Begining to make linen paper with scraps of linen cloth. This is where it starts. Soaking, boiling, blending. Linen and bookmaking:
Tiny strands of Linum usitatissimum, the flax plant, have held human culture together for millennia. The plant’s stem is lined with cellulose filaments which bind together quickly into a rope-like mass. Neolithic man discovered these bast fibres at least 30,000 years ago. Easily grown, flax is one of the first documented cultivated plants. It’s fibre allowed humans to not only create string and rope, but to develop weaving and begin to wear cloth in addition to furs and skins. Egyptian tomb paintings often picture farmers growing flax and weavers making linen cloth. An ancient name for Egypt is “land of flax.” “Linon” is Greek for flax.
The species name usitatissimum alludes to flax’s other uses. Flax seed is nutritious and we still add it to many foods to improve their nutritional value. The seed has a high fat content and was pressed to produce a rich oil for cooking and lighting.
Flax is the bookmaker and printer’s plant. For centuries when paper making arrived in the west, it was linen rags (cloth originally woven from flax) which provided the raw fibre for paper making. Thick printers’ ink is made from linseed oil pressed from flax seed mixed with pigments such as lampblack. The oil is a drying oil, it does not stay greasy, but hardens with exposure to air into a durable surface which is the basis of not only printers’ ink but almost every form of paint. Finally, these linen pages printed with linseed oil inks are gathered into sections and sewn together with linen thread into our bound books.