Paper’s Past

Historic Rittenhousetown is the site of the first paper mill in British North America, and is located in Germantown at the edge of Wissahickon creek. William Rittenhouse acquired his paper making skills in Holland, before moving to the United States and beginning his own business in 1690. By the late 18th century, Rittenhouse owned three separate mills in and around Philadelphia. The Rittenhouse family continued their paper monopoly until the Industrial Revolution, when the Fourdrinier machine made handmade paper obsolete. After the mill closed, the land was purchased from the city of Philadelphia and the Fairmount Park Commission, and was restored to become a National Historic Landmark in 1984. Today, visitors can take tours of the old mill, learn to make paper through workshops, or just take a walk along the creek and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

I have learned quite a bit about paper while working in the paper lab at the PMA, and I have read my share of books on how paper is made, but a hands-on workshop really is the way to go; not only is it fun to be creative and work with my hands, but it is educational as well! On Saturday, I took a Japanese Papermaking course with Chris Dellandre at Historic Rittenhousetown. There were about 10 people in the class, all artistic and crafty in their own way, and all with some great questions about the process. Chris described how she went about buying the fibers–kozo, gampi, and albaca–and how she cooked them in soda ash before beating them to a pulp (literally). It may have been helpful to go through that process myself, but it was kind of her to do all of that work so we could devote more time to papermaking!

I made about 25 sheets of 8″ x 12″ paper, some stenciled, some with twine or leaves interwoven, and some just plain and simple. They turned out really well after being dried flat against my mirrors at home, and I would definitely do it again. Now, to decide how to use all this paper!

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