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