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How to Make Onion Skin Paper

Onion skin paper is thin and lightweight translucent paper that resembles the outer skin of an onion. It contains a high percentage of cotton fibers, making it more durable than normal paper. Making your own onion skin paper requires a pulp from fabric, which you can then layer into sheets of paper. After the paper is dry, you finish it using beeswax.

Cut the linen, cotton or hemp fabric into squares measuring 1-inch on all sides. Place the pieces of cut fabric into your bucket. Soak the fabric scraps in a bucket full of water for at least 24 hours.

Open the cover of the Hollander beater -– a device with a tub and rotating cylinder bearing blades that break down the fabric to pulp – to reveal the beater roll. The cover is located at the top. Turn the beater roll back and forth with your hands while turning the crank at the device’s side in a counterclockwise direction. Continue this process until the beater roll begins to rub against the metal plate resting beneath it. Locate the device’s counter and set it to zero.

Rotate Hollander beater’s crank in a clockwise direction until the counter displays 30. Plug your Hollander beater’s drain to the beater and fill it halfway with water. Plug the beater to power supply and turn it on.

Add the soaked pieces of fabric to the beater’s tub. Rotate the beater’s crank in a counter clockwise direction until the counter attains displays. Allow the beater to run for 10 minutes, then rotate the counter down to 15. Proceed to rotate it every 10 minutes, reducing the counter in increments of five. Once you reach zero, run the beater for another 20 minutes until your pieces of fabric form a pulp with a soft and fluffy texture.

Pour the pulp into a clean bucket. Lay a wooden board on the workbench and stack three layers of damp felt over it to create a couching stand. Fill another bucket with water one-third of the way full. Add 6 cups of your pulp to the water. Combine the mixture with your hands to evenly distribute the fiber throughout the water.

Grasp the mould and deckle - wooden device with frames, supports and a mesh screen used to sieve paper fibers - on either side and immerse it into the mixture of pulp and water. Guide it into the water using a scooping motion. Pull it directly upwards to create a sheet of paper. Gently shake the mould and deckle to the right and left, then up and down to drain the mould.

Lift out the deckle once the dripping stops. Set the mould onto the wet felts with the sheet of the newly formed paper facing down. Gently push the top of the mould down. Once the face of the mould lies flat against the felt, lift up the left-hand side off the sheet of paper and pull away the mould.

Position the second damp felt on top of the freshly couches sheet of paper. Set a second wooden board over your paper and the felt and cover them with a heavy object. Allow the weighted object, preferably heavy sets of books, 15 minutes to press the paper into a thin sheet before removing it.

Lay three dry felts on a wooden board and transfer the sheet of paper onto it. Set another dry felt on top and cover them with a wooden board and your weighted object. Allow them 15 minutes to sit. Remove your sheet of paper from the two felts and set it between sheets of cotton blotter. Set the blotter between wooden boards and put the weighted object on top of them and allow your paper 24 to 48 hours to completely dry.

Place a 1-inch ball of beeswax into a container. Add a half a pint of turpentine to the beeswax to dissolve the wax. Dip your dried paper into the dissolved wax. Allow the paper to completely saturate and lift it out. Lay your paper flat on a wire rack and allow it another 48 hours to completely dry to complete your onion skin paper.

Things You'll Need:

  • Linen, cotton or hemp fabric
  • Scissors
  • Buckets (3)
  • Hollander beater
  • Basin
  • Wooden boards (4)
  • Mould and deckle
  • Industrial polyester felt sheets
  • Weighted objects (heavy books)
  • Cotton blotter
  • White beeswax ball one inch diameter
  • ½ pint turpentine
  • Wire rack
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