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What is Mulberry Paper?

Updated on March 9, 2017

Mulberry paper is used by crafters all over the world. It is a handmade paper made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. It is produced in every color imaginable, in a variety of weights, from ultra thin to cardstock. It is usually textured and can have 'inclusions', i.e. silk fibers or petals. Sometimes it is screen printed. Mulberry paper is purchased in rolls, or packs.

Selection of mulberry papers
Selection of mulberry papers | Source
Paper Mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera (under GNU Free Documentation License)
Paper Mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera (under GNU Free Documentation License) | Source

The Paper Mulberry Tree

The Paper Mulberry Tree (Broussonetia Papyrifera) grows in China, Korea, Thailand, Pakistan and SE Asia. It is also cultivated on some South Pacific islands and some parts of the US, Europe and South Amercia. Other names are Kalivon, Halibun, Dak, Kozo, and Tapacloth tree. It is an invasive species that has several downsides when introduced into a non-native environment (see The Paper Mulberry Problem).

The Paper Mulberry is a major food source of the silkworm. The tree grows fast, reaching about 49 feet tall; as it matures it loses its appeal to silkworms. Then the bark is harvested for paper making.

The Paper Mulberry Problem

The Paper Mulberry grows so fast and prolifically that it can disrupt local ecosystems. In some places it is considered a weed. It was introduced to the city of Islamabad, Pakistan, because of its picturesque appearance, but it quickly displaced native shrubs and trees.

It is a thirsty tree and depletes its immediate habitat of water, thus depriving any other nearby flora. Additionally, the pollen of the paper mulberry is highly allergenic and, 30 years after its introduction to Islamabad, there was a dramatic increase in allergies and respiratory illness among the population – the blame has landed squarely on the paper mulberry. The tree has also become a nuisance in some areas of the US. It is quick to take up residency in any recently disturbed soil, such as farmland or cleared woodland.

Japanese Paper - Washi

Washi paper is made from three plants – kozo, the paper mulberry, which provides the masculine quality, strength – mitsumata provides the female elements of delicacy and softness – gampi brings the nobility of longevity and sheen. Washi paper is used in many applications; its strength and durability means it was once sewn into a kind of armor. Today, we are familiar with washi tape – adhesive is applied to one side of strips of washi paper and rolled up with a waxed paper backing - and use it in journals and scrapbooks.

Uses for Mulberry Paper

Mulberry paper is used for card making, collages, handmade books and book covers, envelopes and even lampshades. The more delicate weights are used in origami and other traditional Asian crafts. Mulberry paper should always be torn, rather than cut with scissors. There is an art to tearing – you need to fold and wet the paper along the 'cutting line' and then gently tear. The lovely deckle edge produced during the making of the paper is a prized characteristic.

Dyed mulberry papers
Dyed mulberry papers | Source
Heavy, textured mulberry paper with flower inclusions
Heavy, textured mulberry paper with flower inclusions | Source
Lacy mulberry paper can be made into home-made decorative tape.
Lacy mulberry paper can be made into home-made decorative tape. | Source

How Mulberry Paper is Made

You can make your own mulberry paper but it is labor-intensive, and you need strong arms, wrists and hands. This is the traditional method:

  1. The paper mulberry branches are steamed for at least half an hour to make stripping the bark from the wood easier.

  2. The bark is removed and the outer layer scraped away, leaving a layer of fibrous material (cellulose).

  3. The fibers are soaked in water for 12 hours.

  4. The material is then boiled in water for four hours with soda ash alkali.

  5. The fiber is allowed to cool. At this stage it is checked – the fiber should be mushy and be easy to pull apart.

  6. The mush is rinsed many times.

  7. Handfuls of mush are squeezed by hand to remove water and pounded to further break down the fibers.

  8. The material is sorted into various grades of texture then placed into large, shallow trays and diluted with water.

  9. A traditional screen is carefully dipped into the mixture and lifted. A film of beaten fiber will be spread across the screen.

  10. The screens are left to dry outdoors. The resulting sheet of paper is removed from the screen. .

A variety of mulberry papers
A variety of mulberry papers | Source

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