Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I’ve always loved crafts. When I was a kid, I’d go on these massive craft-making stints. I’d churn out hand-stitched quilt squares in startling quantities (one set of squares in particular were designed as part of a potential money-making scheme that never quite got off the ground) or cross-stitched pillows or wall samplers. You name it; I’ve probably tried it—or wanted to try it.

Later, throughout my teen years, I’d pick up a project here and there, but my creativity was mainly limited to my writing projects and blog projects. Occasionally, I found a cross-stitch project to contend with. Yet eventually, that passion almost flickered out.

Or so I thought. Maybe these things never truly die: they just get buried? I’m beginning to think so.

This past weekend, I was in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There are some really neat fabric stores up there and I just so happened to be visiting one. Directly inside the door was a massive bin of leather scraps priced at a dollar a piece. For some reason, I couldn’t walk past it. In fact, I spent the next forty-five minutes digging through the bin, examining the leather: the texture, the color, the scent, the resiliency. I didn’t know why, but I suddenly really, really wanted to begin a project that involved leather.

I thought of wallets. But that seemed too complicated. After all, I’d never worked with leather before. At all. And wallets would likely involve a lot of complicated cutting and stitching. Then I thought of a belt or a gun holster or a knife pouch for one of the little guys in my life. Nothing seemed quite right, though. I was getting disappointed. I needed this leather for something. I was convinced of it!

Then, it jumped out at me: a particularly unique piece of leather—deep ochre, with lots of texture. Soft, yet firm, on the inside, and wrinkled and serious on the outside. And in that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. With all of it.

Journals! And suddenly, each new piece of leather represented a different kind of journal. One would be small and neatly bound—convenient for jotting down quick notes or adding up a grocery bill. Another would be large and buckle-bound with creased pages and match-burned edges. Another would be soft and blue—flexible—and just the right size to slide into a purse or carry alongside another book for note-taking.

I limited myself to six unique pieces of leather. Each with plenty of character and potential. Then, I spent the next day or two reading about leather crafting and the different tools I would need to attempt such a project as book-binding.

Then, there was the issue of paper. I didn’t want to fill my neatly-bound journals with just any old cardstock. My first thought was rice paper. It was fun to work with and fairly easy to push an upholstery needle through. But it was rather prohibitively expensive for such a fly-by-night project—probably not the best choice until I was actually more experienced in the art of leather-working.

Then I thought, “Why not make my own paper?”

So. That’s where my project stands. As I type, I have about a pound of clean, white cotton boiling on the stove. Tomorrow, I’ll add a solution of sodium hydroxide to the mix. That will (theoretically) make the fibers of the cotton break down and separate more easily (it will also remove any residual dirt or possible staining in the fabric). Within three or four hours of boiling in the caustic soda solution, I should be able to transfer the boiled fiber to a blender and mix it down to an even pulp.

I’m making my own frame for sifting the pulp. The frame is simple: about 13” by 10” (about 3” high) with a screen stapled firmly across one side. When the pulp is ready, I’ll fill the bathtub with several gallons of water and then blend in the cotton pulp (and whatever other fibrous material I get up the courage to stir in to give it more texture—silk? Mulberry bark? I can’t decide).

Once the pulp is blended into the water, I’ll slide the screened frame into the mix, shake it out beneath the surface so that the pulp falls in evenly, and then draw it upwards. While the water sifts out through the bottom, I’ll press a piece of felt (or another absorbent material) over the top of the wet paper, to press out any excess liquid. Then, I’ll flip the freshly-pressed sheet out of paper out onto another piece of felt and continue stacking each subsequent sheet between the felt until the pulp is finally diminished.

I still can’t decide which final-drying process to attempt. I’ll probably opt for the air-dry, then iron-over-foil method. We’ll see. Or maybe I’ll try a different drying method for each journal in turn.

I forgot how exciting it was to embark on a new project like this! I think the urge to shape and create is inborn in all of us. After all, we are made in the image of our God—and He is the ultimate Creator. He gave us the ability to imagine and dream and finally, construct.

Of course, He was always able to look at His creations and call them “good”. Who knows, in a few days, I may very well be kneeling beside the bathtub, crying my eyes out because I forgot to plug the drain before dumping my valuable pulp into the mix or something.

Let’s hope not!


Anonymous said...

lol, how you make paper huh?

Candace said...

God is the author of creation-we are his creations-thus, we create. I love it!

Erin said...

Please update us when you finish the project! I've been wanting to make paper with my class (5th grade) for some time and I need a good recommendation.

Randy said...

Is it white paper or colored paper and can you die it? My grandmother did this when I was a child. I think she used scrap paper (white) from work and recylced it that way.

Allie said...

I made paper in Elementary school - it was awesome!