A Brief History of Paper Making

People were writing long before paper was invented.  In China they wrote on sheet made with strips of bamboo that were sewn together and then rolled into tablets.  The bamboo tablets worked well, but they were thick and heavy - there had to be a better way!

There was!  Cai Lun was an official in the Han Dynasty in China, born in the year 48 A.D. According to legend, he was inspired to invent paper by watching paper wasps make their nests.  He used tree bark, hemp, cloth rags and fishing nets to make paper in the year 105 A.D.  

Wait ... check that ... the oldest paper found predates Cai Lun by at least 100 years and maybe even more.  So while Cai Lun certainly improved the process, and very likely established a better recipe and equipment for making paper, he didn't actually invent paper.  No one knows who was the very first person to make paper. 

Paper is nothing more than a thin layer of fiber and the paper making process is quite simple.  First, the plant fibers are soaked in water to soften them.  Wood pulp, cotton or linen work as a plant fiber base.  After the fibers are softened they are smashed to make a pulp.

Ancient papermakers would have used some version of a mortar and pestle to pound the fiber.  Later paper mills used water power to mechanically pound the pulp with hammers.  The earliest known water powered paper mill was in Spain in 1282. 

Next, add water to the pulp to thin the solution ... then a screen is put into the tray of pulpy water and then pulled out with a thin layer of the pulpy mix stuck to it.  Paper mills use a giant screen, but at-home paper makers can use a piece of window screen stapled to a picture frame. 

The pulp on the screen is dried and then pealed off - and you have paper!  The paper can be left coarse and rugged-looking, or ironed to make it smooth and shinny.  (Want pictures?  Wikihow has a good tutorial on making paper at  home.)

Paper Mill - Hammers - Diderot Encyclopedie - 1751-1765

A river or steam turns the water wheel
which power the hammers as they
stamp thefiber into pulp, 1751-1765

With all this paper being made, how long do you think it took for someone to think of using it for toilet paper?  Not very long!  The first written reference to toilet paper is in 589 A.D. when a Chinese scholar wrote "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes."

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the best source of fiber for papermaking was old clothes and rags (but only clothes and rags with plant fibers, such as linen and cotton - not wool).  Rag-pickers collected rags off the street or went door-to-door asking for old clothes. 

"In the Rag Trade" by Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1870

"In the Rag Trade"
by Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1870

Newspaper printers needed a lot of paper and the quality of the paper was not important. Quicklime was added to the rag pulp to bleach the paper to a nice printable white, but it also deteriorated the quality of the paper, which made it crumble over time.  Because of the poor quality of the rag paper used in newspapers, it was common to insult a newspaper by calling it a "rag".

Want some paper?  We have plenty!  All of our paper products are on sale at 25% off.  That's books, magazines, paper patterns, pamphlets - anything printed on paper. 

Happy Knitting! ... Scout

Everything Paper 25% Off!
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments