Read all about Soteriou’s adventures in her book Gift of Conquerors, Hand Papermaking in India.
First stop for Alexandra Soteriou, an American artist and papermaker with an anthropology background, was to the rural village of Wardha, India where Gandhi once lived in a simple thatched roof hut with a wooden plank bed. Here he implored people to become self sufficient by adopting handcraft skills including papermaking.
Alexandra’s Fulbright grant (1984-85) to chronicle hand papermaking in India, was the seed for World Paper, Inc. and her lengthy in depth work with artisans around world.
She traveled through countless forgotten villages in India, Pakistan, Ladakh, in a journey to unearth history and preserve traditional craft methods. It was her interviews with elder papermakers who lamented the decline of the occupation that their families had repeated for generations that moved and inspired her to begin an effort to help create opportunity and revitalize a fading craft.
Alexandra consulted for UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) USAID and Aid to Artisans working with papermakers in India, Nepal, Thailand and Uzbekistan. Her efforts over many years created a turn-around in India and produced decades of craft creations. A handcraft that had been almost a dead occupation, now surged to a renaissance of activity with thousands of artisans making sheets and paper products.
Today the relevance of paper has undergone another shift as the digital age booms. Perhaps the beauty of a hand crafted items and pleasure of writing in a journal with distinctive paper pages is even more of a treasure and delight.
Scraps of cloth left from the manufacture of clothing, particularly tee-shirts and underwear are cut-up and put into a large donut-shaped elliptical tank with water and beaten apart into fibers by a beater roll. Next the loose fibers are put into a vat with more water and the sheet-maker will dip a wire or reed screen into the vat, bring it up with a quick shake so the water drains away leaving a thin sheet of fibers that is then offset onto a felt blotting cloth. The felts are stacked and pressed to remove the water and the sheets are then hung to line dry. Phew! Yes it’s a lot of work!