Here’s a creative project that takes recycling to a whole new level. Following these simple directions, you can create your own paper, embedded with seeds, bits of plants and delicious herbal scents. Fold the paper into greeting cards for your loved ones and after they’ve read your sentiments, they can plant the whole card in their garden or flowerbed. A little sunshine, a little water and voila! — an ongoing reminder of your thoughtfulness and affection for them.
When you choose your favorite herb scents and seeds for these organic, earth-friendly sentiments, consider the Victorian language of flowers to convey the unspoken message of your heart. (For more information on the language of flowers, read Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers by Geraldine Adamich Laufer, available on our online bookshelf, www.HerbCompanion.com.)
While it is possible to make paper entirely from raw, fibrous plant material, the chemicals and time required to break down the plant material adequately requires significantly more effort than the method suggested here. For details on creating paper from whole plants, check out a good paper-making book, such as Making Your Own Paper by Marianne Saddington (Storey, 1993).
To begin the process, assemble the materials listed below, most of which are readily available at craft stores.
• Mold (see details below)
• 12-by-9-inch piece screen (or larger to fit frame)
• Plastic bucket or container large enough to hold about 3 cups pulp
• 3 or 4 sheets (81/2-by-11-inch) paper
• 1 small handful dried flowers and leaves
• 1 teaspoon seeds
• 2 pieces felt large enough to cover the cutout in your mold
• Rolling pin
• Whole leaves and flowers, if desired
• Waxed paper
Making the Mold
You can create your own wood frames nailed or glued into two rectangles, but you’ll find it much easier (and not too expensive) to visit your local arts and crafts store and purchase wood stretcher bars, which easily fit together without any other tools or materials required. We bought four 12-inch stretcher bars and four 9-inch bars and assembled them into two rectangular frames. Secure the screen to one side of one of the frames with nails or staples so the center is completely covered and the screen is taut. Set the second frame aside without screen.
Substitute potpourri for dried flowers and leaves to add texture and variety to your handmade paper.
Collect various scraps of paper including tissue, craft or construction and typing paper and tear or cut it all into about 1-inch pieces (the thinner the paper, the larger the pieces can be). Soak the paper in a bowl of water (about 2 cups water to 1 cup of paper scraps) overnight.
Note: For these purposes, it is better not to use magazine or newsprint pages. While it is possible to remove much of the ink from such pages, the acid that may remain will make your newly made paper deteriorate more quickly and does not make for a long-lasting paper. In addition, avoid using scented facial or bathroom tissue as the perfume will inhibit your own scent creations.
Now you’re ready to begin making pulp. Add the wet paper and water to the blender and blend (or “liquefy” if your blender has that option) until the paper is notably pulpy — no chunks of whole paper. Add more water if it’s not smooth and thin or if the blender is slowing down. If you want colored paper, now is the time to add powdered paint, food coloring, a colorful powdered spice such as turmeric (although this will affect the scent of your paper, so be cautious), or water from boiled plant fibers such as onionskins, beets or tea. Add a little at first and blend the color into the pulp to see how the color takes to the pulp.
Adding Botanicals to the Pulp
Using chopped fresh or dried herbs in the mix will add color, variety and texture. Add as little or as much as you desire. Blend these botanicals into the pulp as thoroughly as you like (longer for more finely chopped pieces, less for larger pieces).
Now pour the pulp into a plastic container and stir in any seeds, whole leaves and flowers you want to include. Wait until after you’ve poured pulp into the mold to add any pressed leaves or flowers to retain their complete form and shape (see below).
Pouring Pulp into the Mold
Lay an old bath towel or other absorbent material you don’t mind getting messy on your work surface. Set frame #1 squarely on top of the towel, screen side up. Place frame #2 directly on top of it. Pour pulp into the frame. Smooth pulp around with the back of a spoon to reach the edges. Remove the top frame and set it aside.
Add food coloring, a colorful powdered spice such as turmeric or water from boiled plant fibers such as onionskins, beets, tea or coffee to add color to the paper pulp.
Place a piece of felt on top of the pulp and gently roll with a rolling pin. Soak up any excess moisture with a sponge.
Add Pressed Leaves and Flowers to the Page
If you want pressed flowers or leaves to be obvious on the front of the card, remove the felt and arrange the flowers and leaves gently on top of the wet, rolled pulp. Replace the felt and roll the rolling pin over it again, pressing lightly.
Ever so carefully remove the felt, checking to make sure none of the pulp comes up with it. Soak as much of the water up with a sponge as you can. If the surface of the pulp is no longer smooth, replace the felt and roll again.
Remove the felt and set the frame (with paper on top) aside until dry. Depending on the paper thickness and the amount of water you sopped up with the sponge, it may take anywhere from a couple hours to a day to dry.
Once the paper is dry, turn the paper out onto a flat surface by flipping the frame. Loosen any sections caught on the screen with a knife, or dab a damp sponge on the back side of the screen to moisten it until it comes loose.
With a knife guided by a ruler, gently score the center of the paper where you want it to fold on both sides. You may leave the rough edges or trim them straight.
Making Your Card
Write your message on a piece of notepaper cut to size and insert it into your handmade card rather than writing directly on the rough-textured handmade paper. To secure the note to the card, poke two holes from the inside out long the fold of the card and paper and thread a piece of raffia or ribbon through them. Tie the ends in a bow or knot.
You can make envelopes out of any 20-pound or heavier weight paper. The measurements in the diagram at left will fit a standard 51/2- by 4-inch card. To make an envelope suitable for larger cards, simply enlarge the dimensions of the center square to cover the card and enlarge each of the four other sides proportionally.
To allow colored notepaper to show through to the front of the card, cut out a heart or other shape from the front of the card.
These hand-made scented and seeded cards are easy to plant. Include instructions with your card that tell your friends to place the card (without the note and raffia or ribbon) in the garden in a sunny spot or tear it up and scatter throughout a bed and water regularly. In a few days, the seeds you included will sprout and give your friend a second acknowledgement.