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I made paper from nettles!

 
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I've been having fun playing with nettle as a fibre, because it grows wild on my property. Since my kids' homeschool co-op will be learning about the medieval and renaissance eras this year, I thought it would be fun teach them how to make paper. But, I've never made it before--no better time to learn than now!

I harvested some of the shorter nettles in my patch, since they wouldn't be as good for making yarn. I smacked them with a rock to help split them, but that was a bit too much impact--walking on them worked better.

processing nettles with a rock
I recommend stepping on them, rather than bashing them with a rock


I also had some nettles that were retting in the grass on the shady side of my house. I pealed three or four of those, too.

retted nettles on the left, and freshly pealed nettles on the right


Most people seem to break down the fibres by boiling them in something really alkaline, like lye. I don't have any lye, so I dumped in some washing soda as well like a cup of baking soda. I boiled/simmered it for 30 minutes. It was still very strong and long. So I left it in the pot for probably about 24 hours, as I took it out the next day and let it dry. I forgot to rinse it, and so I didn't end up rinsing it until I was beating it to a pulp later on.

Boiling nettles in alkaline solution of baking soda and washing soda to break down the fibres


The nettle was very stringy. I didn't think bashing it while it was wet would break it down easily, so I dried it out and rubbed it over a bag for about 5-10 minutes

dried nettles
rubbing the nettle over a paper bag to catch the tiny strands


This really helped break it into smaller pieces. I then got it wet and started bashing it and rolling it with my marble rolling pin.

the wet nettles after being rubbed


Nettles, beaten to a pulp!
 
The pulped nettles were easy to pull apart


A lot of the videos I watched on making paper had people adding something mucilaginous to the water, like okra. I don't have any okra, but I did have some mallow sprout up in my garden. I harvested the seeds and took one long stem and chopped them all up in a pot of water and boiled it. I wonder if the weed plantain would work similarly?

harvesting mallow
boiling the chopped mallow


I then poured the mallow into a pyrex dish and used a deckle (a wooden frame with a fine mesh attached across it) to make the paper.

blob of nettle pulp before stirring
using the deckle to make paper!


I laid the paper on an old (CLEAN) cloth diaper on top of my washing machine. There's terrible lighting there, but it's a flat surface that's out of the way.

first nettle paper
four nettle pages drying


I let the paper dry, and then pressed it flat under a stack of books. All those nettles made me four cute little pages of nettle paper!

handmade nettle paper
four pages of 100% nettle, lying in a row


my four pages of nettle paper, held in front of the nettle patch from whence they came


Like with many things, it always takes a LOT more material to make something than you think it will! These four pages took about 10 short nettles (under three feet) and 5 taller nettles (above 4 feet) to make. But, I made paper with material from around my house!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I used this resource a lot to figure out how to make the paper: Nettle Paper, by Robert Rivers. And just because things tend to disapeear on the internet these days, I'm going to attach it as a PDF down below, too.

This video also came in very handy!

Filename: Robert-Rivers-Nettle-Paper.pdf
Description: How to make nettle paper
File size: 893 Kbytes
 
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Have you tried writing on it with ink or a marker to see whether it bleeds easily?  Would be interesting to see the nettle paper in use!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Donna Lynn wrote:Have you tried writing on it with ink or a marker to see whether it bleeds easily?  Would be interesting to see the nettle paper in use!



I haven't yet! I haven't figured out quite what to put on the precious paper. I feel like it needs to be something special, but I'm not sure what!
 
Donna Lynn
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

Donna Lynn wrote:Have you tried writing on it with ink or a marker to see whether it bleeds easily?  Would be interesting to see the nettle paper in use!



I haven't yet! I haven't figured out quite what to put on the precious paper. I feel like it needs to be something special, but I'm not sure what!



If you are handy with any kind of calligraphy, you could choose a favorite quote and letter it onto a sheet of your paper.  The good thing about calligraphy pens or markers is that if you test a tiny dot and it bleeds, you might be able to use a dryer pen nib, or let the marker air dry a bit so less comes out with each stroke.  (And write fast, LOL!)
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

Donna Lynn wrote:Have you tried writing on it with ink or a marker to see whether it bleeds easily?  Would be interesting to see the nettle paper in use!



I haven't yet! I haven't figured out quite what to put on the precious paper. I feel like it needs to be something special, but I'm not sure what!



Christmas gifts for your parents?
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I haven't yet! I haven't figured out quite what to put on the precious paper. I feel like it needs to be something special, but I'm not sure what!



I'd go with gifts. Maybe use some pressed flowers and leaves to make a card picture that can be later hung on the wall.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Making paper is another thing I'd like to try sometime.....I've plenty of nettles!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I got the chance to put the nettle paper to use! My Grandma's birthday is today (she's turning 92), and she doesn't want any large presents or anything. So, I found a picture of a blue tree swallow and sketched it first out with pencil (it was a bit hard to see the graphite on the relatively dark nettle paper!) Then I inked it with my calligraphy pen. This actually worked quite well--the fountain pen only caught a few times on the bumps in the paper. Finally, I colored it in with my Prismacolor pencils, which also colored quite nicely on the paper!

I was worried the paper would fall apart with erasing and hard coloring, but it did not. And, when I messed up a line in ink, I was actually able to gently rub that layer of paper off with an eraser. All in all, I'm quite pleased with how it turned out, and hope that she likes it!
20230809_123104.jpg
Sketching it out--the graphite is hard to see!
Sketching it out--the graphite is hard to see!
20230809_124947(0).jpg
Inked in (the chin is too low--I ended up erasing that line later on)
Inked in (the chin is too low--I ended up erasing that line later on)
20230809_135657.jpg
The finished little birdy!
The finished little birdy!
 
Donna Lynn
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Nicole that is amazing!  Love that you used white in it, that really makes everything pop on the darkish paper.  Very cool!
 
Carla Burke
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How beautiful, Nicole!! No doubt she loves it!
 
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What a fabulous gift! Completely handmade! I love it! Bet she did too.
 
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Wow this is super cool, thanks for sharing!
 
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I work in a papermill and to see this process that someone is just discovering is awesome to see!

The only small bits of advice (which are just me musing) that I could give to your process for improvement are just as follows.

1. The time spent of separating the fibers is key to your final product. The fibers need to be loosened when it is turned into a 'slurry' in order to get effective coverage when you deckle it. Our slurry is constantly moving when it gets drawn onto what we call a 'wire' to form it into a sheet. This agitation allows a better profile of fibers. How would you get this done in a pyrex dish? Well thats a good question! I think the focus on prep and separating fibers like you did is key. '

2. I love the press idea of a heavy object. It will help squeeze out excessive moisture and really affix the fibers together. I'd be curious if about halfway, if you took an iron to the fibers to have heat pull water out that it might help set the fibers more. Unsure if you had any issues with fragility?

3. My final bit of advice, mind you use what you have on hand, would be to perhaps change your vegetation that you utilize in your pulp. Nettles is great for cordage but as you probably experienced, it has long irregular fibers that run throughout the sheet. Garlic, Okra (as you mentioned) or even garlic mustard has shorter finer fibers that might make a better paper to write on.

In any case, bravo on your work! It is inspiring.
 
Donna Lynn
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Timothy Norton wrote:Garlic, Okra (as you mentioned) or even garlic mustard has shorter finer fibers that might make a better paper to write on.



What part(s) of garlic would you use?  Just the flower spike, or the leaves as well?  I never would have thought of garlic fibers to make paper, but since I grow my garlic I may try it!  Thanks!
 
Timothy Norton
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To make garlic paper, you require garlic skins.

I will add a URL to essentially a study/instructional for creating garlic paper.

https://pdfcoffee.com/garlic-peel-as-an-alternative-source-of-fiber-5-pdf-free.html

You just need to read the abstract to get the jist of their process. I think the key is the 'refining' or maceration of the fiber to get good separation while in the pulp slurry.
 
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Timothy Norton wrote:... Nettles is great for cordage but as you probably experienced, it has long irregular fibers that run throughout the sheet.

So are you suggesting that plants material that naturally breaks up into shorter pieces would be better for paper making?

Would chopping the nettle stalks to short lengths before processing it, help the process? I can just picture the mess if I tried putting a bunch of my long nettle stalks through the chipper/shredder, so maybe not that short? (It's a big machine, and I'm guessing it might powder the stalks!)
 
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Jay Angler wrote:
Would chopping the nettle stalks to short lengths before processing it, help the process?



It probably depends (as always!). If you are aiming for smoother paper, that is good for writing on and fine work, then shorter fibres will infill better. Think of a plate of rice or a plate of spaghetti. I suspect that longer fibres will be better for stronger paper though, so you could get a thinner paper, even it might be a bit holey.

If garlic skins work I bet onion skins do too, and you'd get a lovely yellow paper!
 
Timothy Norton
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You could cut the stalks up to a more uniform size and then work on the ‘refining’ to probably get a more uniform paper. You will still have different staple lengths which is perfectly fine. I think the focus on nettled would be separating it well enough. Where there is a will there is a way!
 
Jay Angler
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Timothy Norton wrote: Where there is a will there is a way!

When you've got a large nettle patch, you've got motivation to find a use for it! Although my first attempt is likely to be cordage. I'm just thinking I should dew-ret it first, and we're having a heat-wave that doesn't involve dew at the moment!
 
Nicole Alderman
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I've known people who dew-retted the nettle and it retted to far, and they said, "the only use for it would be paper making." Another thing people use is the tiny tow fibers left over when making nettle yarn.

For me, the alkaline bath did a pretty good job of making it more fragile. I just needed to rub it a bit to break it down--the fibres snapped pretty easily that way. Then I mashed it with the rolling pin, and it was very pulpy.

I do think the fiber length is really important, but something about the alkaline bath also helps keep the fibres from sticking together, I think. Cotton is a short fibre--about as short as I got the nettle. But the fluffy stuff from the top of medicine bottles did NOT spread out in the water. It just clumped into dreadful mats.

These were made with old paper, cotton, and some toilet paper pulp (and flowers). You can see the stringy cotton areas!


Conversely, when I used toilet paper, it instantly spread out into the water. But the resulting paper was very weak. It seems relatively strong now that it's dry. But, when it was wet, it wanted to fall apart....like toilet paper.
 
Jay Angler
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've known people who dew-retted the nettle and it retted to far, and they said, "the only use for it would be paper making."

OK, but any idea how many days they left it?
Do you think that I could process dry nettle stalks for cordage with no retting?
Or just 3-5 days dew retting?
Any suggestions about how to tell when enough is enough?

Should I have picked it green? (too late this year with our current drought and heat-wave!) I picked it last week -  2023-08-10 I think.
 
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