Back to basics: lockdown papermaking
By Florence Watson, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies, specialising in Books and Library Materials
What do you do when you’re stuck inside during lockdown? You make paper out of old denim in your Mum’s blender, obviously.
I have recently been inspired by Jim Croft’s method of making books from raw materials. He runs immersive workshops and gives talks on all aspects of hand bookmaking – making bookbinding tools, processing flax for thread, hand papermaking, and even splitting wood for boards. Seeing as I am currently separated from the high-quality equipment and materials in the West Dean workshop, I thought I’d take the opportunity to get back to basics and see what I could learn from the experience of making paper from scratch.
Before starting on the paper, I had to make a mould and deckle. There is plenty to buy online, but in these times of Covid-19, I thought it would be better (and more educational!) to make one with materials I had at home.
A Western mould and deckle are made from two wooden frames of the same size. The mould has a screen attached so that the water in the paper pulp can drain away, and the deckle sits on top of the mould and forms the edges of the paper.
I had some small oak blocks which I cut to fit together in a square. I then made a second square of the same size. Afterwards, I sanded and oiled the frames with teak oil to protect the wood. The oil has the bonus of making the frames look glowing and beautiful. It almost seemed a shame to do anything else to them!
For the screen layer on the mould, I stapled down some wire mesh (for strength and tension) underneath a layer of nylon mesh (to allow the water to drain away without losing smaller fibres of the paper pulp).