Morning every one,
have you ever noticed that there is a plethora of exquisite hand made products coming out of India. Living here in the Netherlands made me realize that people do not really know much about India or its people. My first winter here, some one actually asked if I had ever seen snow before in my life as she thought, India being a tropical country, snow must be very unique for me. I wondered for a second if she had forgotten that the Himalaya ranges are also in India , and I, being an Indian and some one who has lived up in the mountains with snow would naturally be familiar with it..I love snow and, to be honest I can act like a crazy kid when I see it snowing . I just want to walk out there and let the snow flakes settle on me as they fall ever so gently to the ground . I even put out my tongue like a silly girl just to get that magical taste of the first snow flake slowly melting.
As you all know by now , I just love and adore anything thats hand made. Its easy for me to visualize all the hours of hard work and love that have gone into making that particular piece , whatever it may be..
Thats why today I want to talk about something else I love. Hand made paper.
I always take a wander into the busy markets and winding little lanes in the older parts of which ever town I may in that day, or week and look for the unusual.
I love using hand made paper for writing letters because it makes me feel so very good just by touching it and feeling it between my fingers.Absolutely luxurious and almost decadent. In the old days certain types of paper was used by royalty and that always makes me feel that I am some one special as well, just because I can write on these beautifully hand made sheets.
I walked into this little shop one day, where this young man was sitting behind the counter. He came out to greet me in the traditional way ,his hands folded in the traditional namaste, and asked how he could help me. On each wall of the shop , were rolls of paper in different qualities, colors and sizes . I was really surprised to see the different textures and types of paper that were available in the shop. There were also loads of journals, dairies, phone and address books etc.. with hand made tie/dye fabric covers and covers made out of waste materials like broken glass bangles, bits of plastics sand etc..Utterly fascinating . Of course as usual I ended up buying much more than I needed and when I flew home I had all these rolls of hand made paper under my arms, as I could not pack it all in my suitcase.
At the airport in Amsterdam, when we landed, the customs officer asked me what I had in my hands and was quite amused when he saw the rolls of paper, though he did make me open it all, as perhaps he thought that I might be smuggling something into the country..I also bought some of the phone books and diaries as well which are to be seen on the website of totally bananas…
Now I sit here writing all about my experiences and what I learnt from the young man while I was there, about the process , of how hand made paper is made, with my usual hot cup of coffee by my side…
The handmade paper industry was an extremely flourishing business in India during the Mughal area, but it gradually declined with the establishment of paper mills during the 18th and 19th centuries. . The art of handmade paper making was revived under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. Handmade paper is acid free, and does not consume as much energy and water as machine made paper. It is also more durable and does not tear easily. It also does not facilitate erasure or even forgery for that matter.
Handmade paper also has Chinese origins and dates back to 105 AD, though , in India, paper was being made from cellulose fibers as early as 3rd Century BC.
The Kagzi community, that traditionally specialized in the making of paper, are said to have accompanied the Mughal emperor Babar to India, during the 16th Century and eventually they settled in Sanganer, Rajasthan. Handmade paper products have always been a trademark of Auroville, Pondicherry, though these days it is being produced in many areas of India today, such as Delhi, Rajasthan, and in South India.
In Sanganer the ‘Kagzi’ community is the primary owner of the handmade paper industry in the city today. As far back as the 14th century, royalty used handmade paper especially made by them for official documents, miniature paintings, calligraphy, making copies of the Holy Quran and maintaining account books. In the 16th century ,the then ruler of Amber, Raja Man Singh brought the Kagzi community to Sanganer, and settled them on the bank of the river Saraswati, where clean water was easily available. Thus the town emerged as one of the biggest paper producing centers in north India.Materials used in the making are Recycled cloth, waste paper, grass, flowers and petals.
Raw material such as waste cotton rags, and any added materials, such as flower petals, leaves or other natural fibers are first sorted by hand to remove foreign materials like plastics, dust, stalks and leaves.
The sorted cotton rags are put through a mechanized rag chopper that cuts them into small uniform sized pieces. In the past, this process was done manually using a curved knife mounted on a wooden board.
Beating is the most important step in the handmade paper making process. The chopped rags are converted into a fine pulp, often using some sort of blending machine or smashing action, and mixed with water. To give the paper consistency and blot free characteristics,
inert chemicals, like rosin soap and alum are added When making colored and or textured papers, the colored dyes and or textured materials like straw, hemp, grass, silk and jute fibers etc., are added during this process. The resulting pulp is ready for sheet formation.
Dipping is the traditional method. In this method the pulp is transferred from the beater into a masonry trough or vat. Depending on the thickness of the paper required, the pulp is diluted by mixing it with water. The mould, made of a wooden frame with a wire mesh or a bamboo stick mat, is dipped by hand into the pulp. The frame is then shaken side to side horizontally (this gives the fiber a cross linking pattern and strength – a unique characteristic of handmade paper) and lifted out of the vat. A sheet of pulp is formed over the mould. This method requires a skilled operator and can be physically very demanding.
The wet paper sheet is then transferred onto a cloth/felt piece of fabric, a couch, which acts as an interleaf separating the wet sheets
A manual or hydraulic press then squeezes out the excess water from the sheets.This compresses the pulp adding strength to the fiber and facilitating the drying process.
Each sheet is dried in the open. For colored papers, drying in the shade, though slower, is preferable, in order to obtain uniform color on both sides of the sheet.
After cleaning and sizing, the sheets are then inspected for unwanted foreign matter. Small particles and dirt are removed manually with a sharp instrument. The cleaned sheets may then be coated with starch in order to make them blot-free.
Each sheet is placed between metallic plates and passed through spring loaded rollers in a calendering machine. This smoothes the paper and also enhances the gloss.
At this point the sheets are then cut to the desired sizes.
The unique feature of handmade paper products, is the decoration done using tiny, delicate looking pressed flowers and leaves which are grown in gardens maintained by the craft units themselves.
These include a range of products such as lampshades, greeting cards, stationery and accessories. The grades of paper vary from very thin to very thick drawing paper. The most successful items are the special papers: bagasse, bamboo, risk husk, gunny, straw, algae and tea leaves in paper pulp so that an abstract design is created on the paper when it finally emerges.
Another type used is marbled paper with which stationery items are made.
Marbling is a
Japanese art of abstract painting done on water. Every sheet of paper is an individual work of art and varies in shades and designs. All kinds of books , stationery , lampshades ,wedding cards ,Paper bags ,Files/ folders/ diaries , Trays ,Photo albums/ frames can be made out of hand made paper
The Indian handmade paper industry has been identified as a village industry and has seen significant growth from improved demand both nationally and internationally.
Before 1991, the industry was dependent on the captive market, i.e. supply to state and central government departments. Lately increased demand has stemmed from eco-conscious buyers who purchase environment friendly products, like handmade paper . The market for carrier bags has also grown steadily due to the ban on plastic bags. This changed situation has resulted in , product diversification, competitiveness, and better management.
There is an been increased exports of Indian handmade paper in recent years. The industry has been exporting certain exclusive varieties like deckle edge stationery drawing paper, marble paper, mottle paper made from jute, wool, algae, straw, grass etc. Foreign buyers like the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong are purchasing handmade paper from India due its relatively low price as compared to other nations.
Under the British, handmade paper received a serious setback as the British encouraged the import of mill-made paper from the Western countries. By the 1930s there were only a handful of people from this community practicing their traditional trade.Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi they were provided with much-needed support by buying handmade paper in bulk for his Ashram and other associates. After independence,the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) included handmade paper in the list of crafts to be promoted. Over the years the handmade paper industry has grown slowly but steadily and is today a major player in the world market, exporting a major portion of its production.
On this note ,It is time for me to say namaste once again ,and leave you with the hope that you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Be safe in what ever you do..