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.

24 thoughts on “Create Your Own Deckle-Edge Paper

  1. Thanks, I just used a modified method here, and it worked great! I marked the back, wet it, and then folded it; after that, I pulled away from the center of the paper and the edges turned out great. There was one spot that left a piece sticking out, but I used a pair of pliers to gently pull it off. Thanks for saving me all the time of experimenting!

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  3. Thanks for the tips!!!!

    The water worked PERFECTLY!!!

    I used 60lb color copy paper I had just laying here to try it out. I used a straw I happened to be drinking from at the time, lol. Just capped my finger over one end and ran it in a line down the edge of the paper. I waited a sec and saw that it had sorta soaked to the other side a little, pulled the edge straight apart…viola…PERFECT deckle edge.

    I’m doing the happy dance right now!!!


    • I’m so glad it worked for you Jennifer. For heavier paper, or paper that has been sized (so it doesn’t absorb water so fast), you may have to score it and wait after the water treatment, to allow the water to soak in. But it really does work!

  4. I would love to be able to create a deckle edge on the paper I use for my pastel paintings. I use an 800 grit sandpaper made for this (UArt brand). I wonder if any of these techniques would work on such a heavy paper.

  5. I love the sewing machine one, Quinn – I’m gonna try that one! Thank you! We learned the brushing on water thing in printmaking. If you let the water settle a bit, it works with all kinds of papers – sometimes go over it again.

  6. Awesome – great tips. I shall endeavour to give these a go at some point. Any hints on what paper these work best on?

    I’m going to try to make my own book and want to know what sort of paper I can make look exciting, yet be able to run it through a printer… I’m a big fan of handmade recycled/reclaimed paper (not a huge fan of the cost, though. Haha) but not sure these would survive an HP printer experience. :/

    Any tips/suggestions gratefully received.

    • These work well on a hefty paper that’s not too heavily sized. Arches Text Wove (now call Velin, I think) is a wonderful paper that goes through my HP printer. The choice of paper really depends on what you want to put into the journal–you can use any weight from 60 lbs (OK for sketching) to 100 lbs. (ok for light watercolor). I’ve put 100-lb stock through my HP printer. You can also use a lightweight paper if you tip it to a sheet of copier paper with repositionable glue stick.

  7. Thank you very much, this will help me to complete a project I am working on. The paper I put a series of Polaroid transfers on has a lovely deckled edge, but now that I want to mat them, they are a bit too long on the one edge, and since there paper is blank, I need to mimic the deckle on the edge I won’t touch (hope that all makes sense…) so thanks for the help!

  8. Arlee–this took me forever to discover. Once I did–there was no stopping. You can do it freehand, chalk in a line, use a thread, then pull the thread out once you’ve separated the papers, etc. Lots of possibilities.

      • To chalk in a line can have several meanings. One is to draw a line with chalk–white chalk on white paper disappears, but colored chalk has some interesting effects–including leaving residue if holes are punched through it. So you can rub chalk on a paper, then sew through it without thread, and the chalk often gets pushed through the paper. The other thing a chalk line is–You can buy chalked string (called a chalk line) in hardware stores. It has lots of uses in construction, but I use it to stretch across a page, fasten both ends (or have a friend hold the ends), pull up the string in the middle and let it snap back down. The chalk leaves a straight line of chalk right where the string was.

    • “Arlee–this took me forever to discover. Once I did–there was no stopping. You can do it freehand, chalk in a line, use a thread, then pull the thread out once you’ve separated the papers, etc. Lots of possibilities.”

      Please can you tell me what chalk in a line is? Thanks
      Louise Win
      South Africa

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