Handmade Paper

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Handmade Paper is paper that has been made by hand, using natural raw materials. Papermaking is a traditional handicraft and is still practiced in many countries like India, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other South Asian countries.

Why should I be aware of this?

Today, the use of Handmade Paper is gaining currency again for two basic reasons.

  • First, it is eco-friendly. Unlike mill made paper which is made from wood pulp, Handmade Paper is made from recycled waste and fibres from plant and animal sources. Further, the cotton rags commonly used to make Handmade paper are waste products that would otherwise have to go into a landfill.
  • Second, Handmade Paper has a beautiful texture and can be used for creating many products – stationery, lamp shades, tea lights, even computer paper to name a few.

All about handmade paper

Paper has played a key role in the development of most world cultures, and interestingly, each culture has its own papermaking techniques.

Five thousand years ago, Egyptians used a marsh grass called Cyperous Papyrus (the origin of the word Paper) that grew in the Nile valley, to make paper. They cut thin strips from the plant's stem and softened them in the muddy waters of the Nile. These strips were then layered in right angles to form a kind of mat. The mat was pounded into a thin sheet and dried in the sun. The resulting sheets were ideal for writing on. Lightweight and portable, even the Greeks and Romans adopted them for record keeping, spiritual texts and works of art.

Similar paper-making techniques were adopted by the Mayans during 2nd Century AD.

In the Pacific Islands, a paper was made by beating a fine bark over specially shaped logs to make clothes and ritual objects. However, none of these sheets would qualify as true paper today.

Paper as we know today

Paper as we know it today comes from another source - China. Excavations of tombs of the former Han Dynasty (207BC-9AD) have revealed silk cloth bearing the texts of Lao Tzu - the father of Taoism (born in 604BC). In 105 AD, Han Emperor Ho-Ti's chief eunuch T'sai Lun experimented with a wide variety of materials and refined the process of macerating the fibre of plants. The resultant mash was mixed with water in a large vat. Next, a screen was submerged in the vat and lifted up through the water, catching the fibers on its surface. When dried, this thin layer of intertwined fiber became what today we call paper. T'sai Lun's thin, yet flexible and strong paper with its fine, smooth surface was known as T'sai Ko-Shi , meaning: "Distinguished T'sai's Paper" and he became revered as the patron saint of papermaking.

Handmade paper in India

Indians used paper from cellulose fibers during 3rd century BC. The handmade paper industry flourished in India during the Mughal era.It gradually declined with the establishment of paper mills during the 18th and 19th centuries. The art of handmade paper making in India was revived under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi.

The notion of paper being used as a practical everyday item did not occur until the 15th Century. When Johann Gutenburg perfected movable type and printed his famous bible in 1456, he not only spread the word of Christianity, but also sparked a revolution in mass communication. The birth of the modern paper and printing industry is commonly marked from this date.

How paper is made

Paper can be made from a variety of raw materials – cotton rags, banana fibre, rice straw, silk fibre and straw. Elephant Dung Paper which uses the fibre excreted by elephants is also being made today. Depending on the raw material used, the exact method of making the paper may differ. Here is how paper is made from cotton rags.

  • Sorting And Cutting -- First, the raw material -- basically cotton rags, has to be cleaned, sorted and cut. Sorting is necessary to weed out dirty cloth pieces, synthetic fibers and non-textile material. Cutting the rags into small pieces, either using sickles and knives or by electrically operated shredders, is important first step towards separating the fibres.
  • Beating & Pulping – Then the fibres are washed using a mild detergent. Once washed, they are pulverised in beaters. At this point, any colour or sdecoratove fibres to add texture to the finished paper may be added.
  • Lifting – Papermakers have large vats in which they mix the beaten pulp with water. After giving the mixture a good swirl, they dip the mould and deckle (rather like a flat sieve on a frame) into it. Then they lift out the mould, giving it a good shake to ensure and even spreading of a thin fibre layer on the seive. The paper has now taken its basic form. This could be dried directly in the sun, but today most papermakers prefer to interleaf wet sheets of paper with cloth, and squeeze out excess moisture in a hydraulic press. Then they are dried in the shade.
  • Calendering & Cutting – This finishing process renders the paper smooth and glossy. The dried paper sheets are layered between zinc-coated sheets, and passed to and fro under heavy mechanical pressure through a small power operated machine.


  • Most commercially made printing or writing grade recycled paper contains only 10 percent to 30 percent post-consumer waste.
  • If you are making paper to use as stationery, dissolve a packet of gelatin in hot water, and stir the gelatin into the pulp mixture. The gelatin, which is known as "size", will make the paper less porous. Without the size, ink would bleed.
  • Paper fibers can clog your drain, so never throw any leftover pulp from your paper making into the sink!

See Also


  • Handmade Paper
  • About Handmade Paper
  • To buy genuine Handmade Paper, go to Papeterie

Additional Information

To learn how to make paper at home, visit Craft Revival Trust and Pioneer Thinking