Sunday, June 23, 2013
Handmade paper is a much sought after item these days. Anyone having received a note written on handmade paper or a gift wrapped in it, can attest to this. The process of creating it is both fascinating and relatively simple.
Paper making changed in the 19th century as a result of technology and paper was then made predominantly from wood pulp, making it less costly. For higher quality paper, other fibers such as cotton were used. One test of a paper's quality was the ratio of fibers to wood pulp. Prior to using wood pulp, paper was made of rags, Kemp, and other such materials. The process for both handmade and manufactured paper is basically the same except for the scale and complexity of the tools used.
For handmade paper, the process begins with fibers suspended in a vat of water to form a slurry. Then a mold, usually a wooden frame fitted with metal screening, is used to scoop slurry from the vat. The slurry is sloshed around on the screen to create an even film coating. As it settles, water drains through the screen leaving the damp fibers. They are then turned out onto a felt sheet and this step is repeated over and over. The felt and paper are then layered into piles, called "posts" and weighted down to press out excess water and maintain flat and tight fiber mats. Finally the sheets are removed and laid out to dry. Once dry, they can be "calendered" or run between rollers to give the paper a harder, smoother surface. Papers can be sized with gelatin thereby binding the fibers into the sheet. Depending on it's purpose the paper can be made with different surfaces.
The wooden frame used in the paper making process is called a "deckle". The irregular and wavy edges of the paper are called "deckle edges", and is a signature of handmade paper. Impressions in the paper caused by wire in the screen running side to side are called "laid lines" and those running top to bottom are called "chain lines".
In making handmade paper today, there are many options for adding color and texture. For example, very fine colored threads and minuscule foil flakes will result in stunningly beautiful and luxurious paper. Many fine stationary stores now offer handmade paper as do paper and office supply stores.
The image above is an example of an extraordinary handmade paper that I have used in some of my art in the past.