This information is reprinted from the For Beginners column of Hand Papermaking Newsletter #43 (July, 1998).

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Why People Make Paper by Hand

Why make paper by hand? It’s an odd question to pose in a periodical devoted to the subject. When you think of it, though, this is where we all began; this is the first question we answered for ourselves. And we continue to answer the same query from curious friends and relations. As with many worthwhile questions, the answers are full of irony and paradox.

On the whole, people give about as much attention to paper as to air. But just as a fragrant breeze will arouse the senses, a handsome, handmade sheet of paper will do the same. There is something special about a handmade object. We sense the person behind the product rather than the machine, and we value that connection more and more with every technological advance. Paper is exceedingly common, so an unusual handmade sheet is that much more exceptional.

Papermaking is such a simple process. It is perfect for children and inner-children. Most introductory books present dozens of beautiful color photos showing gorgeous papers, but text explaining the papermaking process is quite short. One book outlines the entire procedure in one-half page. Sooner or later a new papermaker, initially attracted to the simplicity of the craft, will attend a workshop or conference and learn from another papermaker who may have spent decades perfecting their skills, and are still learning.
Those of limited means appreciate how inexpensively handmade paper is made. This is certainly true: a garage-sale blender, an old laundry tub, scraps of window screen, and voilá! How many papermakers who started this way now own or contemplate owning a $5000 Hollander?

Papermakers are often environmentalists. Realizing that paper production has harmed the earth through short-sighted forestry mismanagement, stream-choking pollutants, and the excessive landfill of paper gone un-recycled, responsible hand papermakers use earth-friendly processes with alternative and recycled fibers. We do not exploit Nature, we collaborate with Nature. Many feel the value of hand papermaking as a symbolic gesture is enormous, while admitting that in light of the global commercial paper market, the sum total of our hands-on pursuits may save few trees.

Symbolism and paradox are right at home in the art world and ultimately we all make paper as an artistic expression, whether that paper is one-of-a-kind and destined for a gallery wall or part of a consistent production run destined for a fine press book. We do what is meaningful, and there is “meaning” in paper. There is meaning imbued by the paper’s maker and meaning construed by the paper’s audience. Between the two, handmade paper offers the chance of profound communication, not merely small-talk.

Does this answer the question?

Copyright 1998 Hand Papermaking, Inc.