Although the Egyptians were using Papyrus around 3000 BC, the first paper was developed in China during the Han Dynasty. Around 100 AD. The Chinese made the first paper using mulberry bark fibers that were suspended in water and removed with a bamboo screen.
The mulberry fibers dried on the screen forming a thick, natural paper. The first paper ever made was mulberry paper. Artisans have been making mulberry paper in Thailand for centuries. Mulberry trees grow wild in many parts of Thailand, the largest concentration of Sa-trees (Broussonetia Papyrifera Vent) being found deep in the forests of North Thailand where villagers and hill-tribe people collect the bark. Paper has been made by hand in the North of Thailand and Burma by Karen Villagers for over 700 years. It takes a full day for one person to harvest just five kilos of good quality washed and dried bark. Traditionally the paper has been used for Buddhist scripts, temple decorations at festival times, umbrellas, fans and kite making. In former times it was used as a filter in the manufacture of lacquerware.
Mulberry bark and small branches are harvested from the trees by hand without endangering the trees. The bark and smaller branches quickly grow back and can be harvested again. The process for producing mulberry paper is largely unchanged except for some modern dyes.
The bark of the mulberry tree can be harvested annually. This harvesting is a natural process and the plants and bark are regrown for the next season-making this process Eco-friendly and totally sustainable.
The Sa bark is boiled in large vats filled with water and ash until the fibres in the bark separate and become a thin pulp.
This can take a few days, so the making of Sa paper is only for the infinitely patient artist.
The artist then dips a special wooden frame with a fine screen on one side into the pulp mixture. He gently swirls the pulp around in the frame, allowing the water to drain off, leaving a thin layer of matted fibres on the screen. This process is repeated until the layer of paper has reached the desired thickness.
The frame is then set in the sun to dry out, and finally, the completed sheet of paper is peeled out of the frame.
The process is varied in a number of ways to create many special effects. Dyes are added to the pulp to make beautiful, vibrant colored sheets. Sometimes petals and leaves of local flowers are pressed into the paper.