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How Is Paper Made?

A hand holds up a piece of homemade paper printed with artistic designs.
Melody Bodette
Homemade paper can be a piece of art itself.

How is paper made from trees? Why does paper fall apart when it gets wet? Why does it lose color in the sun? Who invented paper? We make a few sheets of paper and learn all about how it's made with artist Carol Marie Vossler at BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake, New York.

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Credit Melody Bodette / VPR
Carol Marie Vossler

Paper is made from plant material called cellulose. Cellulose can be found in all kinds of plants, but paper is commonly made from trees--or recycled paper that was originally made from trees.

Art paper is made from plants like hostas, hemp, mulberry, or even cotton rags.

Step 1: The plants are boiled with a caustic material called soda ash to break them down and clean them, then rinsed and soaked.

Step 2: To make a pulp, some papermakers pound the material with a mallet. Others use a machine called a Hollander beater to turn the material into a liquid pulp. Sizing, a kind of glue is added to help keep the pulp together.

Step 3: When the pulp is ready, papermakers "charge the vat" by pouring the pulp into a vat of water. Next, papermakers "hog the vat," swishing the pulpy material floating in the water with their hands to make it as fluffy as possible. Then they use a mould and deckle to make the sheet of paper. The mould is a frame with a screen over it, the deckle is like a frame that goes over the top. In one motion, the mould and deckle go into the water and a sheet is pulled up. The water drains out, leaving the pulp in the screen in the shape of the frame. It's a new sheet of paper!

Step 4: But it still needs to be dried. The paper is "couched," transferred off the mould into a pelon, or thin sheet of linen, by slowly lowering the mould onto the pelon, pressing down and rolling the mould off in one motion. Another pelon is added on top, and sheets are slowly added to build a post, a stack of pelons.

Step 5: Once the post of sheets is built, the paper will be pressed to get all the water out.

Step 6: Finally, the sheet is dried. Some papermakers use a dry box, others simply hang their paper to dry.


Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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