In the past, making paper was labour intensive, and traditionally those in charge were men. Women were only allowed to assist at certain stages of the process.
Over the years the process has developed, and while certain elements have disappeared or are handled externally, other elements have been added. Surprisingly, much of the process still remains the same to this day.
Although this might make the old men who used to make paper here turn in their graves, for the last five years two women have been in charge of the whole process from grinding to finished product. These days the production is on a smaller scale, and all stages of the process take place in the same building.
Today we meet with Lisbeth, Mia, and Annette, who all work with making paper at Lessebo Handpaper Mill.
Lisbeth, I believe you have worked here for the longest period of time. What do you think is the best part of your job?
All of it, really. Perhaps what I enjoy the most is being part of the journey all the way from the first meeting with the customer to the finished product. I like working with my hands and seeing the results immediately. If you don’t get it right from the beginning it can’t be fixed, so you have to concentrate all the time. If something goes wrong during production, we have to resolve the issue together. The work is very varied, there’s no time to get bored.
At first I worked only in post-production, where I was checking the quality, producing envelopes, and packing. Guiding tours was already from the beginning part of my job. Eventually I ended up also working in the shop, which meant I met customers looking for something special.
At that time, we were probably six or seven ladies working in the shop and with post-production, while three or four men downstairs were grinding the pulp, producing paper, drying it, and calendering it to give it a smoother surface. I didn’t dare going down to the stock preparation area until the late 90’s or early 00’s, when the old boys who had worked here for over 50 years had retired.
So it has changed quite a lot over the years. Is there anything else that is different today?
Yes, today the whole production process is taken care of in-house, and that wasn’t the case at first. Post-production had been relocated here from various departments of the big papermill already earlier, but the paper was still sent back and forth for calendering. These days calendering happens on the ground floor. Some specific types of paper were still in the early 80’s made glossier by dipping them in animal fat, but today that is not done at all. As everywhere else we have had peaks and troughs. Sometimes there have been big investments and lots of publicity, and at other times cutbacks and redundancies. In the end, we were only two people left at the handpaper mill. I have experienced two, no three, bankruptcies, and the last two within a very short timespan. Ultimately, the connection with the main papermill was cut, and the hand paper mill found new owners in 2013. Since then, it has been an independent business with its own owners. With our current owners, we are again very busy here. You could say it has been turned into a cultural hub, with focus on paper and craftsmanship.
Mia, what convinced you to start working here?
I found out that they were recruiting here as a colleague was retiring. It emerged that they had started collaborating with illustrators, and I have experience from printing. The hand paper mill has always been close to my heart, as my father for a period was the manager here.
Annette, you have just started working here. As an apprentice learning this craft, you will even today have the title ‘layboy’.This is a title and a challenge that you with great enthusiasm have accepted. What is your task here?
It all began when I visited last autumn, and had an opportunity to have a go at working together with the papermakers producing paper. I felt at home straight away, I enjoy working with my hands. I also like being part of the process to create this beautiful paper, and solving problems that arise when working in this traditional handcrafting manner.