Tag Archives: paper

Making little boxes

fullsizerender-2There are occasions when you need a suitable container for a gift and there is nothing available. If the gift is small, why not make your own ‘wrapping’? These little boxes are really easy to make involving simple folding. They are so easy that children can make them if they are shown how.


You will need:

img_1932i. Suitable paper: photocopying paper is good – the boxes above were made with red and green 100 gsm photocopying paper on which I had printed the ‘Happy Christmas’ that I’d written out in Gothic Black Letter in a repeated pattern. Stiffish gift wrapping paper is good too.



img_1933ii. Paper should be cut into two squares, one with sides 11 cm long (the lid) and one with sides 10·5 cm (the base).





iii. A pencil and ruler. Scissors for scoring.

iv. Errm – that’s it!

How to make the boxes:

img_1934i. Use the pencil and ruler to draw lines marking the diagonals from point to point on the reverse of the patterned side, creating a cross.




img_1935ii. Fold in each corner so that the tip touches the point where the lines cross.





img_1936iii. Then fold over again, making sure that you hold the tip at the point of the cross and don’t let it slip. Repeat this for all four sides. Open out the folds so the paper is flat. The large middle square is the top (or bottom) of your box so make sure that it doesn’t get creased.



img_1938iv. In the middle of each side of the square is a small diamond.





img_1939v. Turn over to the other side and use the tip of the scissors to score a short line from tip to tip as shown.





img_1942vi. Fold in one side ensuring that the tip goes to the centre, and then fold the paper up again to make the side.

Now repeat this for the opposite side.

On the third side, push in two diamonds that you have scored as shown here.


img_1943vii. Then bend this side over to secure the other two adjacent sides. Use your fingernail to ensure that the top folds are sharp and smooth.





img_1944viii. Now repeat this for the last side and the box is secure. If necessary, you can use a dab of glue to secure the base.





img_1945ix. Repeat this for the other square making a base (or a lid).





img_1946You can do this again and again with smaller squares, making boxes that fit inside one another – a great idea for a very special surprise (perhaps something really really expensive!!). Reduce the sides by 5 mm each time.

Cut squares out using a sharp knife and straight edge, then children can easily make these boxes with a small amount of help.


Sand, sanders and writing

sanderWe’ve seen it so many times before. Someone in mediæval or slightly later costume picks up a full feather with a flourish, pretends to write on paper or skin, looks at what’s been written, then picks up something that looks like a salt pot, shakes a powder on the writing, looks at the writing again and then blows the powder away. The result? A wonderfully ‘blotted’ piece of writing.

Oh so wrong! First the idea that full feathers are used. If ever you have a chance, try to write well and quickly with something that is about 40 cm/18 inches long. It gets everywhere and is very difficult to control. Feathers are cut to pen length 22-3 cm/9 inches for ease of use. And the blotting of wet ink, by ‘sand’? The impression is that ‘sand’ is used because the shaker is called a ‘sander’ (see above). ‘Sand’ isn’t used, at least not the type that comes from the beach. Think of it. This sand is crystalline. If it could blot up ink then water from the sea would come on to the shore as a wave and then simply be soaked or blotted up, no water would return. Sand from the shore doesn’t blot.

Tetraclinis_articulataThe ‘sand’ that is used is gum sandarac. The crystals of gum sandarac are called ‘tears’ and they come from the tetraclinis articulata, which is a small tree (see right), similar to a cyprus, found in north-west Africa. The resin is either exuded naturally or, like rubber, is made by cutting the bark of the tree; it hardens on exposure to air.

sandaracThe lumps, or tears, of gum sandarac, are ground to a pale yellow powder usually in a pestle and mortar. Once a powder, either it is used from a shaker (see above), or from a little bag (below) made from a piece of fine cotton usually tied up with string. Traditional shakers had a dished or concave top, so that excess sand could be shaken back into the container.





Using sandaracGum sandarac provides a very fine coating on paper or skin. This coating acts as a resist and so either the strokes of the letters are very fine, as on vellum, or it seals the surface of the sheet of paper. Hand-made paper in historical times was surface sized (nowadays paper is tub- or vat-sized – see the blog about paper). It was not always thoroughly done. If paper isn’t properly sized, ink will blot and strokes will have lots of little ‘bleeds’ like spiders’ legs. Gum sandarac prevented this and so it was and is always used before writing and not afterwards.

The last two photographs of gum sandarac and how to use it are from my new Illumination book. It looks like the log jam has at last been shifted and it may even go to the printers this year!



Shakespeare and writing

Tom BatemanIt is so heartwarming when production companies take their projects seriously enough to ensure that things are done properly, and this was the case with the forthcoming production of Shakespeare in Love in London’s West End.

I was asked to teach actor Tom Bateman (right), who is William Shakespeare in the play, how to cut and use a quill.

The teaching session was in the Playhouse Theatre and that particular night was the Press Night, so the red carpet was out (I knew it wasn’t for me!) and preparations were being made for that evening. I’ve never been at a Press Night and it all looked very exciting.

We found a quiet room off the bar, I set knives, feathers, ink and hand-made paper up on a table, and Tom looked for a bin – essential for quill cutting.

I went through the stages of quill cutting, with quickly drawn diagrams, and explained the process as I cut and changed a swan’s wing feather into a usable pen. Then it was Tom’s turn. At first he didn’t realise quite how tough the barrels of feathers are, but once I’d shown him how to place his thumbs and the angle of the knife for maximum effect, he was well away. It’s so marvellous teaching people who pick things up quickly, and Tom had a good quill cut in no time.

Then it was on to the writing; I had some hand-made paper with me that had a slightly textured surface, which would have been similar to the paper used in Elizabethan times (and at this time it is more likely to have been paper than vellum or parchment). Tom enjoyed the ‘tooth’ between a well-cut quill and the paper, and the scratching sound of the quill nib – there’s nothing like it! I also explained how precious paper was. The screwed up rejects of paper thrown over Shakespeare’s shoulder in the Shakespeare in Love film as he suffered from writer’s block were very unlikely. Paper was just too expensive to be wasted like this!

So all stages of cutting and using a quill were revised again, and Tom was happy with the process, so, armed with my DVD to remind him of what he had learned, he was then off to buy a quill knife (I use X-Acto knives with replaceable blades, removing the pointed blade that it comes with with a curved blade that are sold in sets of five) and feathers to practise.

I’m looking forward very much indeed to the production at the Noel Coward Theatre, and will be eagle-eyed to ensure that the quill is cut properly (if it writes and you end up with the right numbers of digits after cutting it, it’s fine!). It will also be interesting to see if Tom has any little ‘starting writing’ processes – I did suggest one to him, and if he uses it, you know where it came from!

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!