Friday, November 13, 2009

Making Papyrus Paper

Papyrus paper in ancient days was made in factories close to the source, the papyrus swamps of the Delta. A few factories were located in the Faiyum and elsewhere, but the Delta factories provided the main supply of paper to the world. These factories were simple, large, open areas close to the swamps. They had to have space for drying and polishing the sheets of paper, as well as facilities for shipping and storage.

After making the sheets the workers would glue them together in rolls that might be more than 100ft. in length, though the majority were smaller, standard scrolls of 20 pages. A great number of scrolls amounting to millions of sheets was exported during the Roman Empire. At this time business and government depended on the supply of papyrus paper, which was critical to the development of world enterprise.

Hand-made papyrus paper is today made in Cairo and Luxor using the same method as in the old days and using papyrus plants that are cultivated in Egypt.

The most important step in making papyrus paper is the slicing of the peeled stem. The thickness of the slices determines the quality of paper. If the slices are taken by an expert, they are thin and can be used directly or they can be dried for later use. Fresh or dried, all strips are resoaked before use.
The dry strips, which are simply air dried thin slices of the stem, are available on the Internet and are cheap and easy to order from many sources in Egypt. Paper can be made from them as easily as from fresh cut stems, which are often hard to find outside of Egypt.

The Process Used Today in Cairo

The papyrus stems are harvested, cut into lengths then peeled.

The exposed pith is then sliced into thin slices with a razor.

The strips can be used directly or laid out in the sun to dry.

Fresh strips or dried they are soaked and rolled out several times to make them supple.

Laid out on a board in two layers, one vertical and one horizontal, the strips form a mat or matrix.

This matrix is then placed between blotters and pressed for several days until dry.

Removed from the press the sheet is further dried then polished with a polishing stone.

The final paper over a light reveals the two layers.

The sheets are then glued together to form a scroll.
The scribe now writes and draws hieroglyphs on the scroll using a reed pen or brush.

© Copyright 2009 John J. Gaudet, All Rights Reserved (images of scroll and scribe from Wikipedia Creative Commons)

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