Bringing paper to life with scraps and seeds 

Gone to Seed

In addition to publishing limited-edition hand-bound books like A New Guide to Charleston, we at Surcee Press also like to get down with screenprinting, letterpress printing, and, most recently, making paper. We are so lucky to have a little studio inside Heirloom Book Company at 123 King St., where Chef Sean Brock's heirloom seeds abound. So, in natural progression, we decided to try our hand at seed paper, which can eventually be planted straight into a backyard garden. Plus, since homemade paper (and seed paper specifically) is a little thicker and softer than your average printer stock, it works perfectly in a letterpress, but it could also be a great canvas for stamping, embossing, or painting. Nothing says "Thank You," "Happy Birthday," or "Congratulations" quite like a beautifully made-by-hand card that can morph into a wild strawberry plant. Put that in your garden and grow it!

Materials needed

• plenty of scrap paper, including copy paper, newspaper, and paper bags but not including anything with a gloss or sheen, such as magazines or postcards

• a bowl or large waterproof container

• a blender

• inexpensive wooden picture frame(s), approximately the size you want your sheets of paper to be

• wire mesh from your local hardware store

• scissors

• staple gun and heavy-duty staples

• a plastic tray or baking dish, just large and deep enough to fit the wooden frame inside, plus your paper pulp

• several packets of small seeds (We used Sea Island red peas and benne, available at Heirloom Book Co., but wildflower or herb seeds should work, too.)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Start by tearing the paper into small shreds. A paper shredder can certainly get the job done but is by no means necessary. Put the paper shreds into the bowl and fill it to the brim with warm water. Let this soak for about half an hour while you work on Step 2.

2. Take any precautions you feel you may need to in order to wield a staple gun. Wield the staple gun, securing an appropriately sized sheet of wire mesh to the backside of the picture frame(s). When that's done, lay the frame flat inside the plastic tray or baking dish and check to make sure it's deep enough for a layer of "pulp" to cover the frame without overflowing. (Refer to the corresponding photographs.)

3. Fill the blender about one-third of the way with soaked paper shreds and one-third water. Don't put in too much paper — it's bad for the blender. Now make sure the top is secure and blend. You should end up with a soft, lumpy pulp. Don't hesitate to add as much water as you think you'll need; it will all dry out eventually.

4. Pour the pulp into the plastic tray or baking dish, sans wooden frame. You'll want to cover the bottom of the tray and fill to a point that will cover the frame. This may take another blender full of pulp or even two, depending on the size of your blender.

5. It's time to add the seeds! Just sprinkle them in any combination over the tray full of pulp and use your hands or a spoon to blend them into the mixture.

6. Keep the frame as horizontal as possible as you slide it (backside down) into the tray from either end. Submerge completely, then gently lift it out and sift it, shaking it like a gold miner to drain the water. You eventually want to get an even layer of pulp on the tray. It may take a few tries to get your technique down.

7. Set the frame down on one half of a towel laying flat, then fold the other half of the towel over to absorb some of the water. Give it a few pats to loosen the pulp from the mesh.

8. Once the water has mostly drained, place one palm against the pulp from the underside and one palm against the towel covering the frame. Now flip it so that the paper is laying flat on the towel and the frame can be easily lifted away.

9. Let your seed paper dry in as much direct sunlight as possible, anywhere from a few hours to a day or two, turning it over every once in a while. You may also want to spread the towel over the seed paper when it's mostly dry and then press it with a warm iron to flatten it out. Some seeds will sprout if they are left too long on a damp towel, so be careful.

Repeat as much and as often as you like. Then come visit Surcee Press at Heirloom Book Co. to share seed paper ideas and check out the next D.I.Y. project in action.

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