Recently a gift came my way – a journal filled with blank sheets of beautifully handcrafted Nepalese paper. These writing sheets—translucent and pale brown—were made from the bark of the Daphne shrub. Writing with ink on this paper is a joy as my pen glides over its surface and the ink never blurs or runs. Through this little journal, the process of handwriting on special paper was rekindled again.
My interest in sourcing handmade paper began to grow wings when I participated in a workshop that taught me how to convert plant pulp into paper. I provided plant materials—fibres, stems, and heavy leaves—that I cut up and soaked in water. Caustic soda, one tablespoon to each litre of water was added, and this mixture cooked for two hours until the material became soft and slippery. (We used an old copper boiler, as aluminium must never come into contact with caustic soda). After discarding any large plant waste, I dipped a frame (screened across the underside) into the slurry, drained it and transferred the sheets of wet paper onto a surface to dry.
Above from left to right are sheets of paper I produced from the following:
1. Blue tinted recycled paper with finely chopped onion skins
2. Recycled paper pulp and cooked straw
3. Straw, onion skins, and plant stems
4. Bannana trash
Each paper has its own distinctive colour and thickness, perfect for: journal covers, gift cards or tags, book marks, stationary etc. Handmade paper can be cut as there is no grain. When it is torn, a raggedy edge is produced giving it an attractive homespun look.
Paper has a long history. Papyrus came first in Egypt around 2400 BC, and was made from sliced sections of the flower stem of the reedy papyrus plant. (See a papyrus stem and flower photo above) A Chinese courtier, Ts’ai Lun, was the first recorded inventor of paper. In 105 AD, he presented his paper making process to the Chinese Emperor, as was noted in official court records. The spread of paper from China to the Middle East, then to Europe in the 13th century has allowed for a massive exchange of information to take place, contributing to significant cultural shifts world-wide.
As our age becomes totally digitized, it is a joy to slow down and return to the simple pleasure of putting pen to paper. In some circles, the art of writing letters on fine stationary is also experiencing a resurgence. While the computer remains at the centre of my writing life, my Nepalese journal has become the repository for my short poetry: haiku, tanka and haibun. On its pages I delight in handwriting again, with pen on fine paper for my own enjoyment.