Le Moulin à Papier: Part II


Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Paper was invented in the 2nd century B.C. by the Chinese. In 400 A.D. the Japanese and the Koreans were utilizing blackberry bushes by taking the shoots, steaming them and peeling them, and left to soak in water until very soft and pliable. This is then boiled off in a mixture of ashes and water then laid out on smooth surfaces and beaten with sticks until a paste is obtained. This paste is diluted and then prepared to become a sheet of paper.

The monopoly to create paper was maintained by Asia for nine hundred years!

It was until 751 A.D. when Chinese prisoners in the battle of Tales gave up the secret to the world of Islam. As the knowledge to create a paper spread in the Arabic world it also spread to the Western world where the paste was created from flax and hemp utilizing rags or plants.

The vital component of paper paste is cellulose which is found in every plant.

Since the mid-nineteenth century, cellulose has been extracted from its plant/wood source by the use of chemical treatments. This method dissolves the plant’s flesh and what remains is the cellulose.

In nature, the cellulose is brown. By treating the past with chlorine, a white paper was achieved. A lesser quality paper is achieved by retaining some of the plant’s flesh and the texture is the type of newspaper.

Paper without chemicals is possible. A man named Tripot took out a patent to create paper from horse dung in 1841 after noting that animals such as deer, cattle, and antelopes did not digest cellulose. A factory in Paris turned out paper made from dung.  The mill here in Brousses has been making their handcrafted papers from elephant dung supplied by the African Reserve located in Sigean and the dung of horses.

Millstone beneath a paper gown

Up until the mid-1800s, paper paste had only been made from hemp, cotton, and flax rags. (ropes, cloth…).However, in the present at Brousses mill paper is made mostly of rags (cotton). Plates of cellulose are purchased from a provider in the Ariège region. This is necessary as currently, fabrics no longer contain either flax or hemp. The factory receives tons of flax and hemp plants every week which they extract the cellulose with chemicals, whiten and make paper or compact paste. This cellulose can be used just like a rag.

The color of the paper will depend on the color of the rag product. Blue paper is frequently made from blue jeans (cotton) and black from black cloth. Brousses mill never uses coloring agents.

Rags into the paper: Rags: old clothing or other materials are stripped of buttons, zippers and even the seams are cut. Then the rags are cut into strips and sorted by color and wear.

Then the rags are soaked in tanks

After a 2 – 6-week soak (fermentation) and impurities have been “burned” removed, the rags are set to become a paste. Then they are cut into very small pieces and lain on large plates.

Mallet Pile: Invented in Italy toward the end of the 13th century and the beginning of mechanization. A bucket wheel drives an axis which drives the mallets in three tanks. Eight to ten kilos of rags are thrown into the first tank. Over a period of 20 hours, the rags are smashed repeatedly by hammers which are covered with sharp nails. The rags are then transferred to a second tank where hammers with flat-headed nails refine the fibers that SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAremain. In the third tank, leather-covered hammers refine the paste even further. While this machine accomplishes its task quite well, it is very noisy and time-consuming.

Dutch pile: Invented in 1670 in Holland the Dutch pile or Crushing cylinder. They were initially driven by bucket wheels then later switched to the turbine. Tanks were filled with 50 kilos of unfermented rags and 1,000 liters of water. The wooden cylinder attached with metal strips kneads the rags rubbing them against other strips of metal or “platen” which are at the bottom of the tank. Due to a clamping screw, the cylinder can be lowered onto the platen. The result is that the paper-maker is capable of crushing the fibers while refining the paste numerous times utilizing the same machine. This machine is still working in numerous paper mills today.

Millstone grinder: This is driven by electrical power. The granite millstones weigh 3.3 tons each. The heaviest lays on the bottom of the tank weigh 4 tons each. It takes the millstone grinder one and a half hours to crush 300 kilos of moistened fibers, which was to recycle old papers.

Dutch pile and millstone grinder: Paste circulates inside the Dutch pile and covers the cylinder. The paste is ready. The plug is removed and allows the paste to flow down into a lower tank then onto the paper machine where water is added to the paste. The Dutch pile has been filled with the previously smashed paste inside the millstone grinder.

Dutch pile produces a very thick past that must be diluted in a tank. The resulting product will be 1 – 3 percent paste concentrate and 97 – 99 percent paste solution. A sieve is used to separate the fibers. A sieve is used to separate the fibers from the water. Each sieve is crafted by professionals and is imported from England. The tightened brass wires keep them parallel to each other with thick embossed seams.  The sieve consists of a thin plain metal canvas to create a vellum paper. The paper-maker attaches a wire to the canvas. The wire’s pattern gives the pieces of information on the paper’s size and who created it ( eagle, bell…). The removable frame cover fits the sieve and gives the paper shape and thickness. There are frames to form special papers, envelopes, and other shapes.  The marks are called watermarks.

With the paste diluted, the fibers are mixed with a stick then the sieve is quickly plunged into the tank. As the water begins to drain off the sheet of paper is formed. The sheet is laid on a piece of woolen felt. One hundred sheets are called a ‘porse’. The more the past is diluted the thinner the page will be. Increase the paste for thickness.

When the sheets are piled without the felt it creates cardboard.

Drying: The sheets are lifted with a wooden stick and hung on ropes. The thicker the sheet the longer the drying time. The other factor is the weather. It can vary from a few hours in the summer to several days in the winter.





Paper garments
Paper garments



14 thoughts on “Le Moulin à Papier: Part II

  1. A hundred or so years ago, my partner and I visited an old-style paper mill in France–water-powered if I remember correctly, although I may have made that up. In spite of how hazy some of the details have gotten, the place itself, and a few bits and pieces of the process, have stayed with me vividly. Thanks for bringing the memory back to me.

    1. Perhaps it was in this area? Perhaps you are ready to venture back and renew some memories? It is gorgeous there and there is so much nearby as well. It isn’t far from Carcassonne…

  2. It is also close to a number of other fascinating places to visit and you won’t find a better spot for a picnic. Thank you, Jennie!

  3. Such a fascinating history of paper, and I had no clue that Asia had a monopoly on paper production, 900 years. My favorite from the above is the fact that paper could be produced from dung ~ although I think I would preferred to have written on the paper produced by rags, very creative and I think the texture would be pretty cool. Great post, and wish you a great weekend ahead, Léa. Take care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s