Contemporary Hand Papermaking in North America and Europe

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Contemporary Hand Papermaking in North America and Europe

The practice of making paper by hand draws forth past centuries in a single sheet of tangled fibers. At the same time, the advances of both contemporary hand papermakers and modern technology have merged this tradition with innovation to create paper of unsurpassed beauty and quality. Despite the speed and economic advantages of machine-made paper, traditional handmade paper grasps its hold on the modern world, and mills across North America and Western Europe have re-emerged to produce fine handmade papers for artists, bookmakers, and conservators who seek the highest level of durability, permanence, and aesthetics.

Hand papermaking in the Western world fell into decline
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This change from rags to less stable wood pulp, alongside an increased use of fillers such as bleach and optical brighteners, resulted in a vastly inferior paper than the handmade paper of preceding centuries.

While the materials rather than the method of production ultimately determine the quality and longevity of any paper, handmade paper exhibits many desirable qualities that can only be emulated in machine-made paper with difficulty, if at all. Some of these qualities can be attributed to physical differences between handmade and machine-made papers. The unidirectional movement of the belt of the papermaking machine, for example, results in a strong grain direction of the paper fibers. In handmade paper, on the other hand, the vat man typically shakes the mould in four directions, so the resulting sheet displays little to no grain direction (Hunter 455). As a result of this difference, handmade paper is said to have a drape or flow that is unmatched by machine-made paper (Meirhusby 62). Much of the draw of handmade paper, however, involves the much more subjective aesthetic character of each sheet of paper. Silvie Turner summarizes this quality as “the beauty, the vitality, the depth, the design, the character and expressiveness, the level of skill involved, the difference of a handmade sheet” (Turner 41), while Walter Hamady calls it simply “voice” (Vander Weele). No matter how you describe it in words, handmade paper shows

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