Have you ever wished there was some use for your old, stained, mangled jeans? They’re too thrashed to donate to charity or even to make a decent pair of cutoffs, but you hate to send them to the landfill. You could cut them into squares for a quilt, but if you’re being honest, you’ll probably never get around to making it and the fabric will just take up space in your closet for the next five years. There is, however, an excellent way to recycle your old jeans and make them into a new and useful product: by turning them into paper. All that’s really required for paper-making is fibers of some sort, so the hardest part of using your jeans is going to be separating out the fibers.
1. To begin the process of breaking down the fabric, cut it into approximately 1-inch squares (no need to be precise). Remove the seams or anything else that is double-layered since it will be too tough to work with. Ditto on any metal parts.
2. Set up a large pot of boiling water and dump in the jean material so that it is fully submerged. Leave it on a low boil for about an hour (do not let it boil over). Some fibers should begin to break off during this process, but much of the fabric may remain intact (albeit loosened).
3. This next step is going to sound a little strange, but it is probably the easiest way to finish breaking apart your fibers (short of buying industrial equipment). Put about 1 cup of fabric into your food processor along with 1 cup of water (from the pot is fine), a cup of Elmer’s glue, and one teaspoon each of salt and cornstarch. Blend all ingredients until the contents are fairly smooth. Repeat until all jean material is pulp. *If you do this often, your blade will quickly become dull, so you may want to have a food processor devoted to your craft to ensure that the one you use for food is nice and sharp when you go to make your pesto).
4. For the next step, you’ll need a frame (that is the size you want your paper to be. You can use an old screen window (which can make fairly large sheets), staple screen mesh onto a smaller frame, or simply use a piece of heavy felt cut to size. Keep in mind that different frames will produce different textures of paper, so feel free to experiment. Once your jean pulp is blended, simply pour it onto your frame (you may want to do this over the sink for easier cleanup).
5. The thickness of your paper will be determined by how much pulp you pour onto the frame, so start slowly. When the frame is full, press the pulp down evenly with your hands or use a rolling pin to press it flat. Add more if it seems too thin. If there is leftover pulp, save it for later in a sealed jug or bucket.
6. Lay your frames out to dry for twenty-four hours in an area that has little moisture (a dank basement will not do the trick, and you may not want to leave it outdoors overnight, either).
7. When your paper is dry, simply peel it off the frame. With practice, you will be able to make sheets of roughly equal thickness every time, so don’t get discouraged if they seem uneven or lumpy at first. Use your handmade paper for stationary, card stock, or wrapping paper and dress it up with some metallic thread, embossing tools, or stamps.
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