Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Making Paper
Hand made paper has an individuality and unique quality that modern mass produced paper has lost. The astonishing range of textures, colours and decorative effects possible makes this an exciting craft with which to experiment.
For nearly 2000 years paper has been one of the most powerful
media of exchange in all our various cultures. The indispensable material
originated in China. The Chinese court official T’sai Lun is generally
credited with its invention in AD105 although it is more likely that he
refined an existing process. Most of this paper was made from raw plant
fibres or old fishing nets, ropes and rags.
Through travel and trade, paper making spread throughout the
world; First east via Korea to Japan and southwards into India. By AD900
paper was made in Egypt using Chinese methods.
By the 11th century paper making had reached Europe. By the 18th century the demand for paper was so great that an alternative raw material had to be found. Wood fibres were discovered to be satisfactory, plentiful substitute to cotton and linen fibres. Today, most paper and card is machine made from wood fibre.
Though most paper is now made from wood, hand made
manufacture still relies on the traditional fibres. Cotton linters (the
short fibres left after the long fibres have been removed for use in the
textile industry) are a main source of raw material for the process.
The preparation of the fibre, rather than the formation of
the sheet, is the main influence on the strength and durability of the
paper. Preparation also largely determines how the finished paper can be
used. A Hollander beater is used to break down the fibres. This is an oval
trough, divided by a central wall with a heavy, barred roller placed
halfway down one side of it, above a similarly barred bedplate.
The fibre passes between the two sets of bars, and gets
crushed and ground. In the early stages of beating, the fibres become more
flexible. As the roller is gradually lowered to the bedplate, the fibres
begin to break up and hydrate, taking up more and more water. This
produces a pulp which drains relatively slowly onto the mould during
formation, helping to give a close and even sheet.
The sieve like mould is then dipped into the pulp, taking up
more pulp than is needed for the sheet being made. As the water drains
through the mesh the mould is shaken and the excess pulp thrown of the far
side of the mould. The mould is then shaken sideways, sending another wave
of fibres, tumbling them in every direction.
The thickness of the sheet is determined by the consistency
of the pulp, the skill of the papermaker and the thickness of the deckle
– a wooden frame which sits on the top surface of the mould.
The wet sheet is then transferred from the mould onto a woven
woollen blanket called a
felt, in a process known as couching. In
couching, one edge of the mould is placed along the edge of the felt. With
an even rolling motion, the mould is pressed down onto the felt and off
again, leaving the newly formed sheet on the surface of the felt. Another
felt is laid on top of the newly formed sheet so that the next piece can
When sufficient sheets have been made, the pile of wet paper
and felts, know as a post, is pressed.
Pressing removes as much of the water as possible before the sheet is dried and it helps to compact the fibres into a strong tight sheet. Various pressing sequences are used depending on the desired finish and intended use of the paper.
Paper is dried, either by being hung in the air, using the
natural air flow to dry it, or being passed over heated drying cylinders.
After drying, the stacks of paper are left to cure under a light weight. The order of the sheets in the stacks is changed regularly so that air gets through evenly to all of them and cockles – (ripples formed in the drying sheet by the tensions occurring in the sheet as it dries) are neutralised.
Finishing refers to the processes that affect or alter the
surface of the dry sheet. Every stage of the process, from the choice of a
particular fibre and its beating, through all the stages of manufacture,
will have a bearing on the final finish on the surface of the paper.
Handmade paper is traditionally prepared in three finishes.
The ‘rough’ texture is produced by the weave of the felts in the first
wet press. In the ‘not’ finish, the top layer of fibres is brought
into contact with the felts and then with other sheets of the same paper
in the second or third (or more) pressings, before the sheets are dried.
The smoothest is called ‘hot
pressed’ (or HP). Originally this was
done in a screw press using burnished metal
plates. This surface is now
reproduced by passing sheets of paper, interleaved with thin metal plates,
through glazing rolls to polish the surface.
Sizing is made from gelatine or starch and added to the paper
to make it less absorbent. Without some measure of sizing, paints and
writing inks would bleed, giving a furred edge to the mark. Unsized paper
is known as waterleaf.
Sizing can be added at the pulp stage of the process (internal sizing), but gelatine sizing can only be added to the paper after it has dried (surface sizing).
Coloured papers are made by adding dyes or pigments to the
pulp before the formation of the sheet. Adding longer or differently
coloured fibres, plant material, silk or wool at this stage of the process
can produce extremely beautiful, decorative effects.
Watermarks are another, more subtle form of decoration. The watermark is made in a sheet of hand made paper during the formation of the sheet. Watermarks vary from simple outline letters or designs made from wire, to complex images impressed in wire mesh.
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