Sunday, February 9, 2014

Embracing Paper

Paper offers a seductive challenge

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel January 24, 2014

Paper blooms: I’ve made paper flowers before (usually from a kit), but never had so much fun as when I spent an entire afternoon jumping from one flower project to the next in “Paper Blooms.” I dipped paper yarn in liquid starch and wrapped it around various bottles to create vases for the flowers.

Paper is typically a one-use, disposable kind of product—the stuff that typically fills up most of your recycling can: shopping bags, wrapping paper, food packaging and junk mail. But perhaps its ordinariness and impermanence is what makes it such a seductive challenge as an artistic medium. Artists seem to love seeing how far they can go with paper. For example, just Google “paper dress” and you’ll discover an endless number of images, including Lady Gaga in a red hot Post-It Note dress, a prom dress made from coffee filters, bridal gowns made from toilet paper, and up-cycled dresses made from newspapers and phone books—most of them pretty remarkable.

Closer to home, you can witness the transformation of paper (and other challenging materials) at either of the annual runway shows: FashionTEENS in the spring or FashionART in the fall. Or visit Open Studios artists like Anita Landon, who makes pulsating collages from magazine pages featuring familiar local imagery, including Capitola Beach, the yacht harbor, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and Wilder Ranch. (

"Paper Yarn” shows how versatile the
  material can be, with step-by-step instructions
 for making cushions, bowls, floor
 mats, boxes, bags, lamp shades and more.
Despite our dependence on digital media, paper is still a big part of our daily lives as books, mail, catalogs, shopping bags, wrapping paper, food packaging, etc.—just waiting to be reused. Three recent books about paper crafting introduced me not only to some new uses for all this paper in our lives, but also to some new kinds of paper.

1.       “Paper Yarn: 24 Creative Projects to Make Using a Variety of Techniques” by Uta Donath, Eva Hauck, Petra Hoffman and Claudia Huboi. Paper yarn was new to me. It’s also known as paper raffia or raffia ribbon, but it’s softer and stronger than natural raffia, and comes in a variety of thicknesses and bright, water- and fade-resistant colors. You can knit, crochet, braid and weave with paper yarn, or unroll the strands and use the flat strips like paper mâche or sew then together into paper fabric. “Paper Yarn” explores the versatility of this medium, with instructions for making handbags, hats, lamp-shades, placemats, baskets and much more. To buy fine paper yarn for making jewelry try on Etsy, which also sells kits for knitting colorful bangles and delicate necklaces.
These colorful spools of paper raffia were purchased at, which sells 27 different colors.

2.       “Paper Blooms: 25 Extraordinary Flowers to Make for Weddings, Celebrations & More” by Jeffery Rudell. I’ve made paper flowers before (usually from a kit), but never had so much fun. I spent an entire morning trying to make all the different flowers featured in “Paper Blooms.” With just a few supplies—paper, scissors, a hot glue gun, floral wire and floral tape—I filled my wintry home with colorful bouquets of my favorite spring and summer flowers—including daisies, poppies, roses, orchids, marigolds, cosmos and zinnias. The author also has some repurposing suggestions—using paint chips to make dahlias and coffee filters for carnations—but paper is everywhere, so don’t stop there.

A greeting card by Yoder Do got me interested in the possibilities of
 quilling. Their handmade cards use rolled paper, glued and placed
 upright on its cut edge, allowing the designs to have a
 3-dimensional look. (See for many more examples
 of intricately quilled designs.)
3.       “All Things Paper: 20 Unique Projects from Leading Paper Crafters, Artists and Designers” by Ann Martin. This book is full of ideas for paper projects in the realms of home décor, jewelry (including a delicate crocheted choker made from fine white paper yarn), fashion accessories and note cards. But one technique that really caught my attention was quilling—an art form that originated in the 16th century, used by French and Italian nuns and monks to decorate reliquaries, holy pictures and frames. Narrow strips of paper were coiled by wrapping them around a feather quill, hence the name “quilling.” It later became a pastime—like needlework—of well-to-do English women, who quilled on tea caddies, jewelry boxes, screens, handbags and furniture. Quilling eventually spread to America, but virtually disappeared in the 1880s.

You can buy quilling paper in 1/8 to ¼ inch widths, or use an adjustable
 pasta maker to cut your own strips. The slotted needle tool holds the
 end of a paper strip tight while you coil and the template helps achieve
 uniform-sized coils. Straight pins pushed into a cork board help
 hold the tiny coils in place while you glue one coil to another.
Beverly Crafts has a selection of inexpensive quilling supplies, including paper strips, kits, craft glue, slotted and needle tools, and template guides. The only other tools you might need for quilling are tweezers, straight pins and a ruler. (You can also make the narrow paper strips be feeding sheets or found papers through a pasta maker.) “All Things Paper” demonstrates the basic technique of rolling narrow strips of paper into coils and then fashioning them into basic shapes like the teardrop, ring coil and marquise ring coil.

With a little patience, dexterity and the willingness to work on a very small scale, you can master the basic techniques and then begin your own creative pieces. There are also lots of online tutorials for making flowers, animals, plants, bows and other designs, many of which can be incorporated into other hobbies, like scrapbooking, making shadowboxes, jewelry  and cards. Also see to expand your repertoire.

 “All Things Paper” showed me how to make two
 pendants. I attached a black clock hand
 to the white coils in the second project.