Imagine getting a card on Valentine’s Day that still speaks to you in July. Imagine a valentine with a message that comes alive.
Here’s a craft project for one of those seemingly endless winter nights: valentines of handmade paper with lavender seeds embedded in them. Your loved ones can read the cards and think about you, then plant them and think of you again in late summer when they’re picking lavender flowers from a blooming border.
These cards are surprisingly easy to make. Paper is nothing more than vegetable fiber that has been ground to a pulp in water, spread on a screen, and flattened as it dries. Making paper by starting with plants–harvesting, soaking, and boiling them to make the pulp (see “Paper from Plants” on page 51)–is time-consuming, so I take a shortcut that saves time and energy. I start with paper, using whatever I have on hand, such as scrap typing paper, colored paper, even newspaper. The result is a project that children can do.
Lavender is a perfect Valentine’s Day flower. In the Victorian language of flowers, lavender conveys a message of devotion and loyalty. For these cards, I used dried lavender leaves and flowers from my garden to add texture and interest to the paper along with seeds of the fast-growing lavender cultivar Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lady’, which blooms the first year from seed. Handmade cards can hold seeds of basil, chives, parsley, dill, flax, or wildflowers, but avoid large seeds that will be lumpy in the final paper. The hot water you add to the pulp doesn’t harm the seeds.
Seeds embedded in paper are germinated the same way they would be if they were loose. Lavender is best started indoors. Fill several pots with moist potting mix. Tear the card into several pieces, and press a piece onto the surface of the potting mix (because lavender requires light to germinate). Water thoroughly. Keep the paper and potting mix moist. Germination should occur within about two weeks.
Making the Paper
For your first batch of handmade paper, you’ll need to gather a few materials that are readily available at hardware, craft, hobby, or office-supply stores, and you’ll need a mold and deckle, the frames that hold and shape your paper. They’re easy enough to make yourself (see above), or you can buy them at craft stores. A mold and deckle can be reused for as many cards as you want to make.
• 1 large sheet blotting paper, cut into 6 pieces 12 inches square (these are also reusable)
• Absorbent cloth (a few pieces 12 by 16 inches cut from an old wool blanket are perfect)
• Rolling pin
• 2 plastic containers, one holding 4 cups; the other, 6 to 10 cups
• Large basin or 20-by-15-by-5-inch plastic storage box
• Mold and deckle
• About 3 sheets 8-by-11-inches paper (or an equivalent amount)
• 1 small handful dried flowers and leaves
• 1 teaspoon lavender seeds
• Window screen, at least 12 by 16 inches
• 2 boards, at least 8 1/2 by 11 inches
• 3 bricks, heavy books, or other weights
1. On a waterproof surface, arrange the blotters and fabric squares, rolling pin, blender, and plastic containers around your work area. Hold the mold in the basin as you add enough water to cover it by 1/2 inch.
2. Heat 4 cups of water until very hot. Meanwhile, tear the paper into pieces about 1 inch square. Pour one-third of the hot water into the blender jar and add one-third of the torn paper. Blend until the paper is shredded and pulpy. Pour the pulp into the larger plastic container. Repeat with the remaining water and paper. Before pouring out the third batch, add a few dried flowers and leaves to the pulp and briefly process again. The more you blend, the more finely shredded the plant materials will become. Now pour this pulp into the plastic container. Stir in the seeds and a few whole leaves and flowers.
3. Place the screen over the mold and cover it with the deckle. Push this sandwich to the bottom of the basin and smooth out the screen. Holding it down with one hand, pour the pulp evenly into the deckle. With both hands, lift the mold, screen, and deckle straight up out of the water. Hold them over the water, and tip one corner to allow water to run off.
4. Remove the deckle. Carefully lift the screen with the pulp off the mold. Lay it, pulp side up, on three sheets of blotting paper. Cover the pulp with a cloth and gently roll the rolling pin over the cloth to extract more water. Remove the cloth when it is wet. Replace the wet blotter with two or three dry blotters and cover them with a dry cloth. Place the screen on the cloth, paper side down. Sponge the paper, pushing down to extract more water and wringing out the sponge as it becomes wet.
5. Peel back the screen, starting at one corner, to release it from the paper. Lay a dry cloth on a board, lay the paper on the cloth, and top the paper with a second cloth. Place the second board on top and add enough weight to flatten the paper.
6. Every few hours, replace wet cloths with dry ones. After about a day, you may lay the paper between dry cloths and use an iron set on “low” to finish drying the paper.
See the box at left for some ideas for finishing your handmade cards. Don’t forget to write on the card that it’s plantable! Include the plant name and instructions for germinating the seed.
Ann Kulpa, an artist and craftswoman, lives in Berthoud, Colorado, and works for Inter- weave Press, sister publishing company to Herb Companion Press.
Dawson, Sophie. The Art and Craft of Papermaking. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press, 1992.
Grummer, Arnold E. Paper by Kids. Rev. ed. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Dillon Press, 1990.
Shannon, Faith. The Art and Craft of Paper. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books, 1987.