Have you ever wondered how the paper we print on is made?
Quentin and Caspar recently went on a trip to St Cuthberts Mill to learn more about where the Somerset paper we use is made.
St Cuthberts Mill is on the edge of Wells in Somerset (where the paper gets its name from) has been manufacturing the iconic paper on the same site since the 1700’s. Their master papermakers carefully make beautiful mould made papers, using one of the few remaining cylinder mould machines in the world.
Making the paper
The first step in making the paper is mixing the tree pulp and cotton linters with water. The water comes from the river Axe that flows past the factory and is especially clean having been naturally filtered through the limestone in the Mendip Hills. Once used in the factory the water goes back into the river and is still so clean Trout can be found swimming in that part of the river, and the area around the mill supports a wide range of local wildlife.
The pulp is then thoroughly mixed and tints are added to ensure the paper colour is always standard. The colour of the tree pulp can be subtly different each time but the skilled paper makers at the mill use very subtle tints to make sure the finished paper is always the same shade of white every time it is produced.
Next the pulp goes onto the cylinder mould and the water drains away leaving the pulp to be dried and finished. The Cylinder Mould Machines still in daily use in St Cuthbert’s mill is over 100 years old and was originally built in 1907. The cylinder size sets the maximum width of paper that can be created, or it can be split in two with tape to produced two thinner rolls of paper. It at this point that a watermark can also be added to the paper
To create the surface finish the paper is pressed on real woollen felts. Different felts are used to crate different types of paper. All the felts have a random texture, which produces each unique sheet surface. For a smooth paper it has rolled thought a series of steam pressing rollers. The surface of the paper can be treated and sized to increase its strength.
The paper is then meticulously hand checked for quality strength and compared against previous batches for colour constancy. Deckled edge papers are then hand torn. All the paper is counted by hand before being carefully hand packed and sent out to artist and printers all over the world.
It was amazing to see what goes into creating the paper we print on and the skill and craftsmanship that still exists in its production.