Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fabriano, Paper Capital of the World

On the road to Fabriano
On Saturday we said 'Arrividerchi" to Agritourismo San Fellissimo and traveled towards the town of Fabriano. Along the way we left the wide open and flatter valley around Perugia and began climbing up into the thickly wooded mountains.

On the road to Fabriano

I was especially interested in going to Fabriano because it is the papermaking capitol of the world.

Paper has been made here since around 1300 AD. Handmade paper is still made here as well as machine made. The commercial paper is sent all over the world. In an old cloister is the papermaking museum:
Museo della Carta e Della Filigrana.
The convent where the paper museum is housed.

The paper makers of Fabriano invented many things after they learned the basics of papermaking from the Chinese. In past centuries only cotton and linen rags were used to make paper as those fibers lasted the longest.

Even so, in many countries right up to the 20th century official government documents such as deeds and contracts could only be written on vellum parchment made from animal skin. This was because the vellum would last much longer
than any paper.

At the papermaking museum we learned that it takes apprentices 7 years to learn their craft, especially the actual making of the sheet of paper. We also saw many types of water marks, which were invented by the papermakers of Fabriano. I was not allowed to take photographs inside any of the rooms of the museum, only outside in the courtyard. The museum does offer workshops of varying lengths about making paper and that might be a fun trip.

The museum shows how the rags are torn into small peices, then put into wooden tubs with water. There are large beaters made of wood that go up and down, three to each tub, with nails on their bottoms to shred the rags into pulp. The beaters would have originally been powered by a water wheel. This was a very noisy process. Since the museum is in a convent building without access to a river they use an electric motor for the demonstration.

Here I am standing next to some antique machinery for making paper.
The pulp is then transferred to a large vat where the paper sheets are actually made. The mold is a wood frame with a fine screen on it; the watermark is actually fine wire bent and sewn to the screen to make a decoration in the paper sheet. But the watermark is only seen in the finished paper sheet when it is held up to the light. Filling the mold with the pulp is the most important part of the whole operation and is what takes so long for the apprentice to learn to do well. It takes time to learn exactly how to dip the screen into the pulp and get just the right amount of pulp on the screen, then how to wiggle and shake the screen just exactly right so that the pulp settles evenly across the screen. Otherwise the sheet of paper might be too thick or thin or have an uneven thickness.

After draining the sheet for a minute the paper is turned out onto a piece of thick wool felt. The docent said these felts are very expensive, now costing about 200 euros each for what looks to be a piece about 20x30 inches (give or take a few). She also explained that in the medieval period, when the felts were totally worn out for paper making they were given to the wives of the workers who used the good parts for making jackets, bags and other things. The felts and paper sheets are stacked up and then they are put into a heavy wooden press and the screw turned until most of the water is squeezed from the stack. Then each sheet of paper is hung up to dry.

At this point the paper is still very absorbent and it is not possible to write or draw on it. Another innovation of the paper makers of Fabriano was 'sizing' the paper. Scraps of animal skins, hooves and such were melted in a huge copper pot until the gelatin they contained was boiled out. (pretty much the same gelatin you see on cold roast beef or that you use to make jello). Then the sheets of paper were dipped into this sizing and hung to dry again. After that they were rubbed all over with a wooden tool to help smooth out the surface. Then they are ready for writing or drawing on.

Of course today, there are machines that do many of these tasks. Even some handmade paper is finished by machines doing the pressing, sizing and drying. The museum had a lovely gift shop where they sell the paper that they make there. The gentleman there also directed us down the street to a book shop that sold commercially made Fabriano paper where we bought sketch books and souvenirs.

There was a park next to the museum and that was the way we walked to the shop. Beautiful chestnut trees and grass, along with a little tea house that was very unusual looking. It looks a bit like a Chinese pagoda, not the sort of thing you usually see in Italy. But we didn't have time to have a look and find out about it.

light through the chestnut leaves

We found a little coffee shop nearby and had lunch. Then back into the car to continue to The Retreat.

Balcony, Fabriano

Elise at the paper museum
wall pot- Fabriano

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