Monthly Archives: January 2021

Days to Remember


I took my dogs for a walk down the Fox Lake Road the other day. Just as I do every single day. It was different, though; I’ve been puzzling over the reasons why.

First, the sun was shining. That in itself is a reason to celebrate. On this small island, when the temperature drops and the big lake still holds open water, we have many gray days. I know it has something to do with the variance between water temperature and air temperature, but I couldn’t begin to explain the science. It doesn’t take an expert to notice, though, how rare a day of sunshine is. Not that it isn’t beautiful here anyway; it is. Not that there isn’t plenty to appreciate, whether the sun is out or not; of course there is. But, when the sun is shining in the middle of the winter on Beaver Island, we do take notice, and appreciate it, and get outside to enjoy it whenever we can.

Second, in a winter that has so far been wavering in its production of either lasting cold or snow pack, we got a few inches of fresh snow. Thus, all of my driveway and most of the Fox Lake Road, that had been a slippery, frozen mess of ruts and ridges, was now easy to walk on. I could stride along without worrying that my next step would send me off sideways, or down. Beyond that, snow converts the regular scenery into a magical place. No matter what winter means, with its offerings of cold and mess and discomfort, it’s hard to deny that there’s a great deal of beauty in a snow-covered landscape.

Third, we were all feeling pretty spry that day. I’d had a not-too-tiring day at work that had been just stressful enough that I was looking especially forward to getting outside in the fresh air. Though I have the normal aches, pains and complaining joints that seem to come with age, I was feeling strong and capable. My three dogs, too, were up for the exercise. They are each nine years old, and have their own health issues, but they all still relish their walk.

On that day, Rosa Parks ran ahead, full speed, just like she used to when she was a puppy. Then she’d make a wide loop, and run just as quickly back to me, with bright eyes and a wide grin, to get a treat before she charged off again. Blackie Chan picked up on the excitement, and charged off, too. If Rosa Parks slowed down or stopped, which happened a couple times, Blackie Chan, nearly blind, ran right in to her. It didn’t faze either of them for long, and they continued on with their game. Darla was, meanwhile, loping steadily beside me, except when she was following scents along the sides of the road.

I smiled the whole distance down the road and back. Except when I was singing, to help Blackie Chan find his way. Or when I was laughing out loud at the antics of my three companions. It was one of those rare days that I recognized, in the moment, how unique and precious and special it was. I told myself, “Remember this, when the days are gray or the road becomes a muddy path. Remember this…when the dogs are older, or more infirm, or gone. Remember this…when I am not so strong, or so capable as I feel right now. Remember this, remember this…one more perfect day.” And the fact is, there was nothing so much more special about any of it; it was just a slightly-above-average, ordinary day. Except that I took notice of it!

Timeout for Art: Papermaking IV


Here we are again, still with the papermaking. This has been a long process of explaining what is actually a pretty simple procedure. I hope that I haven’t made it seem harder or more complicated than it actually is. And I hope I’ve been clear enough in my descriptions that someone, reading this, could learn to make their own paper. I have often been asked for written instructions for the process as I teach it. From now on, I’ll direct people to these pages!

Forming the Paper: The Pouring Method

The pouring method of making paper gives you more control over the thickness of your sheets, and allows you to make several sheets of uniform size and thickness. If you have plans to make sets of matching notecards, or a few hundred wedding invitations (as I have done more than once), this is the process for you.

Through a bit of experimentation, you can determine the amount of pulp it will take to form a sheet of paper, in the size and thickness that you want. One generous tablespoon of pulp – measured prior to blending – with result in an 8″ x 11″ sheet of paper thin and manageable enough to fold easily. I used almost that same amount of pulp for making postcard-sized wedding invitations, as I wanted them to be heavier, more like card stock.

Once you have the amount of pulp figured out, blend it as usual (one tablespoon of pulp combined with two to three cups of water, on the highest setting, for about 30 seconds), and pour it into a pitcher. Place the deckle frame on top of the mold frame, with the screen of the mold on the top side. Forgive my crude little sketches; I feel like I can’t make it clear with words alone.

Now, if you have a helper, this is where a second pair of hands will really be beneficial. There are a lot of things to manage all at once. Still, I’ve been making paper all by myself for years, and it is certainly possible.

Hold the mold and deckle tightly together, so that the deckle will prevent the water/pulp solution from escaping over the edge of the mold. Partially submerge it in the sink or tub, so that the screen is covered by an inch or so of water, and the deckle sides create a kind of “bathtub.” Pour the pulp mixture into this area; the water in the deckle box will help it to spread out over the screen. When the pulp seems evenly dispersed in the water, lift the mold and deckle out of the tub, using both hands and keeping the unit level. You’ll feel quite a bit of suction.

Lift the deckle box off, and set it to the side. Hold the mold at a slight angle to let some of the water drain away. Avoid the urge to bounce or shake the mold. Finally, move the mold over to the couching area, and proceed to couch and dry the paper, as before.

Drying Papers

Earliest papers were simply set out to dry in the sun. The sheets would lift easily off the screens when dry. That is still possible, but it slows the entire process down. The papers, stacked between layers of couching cloths and felts, especially if pressed between weights, will dry in a few days time. The stack can be placed near a register or other non-flammable heat source, to speed things up. Left to dry this way, the papers should be rearranged in the stack regularly, so that all of the sheets will dry at the same rate, and to avoid any issues with mold.

The drying process can be sped up by using a regular household iron, on the cotton setting. Do not touch the iron to the paper, but rather press the couching cloth, then flip it over, and press the felt. If your felts are made of synthetic materials (test them first!), cover the felt with another couching cloth before ironing. There will be a lot of steam! I never iron clothes, but have spent quite a few evenings ironing papers while watching a movie.

Special Effects

There are dozens of ways to make your papers unique. I’ll share some of my favorites:

  • When boiling your papers to make pulp, add part of a package of clothing dye to the water. This is especially effective when your papers are various shades. The dye will color all of the paper, but you’ll still see variations in tone.
  • After blending the pulp, add a pinch of other materials to the blender, and swirl it just enough to incorporate the additions. Some ideas (mentioned in a previous post) are dried grasses or leaves, flower petals, onion skins, dryer lint, bits of thread or yarn, and feathers. Keep in mind that a small amount goes a long way.
  • When using the pouring method of papermaking, after the pulp is dispersed in the deckle box and before lifting it out of the water, lay pressed, dried flowers or leaves onto the surface. As you draw the paper out of the water, the suction will draw the items onto the surface of the paper.
  • Old lace tablecloths and doilies can be laid onto the surface of a newly formed sheet of paper, before adding the couching cloth. As the paper is pressed to dry, the texture will be embedded in the surface.

These are just a few suggestions. As you become familiar with the process, I’m sure you’ll come up with ideas on your own.

I hope this is helpful, and that you find papermaking as enjoyable as I do!

Crisis II


I have three good dogs. They are wonderful companions, a good source of comfort and laughter. They each believe they are my favorite, best dog. They are each correct.

Rosa Parks knows that she has seniority over the other two dogs. She expects first place, and usually gets it. I put her food dish down first, only seconds before Blackie Chan’s and then Darla’s. She usually holds the prime position, closest to my pillow, next to my heart, in bed at night. Usually, though, she doesn’t take advantage of her exalted position. She lets Darla take the lead, and most of the credit, in their bird-chasing, barking-at-the-road-truck home-protection antics. When Blackie Chan decides he wants to sleep exactly where Rosa Parks is sleeping, he climbs right on top of her. Magnanimously, with a look on her face that says “Oh, brother…” Rosa Parks just rolls her eyes.

Darla is the biggest dog in my house, and she has the biggest heart. She watches over and worries over the other dogs. If Blackie Chan wanders down the neighbor’s driveway, Darla paces with furrowed brow at the road, waiting. If Rosa Parks falls behind on our walk, Darla circles back to see what the hold-up is. She waits patiently while the little dogs dance in place, excited to get their dinner, until I put her own dish down. Usually, the biggest danger Darla presents happens when I’m on the floor giving pats and scratches. For a good belly rub, the big dog would, without a second thought, crush any chihuahua that stood in her way!

Blackie Chan makes my heart ache with the earnest, intentional way he approaches life. A walk is serious business. I can almost hear his mind working, as he runs through the checklist: “I must walk straight and tall; keep a little smile on my face; keep my tail in the air, gently wagging; I must pee on every single clump of grass and pile of leaves.” Blackie Chan has a mild, imploring little whine that he directs at me when he wants his dinner, or some attention. His voice changes in an instant – like a scene from The Exorcist – from the humble mewling tone to a tooth-baring snarl if Rosa Parks gets involved.

Still, most of the time, my dogs get along. Until the rare instance when they don’t. Then, it’s a crisis! It all started when I gave Darla a beef bone. It had quite a bit of meat and gristle still on it. The small dogs were outside. I was right there to watch that she didn’t chomp down and splinter the bone. I took it away from her as soon as she’d cleaned the meat from it.

I thought nothing of it. Darla will, if I forget to put it up out of her reach, go through the garbage. She’ll gnaw on old dog food cans that were rinsed and flattened, for any slight flavor she night be able to still get out of them. She will lap up old hamburger grease and chew up the tin foil it was wrapped in. She has chewed into bits the styrofoam containers that once held sausage or chicken. Amazingly, it doesn’t make her sick.

That beef bone, though, did not sit well with Darla. For an entire day, she ate grass whenever she was outside. She declined treats when I offered them. When I got home from work, she had vomited a big mound of grass onto the entry rug. She rushed out the door, and dug right in to eating more grass. Clearly, Darla had an upset stomach!

By the time we got back from our walk, though, Darla seemed better. I fed the dogs on time, as usual. Darla was still working slowly through her meal when the other dogs finished. I gave each of them a “Greenie” that is their after dinner treat. I dropped Darla’s into her food dish. I turned back to the stove to finish preparing my own meal.

Suddenly, the room erupted in chaos! All three dogs were barking; Darla and Rosa Parks were tangled up in battle. Both were yelping and snarling, Darla on top of Rosa Parks, who was on her back on the floor. “No,” I shouted, as I slapped Darla (not hard!) on the flank. Immediately, the fight broke up.

Rosa Parks righted herself, and scurried to her “safe spot” under my desk. Blackie Chan, still anxiously trying to figure out what was going on, poked his head under the desk. Rosa Parks snapped at him, and he backed away, as if beaten, to cower on his corner pillow. Darla had gone, right away, to the rug in front of the kitchen door, where she huddled, ears down, tail between her legs, so miserable.

In a flash, my happy household was in crisis! It seems Darla had abandoned her food dish, with a few bits of kibble and one whole Greenie still in it. Rosa Parks had decided to take advantage of the situation. Darla wasn’t having it. Blackie Chan was just trying to understand. By the time it was over, my heart was pounding, and I had three sad dogs.

I gave them each some individual love and attention, in their own areas. I made sure Rosa Parks wasn’t hurt, let Darla know she wasn’t bad (and that I was sorry I’d smacked her), and explained the situation – as well as I could – to Blackie Chan, while rubbing his ears. By the time I sat down to my own dinner, the crisis was forgotten and all were forgiven.

Timeout for Art: Papermaking III


Oh, my! I’m still working on this looong, extended papermaking blog. And I totally missed posting a “Timeout for Art” last week, and the week before. What’s going on?

Well, the news, for one thing. With all that has happened in the last two weeks, I’ve had a hard time turning away from the news. Not for meals, not for sleep, and not to finish this papermaking lesson!

On top of that big distraction, this has turned out to be hard! When I teach papermaking, I am normally in person, talking and demonstrating. Though I have long pages of notes, I have never tried to write out the entire process as a lesson, until now. It is a longer, more complicated explanation than I expected. I planned to give it one post, and it has now gone to three! I’m hoping to be able to wrap it up today!

In the last post, when talking about materials needed, I neglected to mention pitchers. You’ll need at least one; two or three will save steps and time. Each will need to hold at least 8 cups of liquid. You’ll also need a few good sponges.

Set Up

To one side of the sink (or vat or tub), set up an area for dealing with your sheets of paper after they are formed. Cover that surface with a good layer of towels and absorbent materials; have the sponges nearby. Stack the couching cloths and felts within reach, but in a place where they will stay dry. Add water to the sink to a depth of two or three inches.

Set up another area for stacking your sheets of paper, after they are removed from the molds, and sandwiched between couching cloth and felt. If you have secured a couple patio blocks to help press the moisture out of the paper sheets, have them in this area.

Set up your blender, and get the pulp ready. If you’ve stored your balls of pulp in the freezer, it will need to be thawed enough to pull apart and use, so plan at least a couple hours ahead. If you have additions for your paper sheets (see the last papermaking post for ideas), have them close by, too. Have your pitcher handy.


Take a portion – about one tablespoon – of boiled pulp from its storage bag, and place it in the blender. Add two to three cups of water. Do not fill the appliance completely, or it will likely overflow when processing. Do not attempt to blend larger amounts of pulp, or your blender will have a very short life. Set the blender to Liquify, or the highest setting. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds. Watch for signs of overheating: a burning smell or whining noise. If any of these overload symptoms occur, cut back on the amount of pulp, or blend in shorter spurts. After the pulp is thoroughly blended, you can add small amounts of flower petals or other additions, and blend for a short spurt, just to incorporate the ingredients.

Forming the Paper

There are two methods for making paper: the pouring method. and the vat method. The vat method is most like the way the very first papers were formed. It’s simple, so I usually demonstrate this method first. It is easy to do when working alone, and the one I’m going to describe today.

For the vat method, add your blended pulp to the water in the sink or tub. No, in fact, when you’re using the vat method, use a basin or tub that you can lift up and pour out when you’re finished. You don’t want leftover particles of paper pulp going down your drain. Repeat the blending process, adding each to the sink. Three to five blender loads of pulp should be sufficient. You can make a simple sheet of paper using only the mold, or you can add the deckle for a thicker sheet of paper with a more regular edge.

In either case, swirl the liquid in the tub so that the pulp is well distributed through the water. Holding the mold (or mold and deckle together) in both hands, start at one end of the tub and (as I describe the process when teaching), “dive the mold down to the bottom of the tub, slide it across the bottom until it is level, then lift it straight up out of the water bath.” You’ll feel the suction as the pulp is drawn down onto the screen. If using a deckle, lift it off and set it aside. Tip the mold slightly, so that excess water can drip away, then set it on the towels you’ve set up for this purpose.

Congratulations! You have made a sheet of paper! If you have more than one mold, you can jump right in and make another, and another, blending more pulp and adding it to the tub as necessary. If you have just the one mold, it’s time to learn how to remove the paper from the screen.


Couching (pronounced kooshing) was developed in France, where, because they ha invented a printing press, they had a need to speed up the papermaking process. The French word, couche’ means to tuck in between covers, and that is basically what we’re going to do.

Begin by laying one of the couching cloths gently over your sheet of newly formed paper. It will absorb water from the sheet, and stick to the surface. That will allow you to pick up the mold, keeping the couching cloth over the paper, and turn it upside down onto the towels. Take a sponge, and blot the back of the screen, squeezing out the water and repeating as necessary. Be careful to blot, not rub, as we don’t want to draw the paper through the screen, but just remove the water.

After a few moments, you’ll be able to pick up a corner of the mold, to peek. Sometimes the sheet of paper will easily drop off the screen on its own; other times it takes a little more sponging, a little encouragement by starting a corner of the sheet with a fingernail. Eventually, the paper, still attached to the couching cloth, will come away from the screen. Cover the sheet, then, with one of the squares of felt. You now have one sheet of paper, sandwiched between one couching cloth and one felt. You can pick this up by diagonal corners, and move it to your drying area.

As you make more sheets of paper, couch them in the same way. You can stack them up, one paper, couching cloth and felt “sandwich” on top of another. If you have a couple patio blocks, You can use one as a base for your stack, and put the other on top, to help push the moisture out, and to keep the sheets flat.

I wish this was the very end of this papermaking saga but, alas, there is still more. Next week (barring another assault on the Capitol or some other wild news) I’ll describe the pouring method of forming sheets of paper, give you a few ideas for embellishing your sheets, and explain how to dry them.



“Crisis” is acute, rather than chronic. It demands swift action, and, though it’s extreme, it normally passes pretty quickly. I don’t know what to call it, when it goes on for a long time. Depression, maybe? That doesn’t sound drastic enough. I’m sure there are some people who live with constant crisis: those who are living in war zones; those who have serious disease in their family; the homeless; the desperate. It’s hard to think about.

In my life, crisis is a short-term thing. Life bumps along, with minor ups and downs, and a few unexpected curves. Then something happens, and suddenly I’m in crisis!

It happened to me recently. On the day after Thanksgiving. I was working at the hardware store. Freight had come early, because of the holiday, so most of it was already put away. Olya, the young woman I often work with, helped me to finish that job early. Then, we looked around for our next project.

We had already taken a few days in the previous week to unpack and set up all of the Christmas items, and decorate the store inside and out. We are working on an on-going basis at fixing locations, straightening shelves, and updating prices. Bringing over-stock up from the basement or down from the high shelves is also something that we work at daily. Along with customer service, these things aren’t a “project” so much as just a regular part of the job.

The nail section definitely needs attention. Because of current manufacturing issues, some regular inventory is unavailable, and we’ve had to substitute others. The fill-ins come in various-sized boxes that don’t fit into our display. In addition, a group of inexperienced summer help resulted in many things being put away in the wrong location. So, that section is a huge job that would involve moving shelves and rearranging thousands of boxes of nails and screws. Too big a job for the day after Thanksgiving.

In this way, we looked around, noted things that needed to be done, and assessed our time and ability. Winter hats, gloves and scarves had to be brought upstairs. The big order for the last ferry boat has to be considered. Ice melt has to be brought up from the basement. The chain saws have to be displayed.

We started with the chain saws. There was room on the high shelves over the paint-mixing area. They’d be visible from the entry door, and from the front of the store. A ladder would be needed to get them down, but that was okay. The slow selling items that were on display there would have to be moved up to the even higher shelves. All of the shelves would need to be cleaned; the merchandise would all have to be tagged.

I started on the eight-foot ladder, then quickly realized I’d need the bigger one. Olya carried the short ladder to the back; I carried the twelve-foot ladder to the front. It was then, or in the next few minutes when I was on the high reaches of the ladder, leaning out to rearrange the inventory and wipe down the shelves, and hefting heavy chain saws up and over to arrange them on shelves, that I noticed my back was going out.

I know the early signs, and have learned to pay attention to the warnings. Once, I was so crippled with a bad back that I had to spend an extra week downstate, unable to move without assistance, let alone drive! I was seeing a chiropractor several times a day, and laying around my sister’s house the rest of the time, leaning heavily on muscle relaxers and pain pills. I’m sure I was the poorest company she’d ever had!

So, when I feel that twinge, that tells me I have pushed too far, I know to listen. Ibuprofen immediately! That allowed me to finish my day at work. We finished the chain saw display. I brought up two side shelves, one spinning display, and three totes full of hats and scarves, and got most everything out and displayed.

At the end of my work day, I went home and started my regimen of heating pad, gentle exercise, ice packs and ibuprofen. I know what works, and I know it’s important. When my back goes out, it is always a crisis, but if I take care of it, it’s just a short term inconvenience.



Where does courage come from? Is it real?

The few instances when I have acted with courage in my own life, there was no choice. A brave action was the only option available. And, I was quivering in fear. I am not a courageous person. That is absolutely true. And, yet, I have been brave.

There were times, not many, when I stood up to people who were bigger, stronger, more influential or more powerful than I. Sometimes to stick up for someone else. Now and again, to support a good or noble position. Sometimes just in defense of what I felt was a put-down. Mostly, these acts of bravery happen only after the fact, and only in my mind.

I have embarked on courageous challenges, sure. Often, foolishly naive, I didn’t realize what an act of bravery it was…to get married…to give birth…to become a parent. Almost everybody does it; their are no “badges of courage” offered to those who do, yet what a challenge to anyone who undertakes any of these things!

Is any marriage easy? It involves work, forbearance, and struggle, even when it’s going very smoothly. If we had any sense, when young and in love, we’d shake in fear at the prospect of the future we were walking so breezily toward. Even in the best marriages, it takes courage and commitment.

When I became pregnant, it was without a single thought to all the complications and difficulties that could arise. Every woman has their own unique stories of pregnancy, labor and delivery because, though pregnancy itself is something very common, it is also a very individual experience. No matter how many women have gone through it before, when it is happening to you, it takes courage!

Parenthood is something I walked eagerly toward. I had little brothers and sisters, after all. I’d been a babysitter. I’d had pets. I never imagined – maybe it’s impossible to imagine until the experience is there – how very enormous, would be the love I felt for my children. Attached to that big love is a huge sense of responsibility, and a heart-stopping fear of all the things that could happen. Though blessings and joys abound, being a parent takes courage.

There are other things that cause us to draw on our resources of courage. The more of a coward you are, the more even minor challenges take nerve. I have never been to war, but, by god, I’ve gone to the dentist! I’ve had surgery. I’ve gone through divorce. I went back to college in my thirties (which seemed so old, at the time, and so daring. Now I think, what was the big deal?). I have stood up to huge losses.

I am not a brave person. Life presents challenges; I keep going. Sometimes it’s easy; other times it’s really hard. I don’t feel courageous, but maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. Courage might not be the same thing as heroism. Maybe, just to continue to stand up to the challenges that life presents is an act of courage. Maybe we all deserve a medal!



Cancer is not a part of my personal health history. Although I have, so far, been spared, cancer has touched my life more than once over the years. I’ve seen the pain it has caused, the struggle that has ensued, and the final results.

I’ve known those who have made it through to the other side of treatment, and who continue, blessedly, on with their lives. I’ve experienced the loss of dear friends and family members who have not survived it. Cancer is an awful word that comes loaded with fear, and knowledge of all the horrors it can produce. For as much that cancer takes, though, it also gives.

Cancer gives the sure knowledge that life is short, and unpredictable, and precious. These are lessons that we might come to on our own in other ways, but a cancer diagnosis is quick delivery.

A life span seems like a long, long time. I remember thinking that my Grandpa, then in his 50s, was a very old man. Anticipating the far-off turn of the century, I thought I’d certainly not be around for it. If I was, I’d be way too old (48!) to notice. The idea that people could live to seventy or more seemed like forever! A lifetime.

As we age, though, we push back that final door. At age sixteen, thirty seemed ancient, old age was unfathomable; we sang, “hope I die before I get old…” By age thirty, another whole outlook presented itself. Thirty was pretty darn young, while I was living it! That has continued to happen, through my life. Old-age is somewhere out there, vaguely in the distant future. Death is farther beyond that.

A diagnosis of cancer brings death’s door front and center. No matter what the prospect of survival, there it is, close and personal. And it’s always too soon. Facing death, we see the value of life. We realize what a transient gift it is, and how quickly it can disappear. This can happen whether the diagnosis is yours, or for someone you know.

Suddenly, the knowledge or insight a person has to offer becomes more important. When my mother knew she had three months to live, she regaled us with stories, most that we had never heard before. She told each one of her children how much we were loved. She reached out to old friends and distant family. She “held court” every day, in her pajamas, from her comfortable chair, as those that knew and loved her stopped in to let her know.

A person given a cancer diagnosis is recognized for the irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, precious treasure that they are. The things they do are more greatly appreciated. Their contribution to the world we share is noted as both unique and priceless.

When cancer jostles our world, it opens our eyes. We see clearly, if we hadn’t before, the wonders that are here for us, for free, every day. Every morning a sunrise! The grass! That tree! The snow! It shows us the value of life.

Cancer helps to define quality of life. What’s the bottom line? What will we endure, to try to get rid of the disease? What is too much? What constitutes a good life? And what is a good death? These decisions have not touched my own life, but I’ve watched and listened as others that I love have weighed options, and made hard choices. Cancer gives clarity.

So, yes, in many ways, cancer gives.

Mostly, though, cancer takes away.

Timeout for Art: Papermaking II


Happy New Year!

Last week, I talked a little about the history of papermaking. This week I’ll try to explain how you can prepare to try this at home. Materials are cheap, and the results can be stunning. Besides that, it can be a lot of fun. It does, however, have quite a few disparate steps and specific things to have on hand. It’s better to prepare in advance, so that you don’t have to go scrambling for just the right thing once the process is underway.


Most of the equipment you’ll need can be found around the house. For processing the paper pulp, a big kettle, like ones used for canning, a large colander or sieve, and a good quality blender. Once I’ve used “kitchen” equipment for papermaking, I retire it from food-preparation duties, so I look at garage sales and re-sale shops for these items.

For forming the sheets of paper, You’ll need a mold and deckle. A mold is basically a frame, in whatever size you want your paper to be, with screen stretched over the top surface. A deckle is exactly the same, only without the screen. An embroidery hoop with screen rather than fabric fastened into it, makes a very simple mold that will produce round papers. Stretcher strips, designed for supporting canvas for paintings, can be purchased to size, with corners already mitered, and ready to snap together. With minimal woodworking skills, lengths of 1″ x 2″ lumber can be cut, glued and tacked together to form a rectangle. Whatever method and size you decide on, make two. One will be topped with screen to form the mold, the other will be left open, the deckle, and used to keep the paper pulp from running off the edges of the mold, when it’s lifted from the water bath. Honestly, this sounds more complicated than it is.

It’s possible to use your bathtub, a utility tub, or your kitchen sink for making paper. If you can find them in the right size, meaning a size that your mold and deckle will fit into while you’re holding on to it, and plastic wash tub will work. Over the years, I’ve invested in several bus tubs, purchased through a restaurant supply store, and find them very helpful.

For draining the formed sheets of paper, and removing them from the screen, you’ll need a good quantity of absorbent towels, couching cloths, and felts. I like towels in the bath towel size. I buy them used, at thrift stores, and run them through the laundry before I use them. Couching cloths are just squares of fabric. Cotton, or mostly cotton, works best. I make mine by cutting or tearing rectangles to size out of old sheets. Felt can be purchased by the yard, and cut to size, or purchased in ready-to-use rectangles at most craft or fabric stores. White is best.

Though not absolutely necessary, a couple patio blocks can be very handy for pushing the moisture out of your papers, and helping them to dry flat. A household iron is useful in drying the sheets of paper.

Enhancements and Additions

Any cellulose fiber, which is almost anything that grows, can be used to make paper, Though I’m describing a process that forms papers of mainly of recycled paper pulp, sheets can be beautified and enhanced with other materials. I save flower petals from my blossoms, autumn leaves, banana peels, grape skins, onion skins and many other odds and ends from the kitchen and garden. When I launder new clothes or linens, I save the dryer lint. I save bits of yarn, thread and embroidery floss. Paper confetti small amounts of glitter can add interest to paper sheets. I collect these items throughout the year, and store them separately in snack sized plastic bags. Any natural materials should be stored in the freezer.

Paper Pulp

This is the material that will form the basis of your sheets of paper. For good quality papers for note cards, stationery or collage, start saving junk mail. Eliminate any papers made of cardboard or newsprint. These are made of recycled trash, and will not form good, long-lasting sheets of paper. Most bills, form letters and bank statements are printed on quality paper that works well for this project. Envelopes are ideal, as they have little writing on them. Be sure to remove any stamps, stickers, and plastic or cellophane windows. Shiny pages with lots of printing, like magazines and catalogues, will produce fine-textured, soft, pale gray sheets of paper. Be sure to remove any staples, binding, or stickers.

I sort my junk mail into colors, especially at holiday time when I receive large quantities of brightly colored envelopes. Any colors will fade somewhat, in the preparation process, but it’s good to keep the red, yellow and oranges away from the bright blues and greens, or you will always end up with beige papers. I also keep a separate selection of papers that are white, with very little printing. Again, shiny catalogue or magazine pages will always produce a pale gray, no matter what colors are printed on them.

When you have a good mound of paper collected, tear it into pieces no larger than two inches in any direction. The smaller you shred your papers, the easier it will be to break down. It is okay to use a paper shredder for this process, but torn edges take less time to break down, and produce a finer end result. Place your shredded paper in the kettle, cover it with water, and put it on the stove. Add about a tablespoon of bleach. Bring the water to a boil, and let it simmer for about an hour. This process removes any sizing from the paper, and begins the process of breaking it down into pulp. Drain the mixture in a colander, and rinse the paper with cool water. Scoop the paper pulp up into your hands, squeeze out excess water, and shape it into balls, about the size of a baseball. These balls of pulp can be stored, in sealed bags in your freezer, until you’re ready to make paper. That’s what we’ll do next week.