper, many colors are possible. Please also note that all the water I use for this process goes through a special filtration system that is pH balanced, making the paper acid-free and archival.
This is a picture of one pound of raw hemp and two pounds of cotton that comes to us in these sheets called linters.
First, I have to cook the hemp in boiling water and rinse it a few times to soften it up. This process also gets rid of nasty toxins that would make the paper darker and less archival. While the hemp cooks, I let the cotton soak in water.
Once the hemp has cooked and the cotton has soaked, I place each fiber in a Hollander beater by hand.
The beater sends the fiber around in a circle and through a device that looks like a water wheel, chopping and pounding the fiber up into small, tiny bits. This creates a fluffy slurry of material called pulp.
The pulp is drained from the beater and put into a large tub, or vat (if I’m making colored sheets, this is the time where I would add ground up pigments to the mix). Now it’s time to form some sheets!
I use wooden frames covered in mesh to make sheets. The mesh allows water to drain out, while keeping the pulp on top. All it takes is one big dip through the water and you have a sheet!
Next, I wait for the water to drain out the bottom (you’d be surprised how heavy this actually is — this is where you need some serious muscle)….
… and then I place the frame with your sheet attached on top of a soaking wet piece of felt. It’s important to press really hard so the sheet doesn’t have air bubbles or stick to the frame.
Yay! Look at that! A sheet of real, handmade paper. Beautiful, right?
To dry the paper, I first put it in a screw press overnight to let most of the water drip out. The final step is to put each sheet between a series of blotter papers and under the pressure of a hydraulic jack to ensure the paper dries flat.
While the process looks fairly simple, it’s extremely laborious; it takes 5 days to make one batch of paper (about 30 sheets). Handmade paper is truly unique and gorgeous, and absolutely worth all this work, though! Not to mention that it’s totally fun and exciting to make.
I would love to make custom paper for you, so please email me, at megan[at]nutmegpress[dot]com with any questions about sizes, colors, thicknesses, prices — anything, really!
Thanks so much, Kelly!