09 Dec

Handcrafting a mould and deckle for papermaking


Here at TopShelf we’re all about finding different ways to incorporate plants in our daily life  and that of course includes crafting. Today, we’re offering a tutorial on building a handmade wooden mould and deckle for papermaking that you can use along with our papermaking recipe that involves using green tea and kratom for a unique, organically inspired handmade paper suitable for stationary, cards, origami and more.

Papermaking, at it’s very basic level, is simple enough for a child to learn, but the artform of handcrafting paper is developed enough that it can take a lifetime to master but one of the hundreds of styles and techniques.

All you need is a blender, basin, some recycled paper strips and a mould and deckle.

“But what’s a mould and deckle?”

It’s a fancy way of saying two separate frames of the same size. One just happens to have some sort of screening attached to capture the pulp product that is suspended in the “slurry” (what you call pulp mixed with water) in your basin.  The other frame we call the deckle. The deckle forms the tight seam of the edge of your paper (this is called deckling).

There, now that you know some basic paper jargon and the idea behind how it works. Let’s get started.



A couple of picture frames, just the frames, no glass or backing.
Some sort of wire mesh like window screen which can be purchased in rolls at any hardware store (aluminum, not fiberglass)
Wood sealant (preserves your wood so you don’t have to worry about it warping after use)
Staple gun

First cut a swatch of your screen. Make sure it measures slightly larger than your frames (which should be identical in size and shape) so that a bit will hang over each end.

Staple your screen to the flush end of the frame.

Next you’ll want to trim off the edge of the mesh screen and you can weatherproof your papermaking tool with duct tape or wood-stripping tape or, for an attractive finish, use some wood sealant and varnish.

Now you’re ready to make paper.

Once you’ve set up your handcrafted papermaking tools you can start “pulling paper” the old fashioned way. Don’t forget to check out our handy paper recipe that includes green tea and kratom leaf powder for a unique, “rustic” look and a nice, mild earthy smell and hue to the paper.

07 Dec

Earth-toned handmade paper using green tea and kratom powder

Making washi paper

The art of papermaking goes back nearly as far as recorded history to  the Chinese and Egyptians. There are nearly as many traditions of papercrafting as there are cultures but one of the most popular styles to this day is the delicate rice paper  of the Japanese call “washi.”  Washi paper is, to this day, considered one of the finest and most durable of all handcrafted papers.

a zen-like process

On Teramachi street, among the various antique shops and tea houses you’ll find stores selling some of the finest washi in all the world including the shop owned by Kamji Kakimoto, proprietor of the oldest Washi shop in Japan. Kakimoto is a fifth generation owner of the familial business that began as bamboo dealers in the Edo period (1600 – 1868). In 1845 (just before what’s known as Japan’s “modern period” began) the shop began to deal in washi.

Kyoto is also famous for it’s green tea which, as we’ll learn today, can be used alongside kratom leaf powder in papermaking to result in a rustic, earthy brownish-green hue in the finished product.
Papermaking isn’t even as difficult as you might think and to get started you can either make your own mould and deckle using picture frames and window screen or pick up something like the handcrafted pine mould and deckle kits from http://www.woodendeckle.com (who we also owe inspiration for the green tea recipe!).

You can begin with recycled paper torn into 1 to 2 inch squares. Once you have about 4 cups of paper strips collected soak them in warm water from a half hour to a few hours (the heavier stock of recycled paper you’re using the longer you have to soak them). Add the paperstock to blender 3/4 full  of water. Blend the paper squares until the paper is liquefied and separated into it’s strands. This is your “pulp” product.

At this point you can add your pulp to a stainless steel bowl and add your green tea powder or tea bags and your kratom leaf powder. Add some hot water and let steep for several hours. Drain in a colander and add the pulp to your basin of water you’ll “pull paper” from.

A small tub or basin needs to be filled halway with water. Add two cups of your green tea and kratom steeped pulp. Now you’ve got what’s called “slurry.” The pulp-to-water ratio will determine the thickness and sturdiness of your finished product (more pulp, less water, thicker paper).

The deckle is placed on top of the screen side of the mould. With a gentle rocking motion  you capture slurry in the frame. Blot your paper with a sponge or blotter paper and lift the mould separating your paper sheet on couching sheet so it can dry. Once the paper has dried it should be tinted with green and brown flecks by the inclusion of the green tea and kratom powders and may even have a slight earthy, green tea and kratom scent to it.

For those interested in following through on this recipe who would like to attempt the process before investing money in a professional grade mould and deckle like the ones at WoodenDeckle we’ll be posting a tutorial on how to build your own mould and deckle from picture frames for “Tips and Tutorials Tuesday.”

23 Oct

Kratom soap: a bit of background and how to guide


If you’re not in on the secret yet, natural health care products are often much healthier and effective than their mainstream counterparts. You’ve maybe heard of coffee soap or green tea soap and maybe even wondered if there was anything really to it, or if it was just another excuse to drive up the price by a few bucks. Well, as it turns out, it’s not just that anyway…

Loaf Cutter

Green tea and coffee, as it turns out have effective antioxidant properties not only internally but externally and topically. The secret to green tea’s antioxidant potency is mainly due to the EGCG that’s found as one of the constituents of green tea leaf. As it turns out, the kratom plants leaves also contain a constituent similar to EGCG but even more potent as an antioxidant. According to a 2014 study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention: “These findings revealed that the medicinal and nutitional values of mitragynine obtained from ketum leaves that growth in tropical forest of Southeast Asia and its analogues does not limited to analgesic properties but could be promising antioxidant and anticancer or chemopreventive compounds.” This coupled with a study that showed an extract of kratom to delay the growth of papilloma in rodent skin are hopefully just the beginnings of looking into this plant’s antioxidant, antibacterial and potentially anticancer benefits as a component of topical skin care products.

Soap Molds

For those interested, you begin with the clear glycerine soap base that’s provided in the Top Shelf soap making kit. Melt the soap base in a double boiler on the stove top and stir until all the pieces are evenly melted. At this point, you can begin to add your color base. Be careful not to add too much, you can discolor your mix. Add your oils slowly, a drop at a time using a pipette or glass bottle dropper.  1tbsp of fragrance oil or 1 tsp of essential oil or blend of undiluted essential oils can be added per pound of raw soap base used. A teaspoon of coconut oil, shea butter, argan oil or beeswax can be added for further skin protection.  Now pour your the completed blend into your molds and leave until dried. remove them from the mold and wrap immediately. Most soap molds should tell how many ounces they hold, but the average bar comes to about 4 ounces.

When cool, gently pull the mold away from the soap and push on the back side of the mold to release. Wrap soap in plastic wrap or wax paper. Make sure you wrap it right away or it can pick up moisture from the air and cause air bubbles that bead on the surface which can make the consistency unpleasant for some people. Stay tuned, coming up next week we’ll have a more in depth look at kratom’s topical and antioxidant properties.