I am interested in finding ways to make paper using reeds from a local wetland area planted to help filter polluted mine water. To begin, I followed the methods outlined in my previous post and attempted to make paper by hand using recycled materials such as used paper, old cotton, and cardboard scraps. Although the process was time-consuming, each type of paper produced had a unique texture and qualities. After completing the process, I reflected on what I learned and have some tips to share. Hopefully, this will help others in exploring how to make and utilize eco-friendly handmade paper.


Test batch 1 –

Made from purely printed recycled paper, no size.

The thickness of the paper improved as I became more familiar with using the deckle. The couching process worked better on cotton canvas offcuts than on an old poly-cotton T-shirt. The canvas also left an interesting texture on the pressed paper. The thickness of the paper slurry caused uneven and lumpy paper sheets, indicating that adjusting the particle thickness is crucial for the texture and properties of the paper. Although the soaked recycled paper I used had its own size (glue) in~, Next time, I would want to use additional size in order to give increased flexibility to the finished paper.


Test batch 2

15% recycled cotton 85% recycled paper (fragments with less print), cellulose based size.

This paper was made by mixing recycled paper with 15% waste cotton fibre. Cellulose-based size was added to make it stronger and more flexible. Cotton fibres are shorter than the wood pulp fibres (in the recycled paper component),  making the paper softer and more fragile, but the added size helped. I used a better quality screen for this batch of paper, stretched to higher tension on the deckle frame. This helped to make the paper more consistent and even. I added some additional cotton fibres direct to the slurry, to give variation in teh textures of the surfaces.


Test batch 3

100% recycled cardboard, my own size made from boiling okra)

The experience gained from previous trials has paid off, and now the sheets are much more evenly pulled. Adding okra size to the pulp vat has made a significant difference to the slurry by helping the fibres remain suspended. Okra size is prepared by boiling okra in water for one hour. Although the paper’s colour is a dull brown, embedding reeds, dried foliage from the study site, and strands of old thread have given this paper an interesting texture and varying light reflection. The okra means that the paper is more flexible and robust to handle.


Embedding objects into the paper:

I found that adding reeds and organic materials to the paper worked best when the items were placed onto the deckle after pulling the sheet. This allowed the water to drain off and the objects to embed into the paper structure more effectively than if they were placed directly into the slurry vat. A combination of defined objects and abstract organic texture proved to be the most effective.



Each paper type has a different surface and qualities, and it would be interesting to explore how these sheets could be collaged or combined together. Going forward, I would potentially explore coating the finished paper sheets with the two types of sizes to see how this affects how they respond to drawing and painting mediums. Overall, though, this lengthy exploration process has resulted in some lovely textural papers for my artwork and a lot of learning to take forward as I explore creating usable pulp from wetland habitats. I hope this inspires others to try their hand at hand paper-making using recycled materials and sustainable techniques.

More information:

Find out more about artists using handmade paper techniques in their work.