They employ centuries-old techniques when preparing saa (mulberry) paper by hand, yet their artistic approach is innovative as they design patterns that are unique and modern.
The Saa Paper Artisans of Thailand employ centuries-old techniques when preparing saa (mulberry) paper by hand, yet their artistic approach is innovative as they design patterns that are unique and modern.
Most importantly, they are sensitive to environmental concerns and take care to manage production in a way that minimizes negative impact on the environment. For example, they use the bark from mulberry tree branches ( Broussonetia Papyrifera Vent ), which grows again very rapidly. They do not cut trees down to make any of their paper. They have also developed recycled and non-wood based papers from abundant local organic materials.
Saa-paper has been handmade in Thailand for over 700 years, when it was first used as a filter in the making of lacquer wares. Nowadays its use is more versatile and widespread including for writing Buddhist scripts, making temple decorations during festival times, parasols, fans, and making kites.
The largest concentration of mulberry-trees is to be found in the northern Thai forests. Villagers coppice the saplings and strip off the bark from the branches before leaving them to dry. The smallest branches produce the best quality bark, therefore it takes a full day for one person to harvest just ten pounds of good quality, washed and dried bark.
Men boil the bark in big open cauldrons over a naked flame to soften the fiber. It is left to cool and soak overnight before the water is changed and the fiber is rinsed several times. Natural dyes are added if so required, and the fiber is beaten to a pulp. Depending on the thickness desired, the pulps is either spread in large vats (thin paper) or rolled into balls to then spread on bamboo frames with cotton screens. This part requires great skill and dexterity, so it is usually performed by the women in the family.
The frames are left out in the sun to dry, leaving the paper to from naturally. This means that in the rainy season (June to October), saa paper sourcing and production slows down considerably.
Saa paper is used in a variety of settings, domestic and industrial, including paper towels, wrapping and gift paper, wall paper, lampshades, bookmarks and greeting cards.