Rags to Riches: Shotwell Paper Mill & Press
Shotwell Paper Mill Uses Discarded Blue jeans, Jute Bags, T-shirts, New Zealand Flax
to Make Tactile Paper. Designers Use Their Imagination to Print On It.
“When you take things in your material world for granted, it affects how you use and engage with them,” Doyle says. “By creating more enchantment and wonder and curiosity in things we use, we’ll not only slow down patterns of destruction, we also have more opportunities for joy and wonder.”— Coleen Doyle, Shotwell Paper Mill
On an inconspicuous front door in San Francisco, the Shotwell Paper Mill greets visitors with an address number made of type metal. It’s one of the few clues of the adventurous creativity concealed in the large red warehouse. Walk inside, and you’ll find shelves and cabinets filled with colorful paper made from unlikely materials: blue jeans, jute bags that once held coffee and chocolate beans, used T-shirts, and New Zealand flax. Even the lights are decorated with dangling paper. On a clothesline, freshly pulverized and molded pulp dries from clothespins.
Pam DeLuco, the owner, sorts blue rags into a bin as she occasionally pats her dog—a Briard aptly named Rags. She matter-of-factly explains her reason for founding the mill in 2012. “Handmade paper was expensive to buy, so I wanted to make it myself, but there was nowhere around here to do it,” she says. A lifelong crafter who spins her own fiber from her pet’s fur, DeLuco took on the challenge of converting a worn-down former laundromat into the makerspace she wished had already existed.
Today, the eco-conscious mill supports personal and school projects as well as more business-related pursuits, such as printing restaurant menus and hosting team-building workshops for Silicon Valley companies like Zazzle. But in the beginning, it was part of DeLuco’s personal quest to make a book entirely by hand, from the typesetting to the paper.
It all started with DeLuco’s appearance on the TV show “What Not to Wear.” On the series, DeLuco was asked to donate all of her unfashionable clothes, but she struggled to part with possessions that held so many memories. So she took photos of her wardrobe and wrote down all the stories that came to mind. To commemorate that history in a publication, she used her bookbinding knowhow, and from there sought to make her own paper. The resulting book is still in progress—it takes quite an investment of time to print 30 copies of an 85-page book, entirely from scratch.
“I love the process,” DeLuco explains. “I’m not doing it so much because I’m attached to the finished thing. I like the doing of it. Paper reminds me a lot of handspinning because it’s the raw material that you can collect that just grows outside and turn it into a recognizable, useful thing. You don’t have to start with anything—you can go outside and start picking.”
In the meantime, DeLuco has edited a book made out of military women’s uniforms (Paper Dolls) and several BANDmade books—handmade books made collaboratively with bands, including the alt-rock band Cake. She’s also helped other crafters and designers materialize their passion projects.
Colleen Doyle was preparing a portfolio piece for her grad program in transdisciplinary design at Parsons in New York City when she approached DeLuco for help. As a specialist in waste management, Doyle wanted to make a sustainable project. She naturally thought of DeLuco, who had been a family friend of hers for years. They gathered jute coffee bags around the neighborhood to print her school project, a backbreaking process that took four days. Doyle commends the way DeLuco’s careful, deliberate crafting encourages environmental consciousness. “What Pam is doing is engaging with the system fully—and not just being part of one moment in that cycle,” Doyle says. Oh, and Doyle aced her portfolio project.
Both Doyle and DeLuco hope designers and consumers will more often make their own paper from scratch for special projects. “When you take things in your material world for granted, it affects how you use and engage with them,” Doyle says. “By creating more enchantment and wonder and curiosity in things we use, we’ll not only slow down patterns of destruction, we also have more opportunities for joy and wonder.”