Create Your Own Deckle-Edge Paper

Handmade paper looks lovely with its natural deckle (torn, not cut, edge). But what if you want to make your own lovely deckled edge? Maybe with different kinds of paper? You probably have one of those rulers with a ripple edge, and you probably have tried to tear the paper against the ruler, only to have it leave gaps and tears, making it look more like the dog chewed it. Using scissors or an X-acto knife (or box cutter) leaves a clean, but hard, edge.

deckle-edge paperHere are several ways to get a soft torn edge, and get it right every time.

1. Fold and knife. Fold the paper where you want the deckled edge. Using a steak knife, or other knife with well-honed serrations, cut through the fold, from inside to out. Small strokes, sharp knife, close to the fold. No big strokes, no hard pulling. Sawing motions work best.

2. Water does the trick. I’d read somewhere that you “draw” a line of water with a brush, then tear. Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. Here’s the foolproof way: I use a portable watercolor brush. It works like a fountain pen, and the water comes out in a smooth line. Then let the water sit. Once the paper has time to absorb the water, put your non-dominant hand on the paper to hold it, and use your dominant hand to pull the paper away from the water line. It is important that you pull it right/left instead of pulling it up.

3. Water method and sized paper. If the paper is sized (which makes it water resistant), you will need to help the tear more. Use a metal straight-edge, placed against the water line. Pull the paper away, as in #2, above.

4. Sewing machine. Take the thread out of your sewing machine. “Sew” to create perforations along the paper. This is great for curves. Starting at an edge, pull the paper slowly apart. I like to put the holes close together.

5. Craft, coping or jewelry saw. Use a sharp blade. The thicker the paper, the bigger the tooth of the saw. I use a jewelry saw and fine blades. Put the paper to be cut on a cutting map, draw the line you will cut with an aquarelle pencil in a nice pastel, and simply saw the paper along the cut. Any edges that are too raggy can be wet with a paintbrush dipped in water, and pulled even with a tweezer. Using an aquarelle automatically adds a hint of color.

–Quinn McDonald is an artist, writer and certified creativity coach. She teaches journal-writing classes. See her work at (c)2007 All rights reserved. Image: Quinn’s.