Tag Archives: hand-made paper

Calligraphy and Ashes

CIMG2373Occasionally, it is so pleasing to abandon guidelines, formal letter construction, working out differences in size and script for design, incorporating illustration with lettering, and simply take a pen ‘for a walk’. I do this now and again after I’ve had a period of formal writing, as in the last few months. I had a golden opportunity as I was given a copy of a poem about the Test Matches between England and the Australians. It wasn’t the best poetry I’ve ever seen, but it did encapsulate the spirit of winning and the rivalry between these two teams. I haven’t been able to find the name of the poet, so if anyone does know, please contact me and I can acknowledge them and ensure they are happy with me posting this.


CIMG2362I knew that I didn’t want the piece to be huge, and the poem had a number of lines, so I chose a size 5 nib. I prefer to write on good quality paper even for roughs, and I have a stack of old certificates I had printed for a defunct award so I am using up the backs of those, a lovely Saunders Waterford 350 gsm HP paper. With the typed poem in front of me, I then simply wrote in free Italic Capitals. Here and there words that had some meaning were written in San Vito/Renaissance Capitals for emphasis, such as the first word, ‘Honours’ in the third line, a ‘dot ball’ (apparently a ball that results in no runs, as it is recorded in the score book), and so on. It always takes some time for your hand to become comfortable with any script and to ease yourself in at the start of a writing session, and this happened on the top line here. You can see that I made a horizontal pen fine dash at the end of that line to remind me to allow a bit more space when writing it out properly. The sixth line seemed to be getting rather long, so I decided I was going to split it (scribe’s licence!), hence the crossing out of ‘atmosphere’. I wrote the last four lines in the same pen nib, but realised as I looked at it that it was too large and blocky, so then used a size 6 nib which gives a better contrast.

CIMG2363The next stage in the way I work is to cut up the lines into strips, as on the right, and I just placed them on another piece of paper. At this point, I can adjust the spacing, cut out any mistakes, stick in any re-written words or phrases etc. In pencil I wrote the number of each line in sequence so as not to get them confused, and also the size of nib I used. (5 on the top line, and 6 on the bottom section). It was beginning to come together. I also needed to turn the section in small writing at the bottom the right way up!




CIMG2366I didn’t want a centred piece as with that, often the eye is taken more with the shape of the outline of the lines of text than the words themselves. So I adjusted the lines here and there, and made sure as much as I could (and it’s not always easy with short lines!) that there weren’t any diagonals of three or more beginnings or ends of lines. If there are, the eye is often ‘led’ off the paper and not on to the next line. As well as this, of course, the lines had to have a spine, all the lines had to overlap in the centre – the piece falls apart with lines flying off the edges of the main text. To ensure that the piece was balanced, I used a plastic ruler placed vertically, stood back, closed one eye and slightly blurred the other to see if there was about the same amount of text on the left-hand side of the ruler as there was on the right. Lines were then adjusted accordingly.

CIMG2370I marked the position of the ruler and then drew a vertical line down through all the lines – this would be the centre as I had worked out. I also used two L-shaped pieces of card to create a central rectangle, and slid them one way and another to determine the margins of the piece, The lines were then gathered up in order and placed on the sliding rule on my drawing board, line 1 on the top.





CIMG2371I chose a piece of hand-made Khadi paper which I’d had for many years. It has a good, smooth HP surface with strands of green water algae which I thought would tie in well with the green of a cricket pitch. I mixed up some oxide of chromium Schmincke Calligraphy gouache – it is a wonderfully smooth paint to use with a pen, and one of my favourites. I drew a faint pencil central line on the Khadi paper and was almost ready to write. To avoid mistakes, which are so very easy in calligraphy, I attach each line just above where I’m to write. This helps with spacing, spelling, letter formation and so on. So, taking some of the stickiness off a couple of small pieces of magic tape to avoid lifting the soft paper surface, I lined up the vertical pencil line on the Khadi paper with that on the strip of paper and pressed the sticky tape down gently. I used the horizontal edge of the guard sheet on my board as a guideline as there were no ruled horizontal pencil lines, and started to write. The paper absorbed the ink well and I didn’t have to wait long for each line to dry, but I have, with some papers, had a hair dryer in my lap to dry the paint as I go. As each line is written, I checked it, and then dried the ink with the hairdryer!

CIMG2373Finally the piece was written, the lines reasonably straight within the ‘free’ feeling of the piece and the words of the poem, and I then needed to remove all traces of the vertical pencil line. I left the piece for half a day to ensure the paint was completely dry, and then, rather than just scrub at the vertical pencil line with an eraser, I very gently ‘rolled’ it on the pencil line, being very careful near the paint.

The piece of paper wasn’t hand-made exactly to the exact size and shape of the final piece, as on the right. The only ‘real’ deckle edge was on the left. So with clean water and a brush, I ran a line of water along the final dimensions of the piece, each edge at a time, allowed the water to soak in for a minute or two, and then gently pulled the two sides of the paper apart, which left a ragged edge of paper fibres. While it was damp, I pushed my thumb against the paper edge to make it ‘clump’ a bit, similar to the left-hand deckle edge. And then the piece was finished, ready to wrap in tissue paper and be given to the recipient.



Making paper

hemp wrapping paperThe Chinese clearly knew a thing or two and there is evidence of paper used for wrapping (hemp wrapping paper from about 100 BC on the right) and padding from the 2nd century BC. Finishing it so that it could be used for writing had to wait until the third century AD, but by the sixth century AD, toilet paper was also being produced. And to show that there is nothing new, folded and sewn paper enclosing tea (yes, tea bags) were being used in China from the seventh to the tenth centuries.


mouldThe knowledge and skills of paper making spread across the Far and Near East and Europe and the first reference to a papermill in Britain was that belonging to John Tate near Hertford, and a book printed by Wynken de Worde in about 1495 used this paper. Sir John Speilman owned an early papermill at Dartford in Kent, and other papermills were then established through the country. The first sheets of paper were made on molds constructed of thinner horizontal wires, with thicker vertical wires for support (see right). The impressions of these wires appeared on the sheets of paper, and are called ‘laid lines’, and paper with this appearance, laid paper. As you know if you have tried to print on laid paper yourself, the surface is not good for that, as the ink is hard to impress on the ‘valleys’ between the laid lines.

watermarkWatermarks are added by twisting a wire design through the laid wires, and this is then impressed on the sheets of paper.




wove paper mouldPaper with a smooth surface was first made by a man from Kent – James Whatman (1702–59). The paper surface was called wove because the mesh supporting the paper was woven, and not made of parallel wires. Wove paper is called Vélin in Europe. In 1757 John Baskerville printed his edition of ‘Virgil’ on wove paper produced by Whatman. It took only a couple of decades for this new paper surface to spread to other mills in the UK and abroad.



vatmanThe essence of paper is fibres, these can be from wood, as used for most of our paper, such as magazines and newspapers, or from cotton or linen rag; paper from these last two sources is usually of finer quality, such as writing paper, paper for fine prints, and also paper for calligraphers. The source material is pulped, originally with a large wooden hammer (stamping mills), and mixed with water to do so. The vatman, as on the right, then dips a mold and deckle into this vat of fibres and water and moves the mold and deckle this way and that to ensure an even coating of pulp all over the mold. The mold and deckle are then usually rested on the edge of the vat to allow some of the water to drain away.

mold and deckleThe mold consists of a stout rectangular or square (or sometimes even circular) wooden frame over which is stretched a mesh. The deckle sits on top of the mold, usually with a slight indentation so that it fits securely all round.



deckle edge paperDespite this tight fit, though, very often some of the paper fibres seep out between the mold and deckle, and this creates the characteristic deckle-edge of hand-made paper. You can get deckle-edged paper that is not hand-made, but then this edge is artificially constructed in the paper making process.



paper makingThe couchman (pronounced coochman, and on the right in this print) then takes the mold and deckle, removes the deckle, and skilfully inverts the mold on to a piece of thick felt. Insodoing the paper fibres, now in a sheet, lay squarely on the felt support. The mold and deckle are returned to the vatman, and the couchman lays another piece of felt on top ready for the next sheet of paper. These create quite a high stack of paper sheets and felts.

imgresPressure is added, usually in a small press with an enormous screw, to encourage the water to drain away.







drying paperThe sheets of paper are then laid on ropes in vast rooms to dry completely.




paper surfacesBut this is not the end of the paper-making process. Two additions are needed. First, the paper is finished. If the paper is left as it is with no treatment at all, then the surface is called rough (see bottom left in the picture). If the sheets of paper are passed through hot rollers, rather like a hot iron, then the surface is called hot press (hot pressed – as in top right). If the sheets of paper are passed through cold rollers, then in the UK this is called not (see middle section) because it is not passed through hot rollers! In the US they’re not quite so romantic and the paper is called cold press (cold pressed) because that is how it has been finished.

Then the paper surface needs to be sized if it is to be used for writing or printing, othewise wet ink spreads and bleeds into the paper fibres and looks like tiny spiders (blotting paper isn’t sized). This was done first using animal gelatine. Nowadays, many paper makers add size to the vat of paper pulp, and the paper is then called tub sized. This is useful for calligraphers because if an error needs to be removed and with it some of the paper surface, the size is throughout the paper and not just on the surface, and so the error can be written over.

Changes were afoot though and bleaching paper, the ‘Hollander’ machine which enabled more than just cotton rags to produce fibres (they then were able to add old ropes and fishing nets as well!), size from aluminium sulphate and the mechanisation of paper making all meant that the slow, laborious, but very skilled ways of making paper by hand were gradually, but not completely, replaced.

Fourdriner machineMost paper now is made using the Fourdrinier process (see right). In this the whole paper making process is speeded up and done in one continuous process. Paper fibres are produced from the source material with size added to the vat, the paper pulp is then allowed to fall on to a conveyor belt, the water drained and sucked out, huge paper sheet pressed, and then the massive rolls of paper finally dried, and finished. Paper for printing is often coated as well so that the printing ink stays on the surface. The process of joggling the paper pulp along the conveyor belt while these various processes were going on resulted in the long paper fibres settling in the same direction – hence the problem of tearing clippings from newspapers and magazines!