Let’s Make Seed Paper

Spread Seeds of Love and Appreciation and Watch Them Grow

By Jocie Salveson

Raise your hand if you are one to always hold out hope for that turning point in a story where every critical plot line comes together for a joyful ending. And raise your other hand if you love the reference to a good ‘ole metaphor. If both arms are up, go ahead and lower them because you’ll need two hands to do the following summer activity.

Even though spring planting is last season’s news, it is never too late to plant seeds of kindness. (Here’s my little metaphor!) In today’s project, we are going to make homemade seed paper and transform it into giftable bookmarks and greeting cards as a way to brighten the day of others. (It sounds mighty ambitious, but this is where many critical life plot lines—in my mind—come together: combining important themes of environmentalism and recycling, art-making, and relationship-building.) The best part of all is that the whole family can do this together!

In fact, my kids and I enjoyed this activity a couple of years ago, and it still leaves us with warm, fuzzy feelings and a sense of humble satisfaction. With our toppling pile of (mostly) white recyclable paper and some research on what to do (thanks Pinterest!), we set out to begin our homemade papermaking endeavor with the ultimate goal: to create a collection of custom cards, bookmarks, and seed paper for two different nursing homes. We intended to send joy in the form of plantable paper with messages of recognition and remembrance for the special generation of individuals residing in those homes. (Spoiler alert: the response of appreciation we received in return from the teams of caretakers was an unexpected gift that we treasure to this day.)

I love how these life lessons can happen at any age, and children’s books can capture and promote these noble ideas. In Holly and the Secret Seeds, written by Marsha Jackson and illustrated by Sheena Whatcott, this notion of cultivating kindness takes root as it celebrates doing good deeds to add beauty to the community. Planting seeds without recognition just for the sake of spreading joy in the form of lovely blossoms is a very notable act, and the book’s protagonist Holly finds inspiration to do this after reading a book at the library.

Furthermore, the physical acts of caring for and nurturing flora with an appreciation for a green environment take center stage in The Curious Garden, written and illustrated by Peter Brown. The main character, a boy named Liam, seeks to beautify the city by enabling a tapestry of wildflowers, grasses, and other plants to overtake the ugly gray concrete spaces that surround him.

This celebration of the natural landscape and making conscious decisions to support its presence are themes close to my heart. As an artist and person who enjoys being outdoors, I see value in taking notice of the gorgeous green world around us. I love when my kids also see the importance of this, and together we strive to take proactive measures like recycling and being mindful of our carbon footprint. And what better way than to recycle paper (repurpose it in a way) and turn it into an actual seed holder to be planted and continue the circle of life.

Well, enough with all this flowery language. Let’s get started with the activity.

(And, kids, heads up, your hands may get a little wet and pulpy in the process!)

Here is the list of items you’ll need:

  • Recyclable scrap paper (all staples removed)
  • Seed packets (we chose marigolds and zinnias, but you can select other flowers or even herb or vegetable seeds)
  • Large plastic storage bin
  • Access to warm water
  • Blender
  • Screen material (enough to cover several picture frames)
  • Old picture frames (at least two of them) to use as your strainer base
  • Stapler
  • At least two baking sheets
  • Several old towels (and sponges)
  • Sunshine and patience 😉

Please note: You may want to do this activity outdoors as it can get a little messy or at least a bit wet.

Tear white copy paper (or something similar; it can have ink and writing on it) into small inch-like pieces. These don’t need to be exact. Soak them in a large container of water (we used a storage bin) for several hours up to a couple of days. Then collect cupfuls of the mushy paper/water mixture and pulverize it with a blender, taking care to make sure there is always plenty of water in the blender. (We were able to locate a cheaper one for our project to avoid using our good kitchen appliance.) Once you’ve blended all of the paper mixture, return it to the same large bin. This will be helpful for the straining process and also to keep the mixture safely contained if the project extends beyond the initial day.

Meanwhile, disassemble your picture frames by removing the glass and backing. Build your strainer by holding the screen material taut and stapling it to the wooden picture frame supports. Trim off the extra material. You’ll want to make sure this new straining tool is securely fashioned. Build at least two of these. Also, prep your towels by spreading them out over an upside-down baking sheet. This will act as a sturdy support for removing excess water from the paper later on.

Next, dip your strainer frame into the soupy paper mixture so that the pulp evenly coats the entire screen. Lift up slowly and expect water to filter through. When enough of the draining is complete, move the pulpy screen over to the towel area. If you’d like to add visible seeds, now is the time to do so. Set the second framed screen strainer on top of the first screen strainer. Now you can use additional towels and/or sponges to begin dabbing excess water from the screen-protected paper.

Give your material adequate time to dry. At some point, you will be able to tell when it’s okay to peel the paper off of the screen. But doing this prematurely can rip the paper. (Believe me. We learned the hard way.) If your paper bubbles up as it dries or doesn’t sit as flat as you’d like, you can always press it down with weighted books later. I’ve also read you can iron it in between towel layers.

When your homemade paper is ready to decorate, the sky’s the limit. Have fun and enjoy the creative process!

As you look through the photos sprinkled in this article, you’ll see messages of gratitude and appreciation for our older generation written on the greeting cards we made. We know so many of our treasured elderly population have felt more isolated than ever before in the last couple of years, and even if we didn’t personally know the recipients, we genuinely acknowledged the importance of their presence in this world. 

A heartfelt middle-grade book that didn’t come into my life until after my kids and I embraced this papermaking project is Curious World of Dandy-Lion written by Lorraine Hawley. Perhaps one of the many reasons why I felt so drawn to this story is its focus on bridging the gap between generations. It shines a light on truly caring for grandparents and those that play a grandparent-type role in our lives. In this whimsical account of a young girl who struggles with friendship and self-identity, Meredith remains committed to her relationship with her elderly neighbor and tries to save him from his sad state of isolation. I see such value in the author’s message and admire the way she shares honest emotion with such heart.

Check out the amazing gallery of finished paper!

While my kids and I chose to focus on a particular group with whom to share our seed paper and art creations, this is only one approach to how this project can take root. Knowing that this story can grow in different directions and brighten the day of any unsuspecting individual at any time is just as satisfying as that moment in a book when we know we are approaching a joy-filled finale. But there really is no ending to this papermaking story. With intentional acts of recycling and then purposeful seed planting, this kindness narrative is not nearly over. It’s one that will carry on, inspiring others to take similar actions. Love and appreciation will continue to bloom. Let’s put our hands together and give a round of applause to that.

For further project support, check out these links with similar (yet slightly different) ways to explore this special family-friendly activity.

Jocie Salveson is the illustrator of Curious World of Dandy-Lion and the upcoming children’s picture book The Belly Button Express by Amy Despain.

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