Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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“We’ve Made It for 400 Years”

Van 3

Van (right), silk designer and paper aficionado, with Mrs. Dieu (left)

In the far northeast of Hanoi's suburbs, a papermaking industry lives on.

Mrs. Dieu and her husband have made fine Vietnamese papers for decades (his family has made them for 400 years). Now the tradition is being carried on by their nieces and nephews. Their town of Bac Ninh was once full of hand papermakers; now there are only a few remaining, and fewer still make innovative or unusual papers.

In the four years since I last visited, the Dieus stopped making paper due to his diabetes (now a common problem in Vietnam), but sold me some of what they had made back in 2011.

Some is made of cotton, soft and thick, with a unique canvas-like texture from the mosquito nets they press into freshly-made paper. But my favorite is made with the pure Do tree fiber. Only in Vietnam is this tree used for papermaking. While thicker Do papers are of middling quality compared to Thai, Chinese and Japanese papers, this special thin paper was commissioned by libraries or art restorers. It is incredibly strong for its weight, and feels ephemeral as spiderwebs.

I've bought hundreds of papers for my handmade paper book and paper collections (coming out later this year). They're made from different trees and hands and purposes, but they are all made by people who are passionate about the traditions they carry on.

The Dieus make pretty amazing paper. They're amazing people, too.

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