Heritage Crafts

Paper making (studio)

The hand-forming of paper, often using a mould and deckle to gather and form the sheet.
Currently viable
Craft category
Origin in the UK
15th Century


The first paper was made around the 2nd century in China from plant fibres which were beaten in a pestle and mortar. Papermaking spread to the Islamic world in the eighth century AD, and the earliest use of water-powered pulp mills date from this time. The technique gradually travelled towards Europe providing a substitute to animal skins for writing (Nb. papyrus is not paper and was a local material produced in a very different way). Literacy was poor and mainly restricted to religious organisations and the legal profession. Imported paper from Europe, and later the early production of paper in England coincided with Gutenberg’s invention of moveable printing type.


Making paper by hand takes place on two scales:

  • ‘Studio’ paper making by individuals – there are several hundred people who make paper in this way
  • ‘Commercial’ mills making paper on a batch production basis

Making paper by hand is not that different from making paper by machine. In this context, both commercial and studio paper making is done by hand; the processes of commercial and studio making are largely the same, but the scale of making is different.

Paper is primarily made from cotton and linen flax, but other materials such as bamboo, eucalyptus, esparto, kozo and sisal can also be used, and hemp, seeds, petals and recycled rag added to provide texture and character. The fibres are first beaten in water and for coloured paper, lightfast and permanent pigments are added. The sheets are formed individually using hand moulds and deckles, and then each sheet is laid onto cloth felts and pressed. The paper can then be surface sized and left to air dry.


  • Paper mould and deckle making – last UK practitioner recently retired. Only trainee is French.

Issues affecting the viability

  • The number of studio papermakers means the basic skills of paper making are in use and are fairly safe, but many lack the deeper understanding that comes from practise and repeat-making on a larger scale. Furthermore, the treatment of the fibres is all-important in papermaking, but this is a skill that a lot of studio makers do not have because they haven’t been trained in it.

Support organisations


Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Other information



  • Houston, Keith, (2016) The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time
  • Kurlansky, Mark, (2016) Paper: Paging Through History
  • Turner, Silvie, (1998) The Book of Fine Paper
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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