Handmade Paper

For two thousand years, the craft of papermaking has been practiced all over the world. New sheets of paper can be made from the fibers of plants, trees, textiles, and even recycled paper. Depending on the type of material, either a chemical or mechanical process is needed to crush, cook, wash, screen, clean, and dry it so that it can be broken down and transformed into pulp. Take a look at the image above. Artist Kenneth Noland created this unique work of art using only paper pulp that he colored and pressed together. Some historical sources of pulp are scraps of linen and cotton textiles. Paper that consists primarily of cotton textiles is called cotton rag or rag paper. This type of paper lasts longer than others and is quite durable, so it’s often used for important documents and creating artwork. Over the years many artists have created artwork on handmade paper produced at the Richard de Bas paper mill located in a small town in France. This historic paper mill was founded in 1326 and is one of the few places in Europe that still makes paper by hand from fabrics today!

The MFA is one of the lead partners of Action Pact Boston, a citywide effort to spotlight environmental sustainability and climate concerns. On Memorial Day, visitors transformed recycled paper collected by staff from across the Museum into new, handmade sheets embedded with native, pollinator-friendly, and pesticide-free wildflower and meadow seeds. Join us in celebrating creative reuse, found materials, and biodiversity by learning how to make your own handcrafted paper using recycled materials at home!

About the Materials

two photos side-by-site: mould made from wooden frames on left, and mould made from styrofoam tray on right

Mould and Deckle

A mould and deckle are often used in Western-style papermaking. The mould with screening on top forms the base, and the deckle, a loose frame, is placed on top of the mould to help shape each sheet of paper and create straight edges. However, you can also make paper with just one frame or a clean styrofoam tray with a window screen attached! The edges of your paper won’t be as straight without a deckle, but you can always trim them with scissors once your sheet is dry.

hand reaching into bin of paper pieces torn from magazines and newspapers

Selecting Your Recycled Paper

Drawing, printmaking, and watercolor papers work best because they have strong fibers, but you can use any type of recycled paper that you have! Try using printer paper, old notes, construction paper, magazines, shredded paper, and even junk mail. The type of paper and the colors in each one will change how your new, handmade paper looks and feels once it’s dry. The most important thing is to make sure that the paper you select has never been used with food, and there are no staples, pieces of plastic, or bound edges.

completed slab of handmade paper with hand-drawn sign, "Plant in a sunny spot. Add water."

Adding Materials to Your Paper

If you’d like, use dry fingers to sprinkle seeds over the wet pulp before it is removed from the mould (see step 8). You can also create patterns and designs by pressing dried flowers, leaves, grasses, and small pieces of string into the surface after it is removed from the mould. If you’ve used seeds, once your paper is dry, plant it in a sunny location under a little bit of soil. Keep seedlings watered until they are 6 inches tall, and then whenever the soil feels dry. At the MFA, we used a mix of native wildflower and meadow seeds that will bloom from summer to fall, year after year, in most Northeast regions.


You will need:

  • clean styrofoam tray
  • a pencil
  • a utility knife or box cutter
  • aluminum (not fiberglass) window screen
  • scissors
  • duct or waterproof tape
  • absorbent sponge
  • a few handfuls of recycled paper ripped into 1-inch pieces
  • a plastic container, tub, or large dishpan
  • blender
  • a few sheets of felt or towels
  • plastic tray or wooden board
  • pressed flowers and leaves, pieces of string, or yarn for decoration (optional)
  • native wildflower seeds (choose seeds that are non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free to attract birds and protect pollinating insects) (optional)

arrangement of materials used for the project laid out on a table: pitcher, blender, plastic bin, shredded paper, sponge


Step 1

using box cutter to cut out base of styrofoam tray, leaving two inch border
Use a pencil to trace a rectangular shape onto the back of the styrofoam tray, then cut it out using a utility knife or box cutter. Leave at least a two-inch border around all sides.

Step 2

taping on rectangular piece of aluminum screen to cover the opening on the bottom of the styrofoam tray
Cut a piece of aluminum window screen a little larger than the rectangular hole in the tray. Place it over the hole like in the picture above and tape it down on all sides. You’ve built your mould!

Step 3

ripping pages from magazine into long strips
Rip your recycled paper into one-inch pieces. If you can, soak the ripped paper scraps in water for a few hours or overnight before you move on to the next step.

Step 4

putting pieces of torn paper into blender
Place a few handfuls of the ripped paper into the blender. Remember, the blender you use for papermaking should not be used with food again!

Step 5

pouring water into the blender and turning on the blender to pulse the paper shreds
Add approximately two cups of water into the blender. You don’t have to measure, just make sure that there is more water than paper. Put the lid on and blend! (The more you blend, the smoother your paper will look and feel.)

Step 6

pouring water into the plastic bin, followed by the paper pulp mixture from the blender
Pour water into your plastic container so that it is filled to about a third or half full. Pour the blended pulp into the water and then stir it with your hand or a spoon. More water than pulp will make thinner paper; less water will make thicker paper.

Step 7

holding the mould at an angle, and dipping it into the bin to scoop up paper pulp onto the screen of the mould
Hold the mould screen side up and dip it into the water mixture at a slight 45-degree angle. Slowly dunk it into the water toward the bottom and scoop up so that the pulp is on top of the screen. If you need to, you can scoop a few times until you get enough pulp to cover the screen.

Step 8

holding the mould flat to allow water to drain from the paper pulp
Keeping the mould flat, let some of the water drain back into the plastic tray. Optional: After some water drains, use dry fingers to sprinkle seeds over the wet paper pulp.

Step 9

flipping mould with paper pulp onto sheet of felt
Now you’re ready for couching (pronounced ‘coo-ching’)! Couching is transferring your wet sheet from the mould to a flat, absorbent surface. We used a sheet of felt, but you can use other materials that will help absorb some of the water, like a towel. Line up the long edge of your mould along the felt or towel and carefully flip it over so that the wet sheet is underneath. It’s helpful to put the felt or towels on a tray or board before couching, so that your new sheets of paper can be moved while drying, if needed.

Step 10

pressing sponge on the screen of mould to absorb water from pulp
Use an absorbent sponge to press down and soak up as much water as you can across the entire screen. Don’t forget the corners!

Step 11

slab of paper pulp on top of felt sheet after mould removed
Carefully remove the mould. You’ve made a new sheet of paper! Let it dry for a few days. After the first day you might be able to gently lift it off of the felt and flip it over.

Step 12

sheet of dried handmade paper
When your paper is completely dry you can cut it into new shapes, write, draw, or paint on it! And if your paper has seeds embedded into the pulp, you can plant it! See About the Materials above for more information about planting seeded paper.

The MFA is committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, increasing resiliency, and providing a forum for creativity and community to promote sustainability.


Action Pact Boston

Sustainability and environmental initiatives are in partnership with Action Pact Boston.