Mulberry papermaking in Chiang Mai

While in Chiang Mai, make Mulberry paper!

While in Chiang Mai, make Mulberry paper!

In northern Thailand where Mulberry trees grow wild and in abundance, making Mulberry paper, (“Saa” in Thai language, “Kozo” in Japanese) is a well-established industry. On a recent visit, I took a papermaking workshop with HQ Paper (www.hqpapermaker.com, Facebook). It’s a unique, local, creative and hands-on activity – my kind of fun!

Students and teacher at work.

Students and teacher at work.

The workshop takes place at a home-factory some 40 minutes from city centre in a village that you would not be able to find on your own.

A Mulbery tree, known locally as “Saa” or “Kozo” in Japanese.

A Mulbery tree, known locally as “Saa” or “Kozo” in Japanese.

Mulberry fibres are strong and is particularly suited for papermaking. Mulberry paper is also commonly misnamed as rice paper – it has nothing to do with rice!

The inner bark of the tree – after it is cooked. Gauze-like, its strong fibres are suited for papermaking.

The inner bark of the tree – after it is cooked. Gauze-like, its strong fibres are suited for papermaking.

I only knew papermaking theoretically, but this workshop is eye-opening and fun. Here’s what we learned: The inner bark (pith) of the tree is harvested when the tree reaches a certain size. It is dried, cooked, bleached, and beaten into pulp, then kneaded into a ball. One ball equals one sheet of paper. A bigger ball makes a thicker paper. To make paper, the pulp ball is dissolved inside a teakwood frame called “deckle”, which is placed in a pool of water. After evening out the pulp, you lift the frame out of the water. With the pulp clinging to the screen, the frame is left to drip, then placed in the sun to dry.

The gauze-like strips are machine-beaten into pulp, and kneaded into balls.

The gauze-like strips are machine-beaten into pulp, and kneaded into balls.

With guidance from instructor Miss Tum and supervisor/interpreter Miss Paphavee, we made a smooth paper, a rough paper and two with flowers in them, all in about three hours. The flowers and leaves are gathered from the garden, which has a certain rambling wildness. The flowers were blooming profusely under a sunny blue sky on that hot (30C/86F) “winter’s” day in January.

Lots of flowers from the garden for papermaking.

Lots of flowers from the garden for papermaking.

One ball of pulp to make one sheet of paper.

One ball of pulp to make one sheet of paper.

A dissolving pulp ball, like clouds in the water.

A dissolving pulp ball, like clouds in the water.

I chose the blue-coloured butterfly pea flower, morning glory, Ixora and some cute round leaves from a ground cover-type plant. And some weed, stem and all.

The blue butterfly pea flower, which I will use. This flower is commonly used as food dye in Southeast Asia.

The blue butterfly pea flower is commonly used as food dye in Southeast Asia.

Flower to food: The blue colour of this glutinous rice cake (Penang, Malaysia) comes from the Blue Butterfly Pea flower.

Flower to food: The blue colour of this glutinous rice cake (Penang, Malaysia) comes from the blue butterfly pea flower.

Exercise some creativity when making your paper.

Exercise some creativity when making your paper.

My work, dripping dry. I had “Rhapsody in blue” in mind, but it became “Cry me a river”. I love the bleeding effect!

Let it drip… I had “Rhapsody in blue” in mind, but it became “Cry me a river”. I love the bleeding effect!

After the workshop, we visited HQ Paper’s gallery in town where we met the boss Mr Kenji. I also picked up some delicate lace paper and marbled paper there.

Graduation!

Graduation!

We got our “artworks” back the next day when the papers were fully dried, packed into a tube with a handle for us to carry home.

These “Saa” papers we made certainly make the best souvenir from Chiang Mai!

Framed! A reminder of that fun afternoon making Mulberry paper with HQ Paper in Chiangmai, Thailand.

Framed! A reminder of that fun afternoon making Mulberry paper with HQ Paper in Chiangmai, Thailand.

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This post also appears in a slightly different form in my Southeast Asian art/craft blog DesignSpotlight.

在泰国清迈制造手工桑皮纸.

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5 thoughts on “Mulberry papermaking in Chiang Mai

  1. Hi !
    My name is Xinyu and I’m really interested in this paper making activity.
    Could you please tell how did you find this class and how did you participate in ?
    Or how can I join it ?
    Thanks

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