What Are Couch Sheets for Paper Making?

A sheet of handmade paper tinted beige and decorated with small flowers.

Making your own paper is a rewarding hobby and is surprisingly easy to do, but if you’re just starting out, there are a few terms, such as couching and couch sheets, that can be a little confusing.

What are couch sheets for paper making? Couch sheets are specially designed papers used when pressing a newly dipped sheet of handmade paper to gently remove water and aid in drying. Similar to blotting papers, couch sheets absorb excess moisture and may be repeatedly dried and used again.

Couch sheets can be a great asset when making paper by hand, but using them incorrectly will leave you disappointed.

Take a moment or two to learn more about couch sheets, what they will and will not do, and the proper way to use them. You’ll be glad you did. 

What Are Couch Sheets?

Couch sheets are very similar to blotting paper, but if you don’t often write with a fountain pen, you may not be familiar with blotting paper.

Blotting paper is absorbent paper used to soak up extra ink on a page to prevent smearing after using a fountain pen. 

Couch sheets are also super-absorbent paper, but they’re designed to soak up water instead of ink. They are also specifically designed to not stick to or damage the paper.

If you’ve ever made paper by hand before or witnessed the process, you know that when a fresh sheet of paper is first lifted from the slurry of pulp, it is very wet.

It’s so wet in fact, that water cascades from the bottom of the mold, and the mold must be suspended over the tub of slurry until the dripping slows. 

When most of the water has dripped back into the tub, the pulp left trapped by the mold’s screen is still quite soggy, and it doesn’t resemble a piece of paper much at all.

A freshly dipped sheet of blue handmade paper.

That wet, flat slab of pulp must then be transferred to an absorbent material so that additional water may be removed and so the mold and deckle can be used again to dip more paper from the slurry.

There are a variety of techniques for the next few steps of the process, and if you were to ask several paper-making veterans for advice on transferring, pressing, and drying paper, you would most likely be given a different response from each one.

You see, a lot depends on the type of mold and deckle (often called a frame or dipping frame) being used and personal preferences based on experience and expertise. 

Whatever method is used, however, the results are basically the same: the paper is couched onto an absorbent material, water is removed from the paper by pressing, and the paper is dried.

Couch sheets are used after an initial pressing with a sponge to speed the drying process.

What Is Couching?

Pronounced kooching, couching is simply the term used to describe the transfer of the newly made paper from the mold to an absorbent surface so that it can be pressed and dried. 

Many hobby paper makers use felt (learn how to make your own felt in this article) as the absorbent material, but other materials can be used.

Just so you know, many paper makers call whatever material that they couch their paper onto felt, regardless of what material it actually is.

How Do You Use Couch Sheets?

There are a variety of ways to remove water from paper.

Here, so you’ll have a clear idea of how to use couch sheets, I’ll cover one of the most common methods when using a regular mold and deckle.

After dipping a sheet, allow the water to drain, and place a cloth or screen on top of the paper. Gently lay the mold, paper facing down, onto felt or similar material.

Using a dry sponge, press against the mold’s screen to transfer the paper to the felt, and remove the mold. 

Place another cloth or screen on top of the paper and press the paper firmly with the sponge, ringing it out often, to remove water. 

Next, transfer the paper onto a couch sheet, and place a second couch sheet on top.

Using a flat, hard object, like a rectangular wood block, press firmly over the entire sheet to further extract water. Remove the paper from the couch sheets to dry. 

Are Couch Sheets Reusable?

Couch sheets may be reused over and over. When you’ve finished pressing your paper, just lay the couch sheets on a flat surface to dry.

Once they’re fully dry, store them in a dry location for next time.

Do Couch Sheets Completely Dry the Paper?

When used correctly, couch sheets will compress the paper so the fibers bond together and sop up water that the first pressing left behind, but the sheet will still be damp. 

The paper will, however, be drier, and therefore stronger when couch sheets are used.

Think of couch sheets as a way to expedite the drying process, not complete it.

Where Can I Find Couch Sheets?

You can find couch sheets in paper supply stores and arts-and-craft shops, but I purchased mine online and couldn’t be happier. 

Arnold Grummer’s Reusable Couch Blotter Sheets are the best of the best, and with 20 sheets in a pack, this purchase will serve you well for years to come.

What Can Be Used in Place of Couch Sheets?

Couch sheets are ideal for removing as much water as possible from wet paper, and they result in a nice, smooth finish. 

Because they are specifically designed for pressing paper, you don’t need to worry about them sticking to, pulling apart, or otherwise harming the delicate paper.

However, many paper makers don’t use couch sheets, and instead choose to use another method for the final pressing of their paper. 

Let’s take a brief look at some of your options should you decide to skip the couch sheets.

Blotting Paper

As mentioned earlier, couch sheets are quite similar to blotting paper, so it’s no surprise that blotting paper can be used just as couch sheets are.

Herbin blotting papers come 10 to a pack, and will last you a long, long time if you take proper care of them.

Felt

Felt is widely used when first pressing water out of the paper because of its highly absorbent properties.

If you have enough pieces of felt, you can frequently switch out the wet ones with dry ones to remove as much water as possible. 

When you feel that you’re nearly done, sandwich the paper between two dry felts, place a flat, heavy object, like a large book, on top, and press down as hard as possible.

This will achieve roughly the same effect as using couch sheets.

Blocks of Wood

Another option is place your damp paper in between two blocks of wood slightly larger than the paper and stand on them for a few minutes.

The wood blocks help to evenly distribute your body’s weight to press the paper flat and squeeze out any remaining water.

Cotton Cloth, Towels, or Old Wool Blankets

Any soft, absorbent material can be used in place of couch sheets, but they may not do quite as good a job, and depending on the material, may stick to your paper, causing it to tear when you try to peel it off.

If you have nothing else available, however, cotton cloths, towels, or even pieces of an old wool blanket can be used. 

Cotton cloth typically works well, but towels or blanket pieces may stick to the paper.

To prevent this, it is recommended to place a cover screen on both sides of the paper before pressing with these materials.

Pellon

Pellon interfacing is used in clothing applications to make sections stronger or more rigid, but it can also be used when pressing paper. 

Place one piece of pellon on an absorbent material, such as an old towel or piece of felt, couch the paper onto the pellon, and place another sheet of pellon on top.

Using a sponge, press out as much water as possible, remembering to ring out the sponge often.