This information is reprinted from the Beginner Topics column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #69 (January, 2005).

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Making Shaped Deckles

Making shaped papers is fun and easy. In this column we’ll learn how to make shaped deckles which control where pulp flows onto your mould. You can use this technique to make uniquely shaped papers or you can divide the mould surface so you make more than one sheet at a time (for small sheets like cards or stationery).

There are several materials on the market which you can use to create shaped deckles. Artcore is my favorite. It is a lightweight plastic like foam core, but it is made entirely of plastic, so it is waterproof. A disadvantage is that it is somewhat hard to find. Quarter-inch Styrofoam, which you can find in large sheets at lumberyards, is the cheapest material and perfectly suitable for shaped deckles. It has all of the advantages of Artcore, except that it is more fragile. Foam core will work, but it won’t last long since it has a paper surface. You can cover it with plastic tape to waterproof the surface and make it last longer. If you have a jig saw, you can cut the shape out of a thin, lightweight wood, like masonite. I would only do this if you are going to use this deckle a lot, and you should polyurethane it so that elements in the wood don't stain your paper.

Once you’ve selected your deckle material, cut the shaped deckle either to the inside or outside rectangular dimensions of your regular deckle. If you cut it to the inside dimension of your regular deckle, use strapping tape or another waterproof tape to attach it into your regular deckle (tape it on both the top and bottom sides of the deckle at all points of contact). If you cut it to the outside dimension of your regular deckle, sandwich it between the mould and the regular deckle when forming sheets, or use the shaped deckle in place of the regular deckle. If you are having problems with pulp slipping under the edges of your shaped deckle, try taping tiny weights (old lead type works great) to weigh down the problem area and to keep the deckle from floating up as you form sheets of paper.

Now that you’ve created a new deckle, simply form sheets and couch them as you normally would. It is a good idea to create a guide for lining up your sheets as you build your post, so that your sheets line up evenly for pressing. Also, pay attention to which way you couch, making sure that you don’t flip the mould and misalign your sheets. If your shaped deckle is divided into several sheets, you will obviously spend more time handling the sheets in the drying process.

There are a few other ways to create shaped sheets. One method I learned from Richard Hungerford, a papermaker who uses water forced through a dental syringe to cut lines in freshly formed sheets of paper. You can use this technique to create holes in a sheet of paper or to create a thin line, which can be torn later and functions similar to a perforation. First make a sheet of paper. Next, fill a dental syringe with water and squirt a shape onto the freshly formed sheet. You need to squirt with force to break the fibers apart. After squirting the line, gently peel the unwanted pulp away from the line. If you have a lot of pulp, you can use the pulp you are removing sort of like a kneaded eraser to attract bits of pulp and clean up your lines. Controlling as you squirt is somewhat random. You can rest a straight edge on top of your deckle as a guide for squirting straight lines.

Arnold Grummer, a papermaker who has developed a series of instructional papermaking kits, developed a unique way of making round paper using old tin cans. He has a variety of products on the market and one of his books is called Tin Can Papermaking. A similar technique involves cookie cutters or cutting a stenciled shape out of mylar, interfacing, or Styrofoam and placing it on your mould. Pour pulp into the shape and then couch the shape--by itself or onto a base sheet.

A simple but crude way to make a shaped sheet is to form the sheet on the mould and then remove pulp by pulling it away with your hand. Remove the pulp prior to couching the sheet, when it is easiest to peel away. You can lay a paper or plastic stencil on top of the freshly formed sheet to guide you in where to remove pulp. Another simple way to make a shaped sheet is to just pour it freeform on top of the mould. After it drains, couch the sheet onto a felt or a base sheet.

Portions excerpted from The Papermaker’s Companion, ©2000, by Helen Hiebert with permission from Storey Publishing, <>.

Copyright 2005 Hand Papermaking, Inc.