Junk Mail Paper Making with Dottie Baumgarten

The Resource Exchange team is so excited about this project from Dottie Baumgarten, which utilizes paper from junk mail and turns it into beautiful handmade paper. Dottie has been an environmental consultant and educator since 2009. Her primary goal is to help provide accurate information to the public as we all attempt to make best choices to care for the environment. We warmly welcome Dottie as a guest contributor on our blog!

How are you passing the time during physical isolation? Is there a craft you used to do that you can pick up? One of my go-to creative endeavors is making new, craft paper, from unwanted paper in the recycling bin. Since I’ve been a teacher, and have made paper with kids, I have the materials on hand to make paper from junk mail (non-glossy). I was curious to see if I could change my method from the classroom to an efficient solo effort at home. Yes! It works!

The process involves choosing the right kind of unwanted paper, shredding it, soaking it, and blending it in a blender. The pulp then is suspended in a bin of water, and a papermaking screen is used to lift the pulp onto the screen, creating a sheet of paper. The last step is to allow the paper to air dry.

This current round of home experimentation is: can I use all of the (non-glossy, non-newspaper) junk mail that comes into our house during COVID-19 isolation?

So far, I’ve made 2 batches of about 100 sheets.

This is tricky. About 30 sheets of pale pink have bits of plastic in them because I did not sort the junk mail enough.

(Title this batch: Surviving COVID-19: a commentary on unwanted plastic. Hmm).

Making paper is also tricky because I’m not yet skilled enough to control the pulp as I make the paper, so some pieces are parchment thin (exquisitely lovely!) and some are thicker (not as thick as construction paper, and still lovely!).

One delight of making paper is that starting with different colors of unwanted paper creates subtly different colors of finished paper. Another delight is that blending the pulp different amounts of time in a blender (cannot be a blender that is also used for food) creates different speckled patterns on the finished craft paper. It is truly satisfying to make something useful and beautiful out of something unwanted.

I’ve kept contact with a few papermaking folks, and was able to set up a zoom teaching hour with a true artist, Nicole Donnelly, paperthinktank.com. Nicole tightened up three of the techniques that I’m using, and gave me a couple of ideas to explore.

I’m looking forward to making my next batch of paper sometime in the next two weeks, and I aim to make paper from every bit of suitable junk mail coming in my door during COVID-19 isolation.