Orig­i­nal­ly paper was made in Britain from linen and cot­ton rags: old clothes were the main source. The rags had to be sort­ed and shred­ded and were then washed before trans­fer to a water-filled tub, and beat­en into a pulp. The pulp was then dilut­ed with water to the cor­rect con­sis­ten­cy. the sheets of paper were cre­at­ed from the pulp by a ‘vat­man’ who dipped a square mould with a wire-meshed bot­tom into the pulp. On remov­ing it, he would shake it care­ful­ly to spread the fibres even­ly and drain off sur­plus water, and pass it to a ‘couch­er’ who turns out the wet sheet onto a felt blan­ket, cre­at­ing a stack of felt­ed sheets. The stack would then be put into a to a press to force out the sur­plus water, before the sheets were sep­a­rat­ed out and hung to dry in a loft. When dry, the paper would be treat­ed (or ‘sized’ depend­ing on the use to which it would be put, before being pressed, cut and pack­aged for the customer.

In the 1790s the Four­drinier broth­ers invent­ed the mech­a­nised process for paper-mak­ing. The flu­id pulp flows onto a con­tin­u­ous­ly mov­ing wire mesh. The water is grad­u­al­ly removed, and the fibres even­ly spread, before the paper is dried, wound onto a reel (known as a web) and cut into sheets. Demand for linen and cot­ton rags out­stripped sup­ply so oth­er mate­ri­als such as wood pulp and espar­to grass, were tried. From the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry print­ing machines that could be fed direct­ly from the reel of paper were developed.

The British bulk mea­sures for paper in sheets were: a quire (24 sheets); a ream (516 sheets); a bun­dle (2 reams); a bale (5 reams). The mea­sure­ments for each size can be found here.

Infor­ma­tion on the his­to­ry of paper­mak­ing in the Edin­burgh can be found on the fol­low­ing websites

Paper­mak­ing at Calder­cruix in Lanark­shire is described on the Cul­ture NL web­site: Rags to rich­es.

Oth­er use­ful links about papermaking: