A Brief History of Paper

Hand made papers can be so beautiful. (Kathleen Metaxas)
Hand made papers can be so beautiful. (Kathleen Metaxas)

Sue’s away again so posting is down to me. Actually, I‘ve been allowed to go with her this time and we’re both away to Bristol for the weekend. Lucky me! So, as you can imagine this is a post I prepared earlier and scheduled for today.

What to post about? Sue usually has plenty to say. Me? I have to think awhile before I come up with an idea. Anyway, I had a think and what I came up with was “A Brief History of Paper”. Why? Sue works a lot with paper but I never thought as to where it came from. Sure, I know about papyrus and how paper is made but had no idea about its origins. After a little research I had my answer so, here it is.

Apparently there was no paper prior to A.D. 105, you used grass or your hand, ugh. No, let’s be serious now, the invention of paper is attributed to the Chinese, in particular one Ts’ai Lun, during the Han Dynasty.

Paper was invented by the Chinese.
Paper was invented by the Chinese.

Then, in the 7th century paper turns up in Japan via Korea. The Japanese called it “washi” and it was considered a sacred material. Whilst flexible and delicate Wash also demonstrated strength and it was put to practical use. Washi is not quite paper as we know it. Washi is commonly made using fibers from the bark of the gampi tree, the mitsumata shrub (Edgeworthia chrysantha), or the paper mulberry, but also can be made using bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat. Washi is generally tougher than ordinary paper made from wood pulp, and is used in many traditional arts. Origami, Shodo, and Ukiyo-e were all produced using washi. Washi was also used to make various everyday goods like clothes, household goods, and toys as well as vestments and ritual objects for Shinto priests and statues of Buddha.

Washi had practical as well as sacred applications.
Washi had practical as well as sacred applications.

Next, the Arabs attacked the Chinese and found some of their captives new how to make paper. Eventually the Arabs established papermaking centres in Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus. And, being a canny lot, managed to keep the secret from the Europeans for several hundred years. Poor old Europeans had to buy it or stick to vellum. So, unhappy were the Europeans at not having the secret of paper they, had Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declare all official documents written on paper to be invalid.

If you lived in Europe you had to catch your vellum if you wanted to leave a note.
If you lived in Europe you had first to catch your vellum if you wanted to leave a note.

The Europeans got their own version of paper in the end, around the 12th century when papermaking became known in Spain and a little later in Italy. By the 15th Century anybody who was anybody had paper with, mills operating in France, Germany and England. Even our dear friends across the pond managed to get their hands on some, building the first mill in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Paper arrives in Europe
Paper arrives in Europe

But handmade paper has now made a return and is increasingly popular. All sorts of materials are now being pulped to make paper and inserts used in moulds means paper can be made in any shape. To artists and crafters alike this is great, its strength means the pulp can be woven, sculpted, carved and even sprayed onto mould.

Paper can be sprayed as a pulp to create all manner of shapes.
Paper can be sprayed as a pulp to create all manner of shapes.

So, there you have it, from ancient revered sacred material to modern revolutionary art medium.

1 Comment

  1. Hi, very interesting post. Have you come across Jonathon Korejko? He makes paper out of all sorts of stuff, including denim. I see his stand when I go to Creative Stitches & Hobbycraft shows where he demonstrates paper-making & sells his stuff.(and wears a top hat!)

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