Saturday, April 17, 2010

DIY Paper: Blending blue jeans, and other thorny details

There's been quite a bit of interest in this project, so here's an update:

So far, so good. After just a couple of tries I'm getting sheets of paper attractive enough to start thinking about doing some binding with them. I'm doing simple "blender paper," starting with fiber I know is acid- and lignin-free. Having built the mold by stretching window-screen over a cheap wooden frame, with a matching frame for a deckle, it's really just a matter of blending bits of fiber-source down to the constituent fibers, mixing the mash with water in a tub, dipping out a sheet, stacking and pressing the sheets, and letting them dry. There's a nice set of videos here that show how to do it all, assuming you have some better equipment than the dollar-store rig. There are also some other descriptions of how to make denim-fiber paper without a professional beater, but think twice before you try to just throw denim squares in a blender. I really like the way the cotton fibers from denim work for papermaking, and the random un-pulverized threads give some nice texture and character to the sheets. Plus, I had a lot of old blue jeans around. So, after nearly destroying my blender following directions, I persisted experimentally. If you want to try using denim fiber, I suggest grabbing three or four of the mesh washer/dryer bags. Cut the jeans into small (like 3/4" small) squares, put them in one of the mesh bags, and then put that bag inside two or three more, so the fibers are less likely to escape. Toss the nested bags into your wash, and let the washer and dryer be your beater. Each pass through will free some fibers. Some fine bits will end up as dryer lint. Save that - it's good stuff. Blend loose threads, lint and free fiber in small batches, with the blender half-full of water. Start on low settings, and pull out anything that looks like it's matting up. Cut the matted fiber up with kitchen scissors, and reblend it. Try higher settings when you're pretty sure the clumps are gone. With a little care, you can get the fiber/water mix all the way up to "Liquify" (or whatever your high setting is.) Blend paper scraps with the denim if you want. If you want a little "confetti" look, then throw a few scraps of interesting paper in at the end, and don't quite liquify them.

Next week, I'll start working with botanicals, yard and kitchen waste, and paper scraps that need treatment to be acid- and lignin-free.

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