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7 Videos to Take You Inside the Craft of Paper Making

By Matt Reimann. Nov 25, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Book Making

No matter how far the digital age encroaches, nothing will ever replace the joys of paper. The pleasures of underlining words with pen or of feeling the page in your hand are hard to beat. Some even argue memory-retention is better when one reads on paper than on the screen. From Ancient Egypt, to Han Dynasty China, to Gutenberg’s Europe, paper has long been a treasured object. Here are seven videos to renew your admiration for the incredible craft of papermaking.

640px-Monselice_z22.jpgThere are many ways to make a sheet of paper, and the materials vary almost as much as the methods. Today, almost all paper is made by treating and breaking plant fibers, suspending them in water, letting them set on a screen, and drying them. The first paper objects, like papyrus and parchment, differed in their construction, the former being woven plant material, and the latter being the skin of animals. But ever since the early Renaissance, industrial methods have helped liberate paper from being an expensive item to a cheap and
abundant commodity.

1. Making Papyrus



Here’s a glimpse at making humanity’s first successful paper product: papyrus. Unlike the screen method developed much later, the strips of papyrus were woven over each other like a flat piece of cloth. It’s even more impressive to consider that fragments of ancient papyri still exists today.

2. Making Parchment and Vellum



Before Europe made its paper from plant material, literary folk used animals to make parchment and vellum. Skins often came from cattle calves, sheep, or goats, and were made fit for writing after a long and intense process. This video shows a modern artisan making parchment the old-fashioned way, including removing the hair and fat from the usable product.

3. Modern-Day Operations



In 1976, an English television crew went inside the Hayle Mill where manufacturers may have been the last in the country to make paper by hand. Like many videos of its kind, the vatman who screens the paper over the pulp makes it look easy, though in truth it takes years to perfect the job to make consistent, clean sheets of paper of uniform thickness. The clip also illustrates how paper manufacturers incorporate watermarks into every sheet.

4. How It Used to Be Done



The University of Iowa, in addition to educating generations of literary writers, also runs the Center for the Book, which studies the history and technology of the physical object. Here, a team of people replicate (with the help of some modern equipment) the three-person division of labor by which paper was made by hand for centuries.

5. Making Washi Paper in Japan



It may become clear by now that the grade school explanation that paper comes from trees is easily complicated. Cotton and other plant fibers are often used in the fancier papers of today, and the revered washi paper of Japan is made from the bark of the mulberry bush. This well-shot video shows how people have made this product for generations, including the labor-intensive process of extracting the fibers from the raw bark.

6. Factory Methods



This snappy, 'How It’s Made' video provides a brief overview of the modern, factory-driven process of manufacturing paper. Here you’ll see piles of wood chips and large facilities that grind, bleach, and form the material into paper. Watching the stacks of copy paper slide down the assembly line, you’ll see we’ve come far from the three-person technique of centuries past.

7. Homemade Paper Methods



Did you know you can make you’re own recycled paper? You can, and even if you have no interest in making your own, this video distills the essential paper-making process so that it works on a household scale. There are no large grinders here, but rather a household blender. It’s also interesting to see how their felt-stacking technique and screw press are borrowed directly from paper workshops some five hundred years ago.


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Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.


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