Finlay Design

Portfolio Book contents page Banner

Homemade Portfolio Book

*Disclaimer* This is just my process on how I went about making everything, I am in no way a expert!!! Any suggestions on how I could improve the process or result are very welcomed!!

Also, a lot of this is just a rewording and combination of three blog posts I made at time of making the portfolio book, although I think this is a little more cohesive, useful and detailed than the original blog posts. Hope it can help a few people wondering about paper making!

The Idea

I had always planned on printing and binding the book myself, rather then going to a company like blurb, because I felt like a book printed and bound by myself was a lot more personal and imaginative. I then thought about how I could take that idea further, and somehow landed on the plan to make my own paper without having any prior knowledge or experience in the subject, great plan so far... The whole idea stemmed from my love of experimentation and researching new techniques and making things myself, by hand.

Mold and Deckle and Dry Pulp

I decided I was going to use cotton rag pulp from a company called Khadi Papers, I had bought paper from them before and it was great quality and there cotton pulp seemed super white, which was perfect considering I was planning on printing my portfolio on this paper. I decided to buy a couple packs just in case of mistakes because as I said, I had never done this before. I could have just used old paper, however since I was using this for my portfolio book, I decided to buy proper cotton pulp.

For the mold and deckle (a mold and deckle is essentially one rectangular flat sieve normally made with a wooden frame and another frame just minus the mesh sieve). I had originally planned on making one myself because they are, according to online articles, very easy to make. I was gonna buy two art canvases, take the canvas off both, replace one with a mesh (you can buy mesh made for paper making on amazon) and then add any other little parts needed to finish it off. However, the time it would have taken to make would have been too much and probably wouldn't have been any cheaper. Therefore, I just decided to buy a mould and deckle too, once again from Khadi Papers (the A3 size is the one I purchased so I could cut the finished paper down to size). The other stuff I needed was: a blender; a vat; a press; sheets of felt; cornstarch; a surface to dry the paper on and water.

Sourcing of all the Supplies Needed

First of all, I bought a £15 blender from Tesco (only £13.5 with colleague discount, hell yeah). I quickly realised I maybe should have gone with a more advanced model of blender, as I almost burnt out the motor when blending the first batch of pulp. I then bought a long sheet of felt from Dunelm, that luckily was wider that 420mm ( the length of the long edge of a A3 piece of paper and the mould size). I then cut the felt into sheets that were around 320mm deep, which is just longer than a A3 piece of paper. For the vat I just used a storage box that was large enough for the mould and deckle to fit into and fully submerge. The most difficult supply to get was a press for the paper. I did initially search online for an A3 size paper press, however, could only find A4 sized. Therefore, I went out and bought two large MDF boards. I drilled a hole in each corner of both, then ran bolts through the corners of one of the boards (with a washer on each) and once all the paper etc was on that board I would put the second board on top, with the bolts going through the holes in each corner and then used wing nuts to tighten (once again, with washers in between), this worked for a while until the MDF board started to bow due to all of the water (which there is alot of), to fix this I went out and bought two large cutting boards and put one in between the wood and the paper/felt on either side. Therefore if you are going to try this at home, the way I would set up your press would be, from bottom to top: Wooden board, Cutting board (or something of that ilk i.e. anything that won't bow), felt, paper, felt, paper, felt etc.. (starting and ending on felt), then another Cutting board and then the final wooden board, finally tighten with the wing nuts.

The cornstarch was by far the most confusing supply that I needed for this project, as I spent a week googling whether cornstarch and cornflour are the same thing, in the end I just used cornflour that I had in the cupboard and it seemed to work great! Lastly, I was in need of a surface to dry the sheets of paper on. For these purposes, because I needed flat unwrinkled pieces of paper, I needed some kind of wooden surface to be able to place the paper onto, I ended up using the side of a bookshelf I have which allowed me to dry four pieces of paper at a time. If the paper being flat isn't a requirement you could just hang it up or just lay it out and let it dry naturally, wrinkles and all.

Pulling and Flipping Sheets

The first part of the process to making the paper, once all the supplies were collected, was to make up some wet pulp. At first it took a bit of figuring out the ratio of paper to water, because the first couple sheets I pulled were extremely thin, so thin in fact I didn't even bother to flip it out, I just put the pulp back into the vat. However I soon got the hang of the technique and measurements. I would use half a pint of water into the blender, then two A4 sheets of the Khadi cotton pulp rag, cut into 1x1 inch squares, then another half pint of water and finally one tablespoon of cornstarch, the reason for the cornstarch is to help bind the pulp fibers together while drying which in turn will help produce better printing results, because without some sort of binding agent the final paper would be more susceptible to the ink running. The reason for separating out the water was so the blades weren't hitting all of the dry pulp and then burning out the motor. I then tipped two blender fulls of wet pulp into the vat of water, pulled a sheet, and then added another blender full for each sheet I would pull after that.
The actual process of pulling the sheets I wont bother to describe in words, rather, I will link to videos of myself doing it:

1 / 4
Pulling a Sheet and Draining
2 / 4
Removing the Deckle
3 / 4
Flipping onto Felt
4 / 4
Removing the Mould

A few things to note from the videos:

1. Try and sink the mould and deckle into the vat at around a 45 degree angle, once fully submerged, don't pull up immediately, rather wait and allow the pulp to settle somewhat and then very gently shake the mold and deckle in each direction (avoid hitting the sides of the vat) to try and spread around and even out the pulp.

2. When pulling out the mould and deckle, do so at a steady pace and if needing gently shake or tip the mold and deckle to try and even out the pulp, however this needs to be done extremely gently as the pulp is extremely fragile at this point so do not over do it.

3. After pulling out the mold and deckle, if possible allow to drain to drain out a lot of the water for a couple minutes.

4. When lifting up the deckle (the non mesh frame) do not lift up all sides at once, rather lift up in a hinge like action as seen in the video.

5. Every piece of paper you flip in the press needs to be in-between sheets of felt/pellon, no piece of paper should be touching your press. The process of laying the sheets onto felt/pellon in-between the paper is called couching (pronounced k-oo-ching, no, really, that is how it is pronounced, I swear), the felt/pellon stops the paper from bonding together when being pressed.

6. When flipping the paper out, once again, like when removing the deckle, it is crucial you flip in a hinge/door like action, starting from the side closest to you, as seen in the video

7. This is a contentious issue within papermaking, but I do sponge out water while the deckle is still on top, many people do not do this, many people do, I personally could not get the paper to flip out properly unless I sponged out the water. if you are sponging out the water, do it with an even pressure across the paper until you aren't getting much water out with the sponge (a towel also worked for me really well), once again this is a very personal preference.

8. Lastly, when lifting up the mould, you may have noticed in the video I push down slightly and apply pressure onto the mould before lifting, I did this in a somewhat seesaw motion back and forth. And then when you lift up the mould, it is once again in that hinge/door movement, just as seen in the video. This is also somewhat of a personal preference and i'm sure there are many variations, this is just what worked for me.

Pressing and Drying

Once all the sheets and felt etc are stacked the top boards of the press are tightened. I then lifted up the press and left it pressed, standing upright to help drain the water. For the pressing, it is a matter of finding the sweet spot between pressing the paper, but not to burst it. I left the paper pressed overnight to 1 whole day.

After the paper has been pressed, it will still be extremely wet (despite the amount of water that will come out when pressed). If you are fancy and can afford a couple box fans then great, just put them at each end of your loosened somewhat press and wait, if like me, and you cant afford that, you will need to find some porous surface to dry the paper onto (any large wooden surface will do), I personally used the side of a wooden bookshelf, and don't worry, from my experience, if the wood if protected well, it didn't stain or harm the wood what so ever. So, lift up the paper from the felt carefully (it will rip very easily still) and carefully place it flat on your wooden surface, it will stick to the surface and so it being upright is completely OK. Leave that to dry for a while (5- 8 hours) once the paper is just damp to the touch but not dry!!! you will need to stop it from wrinkling and shrinking, I found gum tape to be the best solution for this, just put a strip or two around each side of the paper and then just leave it until it has completely dried.

And that is it, that was my process for making homemade paper to print onto, from start to finish, this went on longer than I intended and if you read the whole thing, well done, and I hope it can help if you are going to attempt to make your own!