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The Production Process of Papier Mache

The basic material from which papier machie objects were traditionally made comprised paper and cotton rags, which used to be mashed into pulp. But over the years wood in the form of kavir (pine) and budloo (fir) steadily replaced paper pulp as the medium for making papier mache articles. The main advantage of wood was the ability to manufacture articles with clean, clear and straight edges an option that was not available in paper pulp. In the course of the 20th Century cardboard (ghata) was introduced in the market for making of various articles and has since commanded a large section of the market, especially catering to the lower price segments. There have been some innovations in the traditional paper pulp making process also, like the application of mashed paper over brass vases.

The making of papier mache object follows three stages namely

1. Making of sakhta
2. Smoothening of sakhta
3. Applying naqashi work or as it is commonly referred to as papier mache.

Making of Sakhta

The maker of the object over which naqashi is to be applied is known as Sakht Saz or Chhet woul or Kalib. Formerly the object used to be made from paper pulp hence the name papier mache or (mashed paper). But in the latter half of 19th Century objects were also being made from wood (budloo). The basic reason for replacement of paper pulp with wood being;

• Lesser cost involved
• Better finish of the product (namely smoother, crisper lines and uniform edges).
• Ability to create objects in different shapes.

Later on the costlier budloo wood was replaced by kavur. These days’ objects are also made from ghata (paper board). The process for making the items traditionally from paper pulp is as following :

1. Preparation of Mashed Paper

Strips of paper (these days mostly paper obtained from govt. press) are soaked in water for three to four days. Earlier rags were also used along with paper. The paper is then removed from the drum where it was soaked and transferred to a stone mortar where it is pounded with a wooden pestle till the material obtains a uniform consistency.

The paper pulp so obtained is then left to dry in the sun. Formerly the pulp used to be spread out on earth or mud walls for drying. These days’ polythene sheets are spread out in the open on top of which the layer of mashed paper is left to dry. The dry pulp is then mixed with aitij (rice flour and sareesh). Sareesh or the locally made glue which is almost used in all the stages of papier mache is derived from animal or fish fat. The pulp is then transferred onto a sancha or mould, which may be of clay or wood. The mould is first covered with thin strips of paper pasted with the help of aitij onto the mould and then covered with paper pulp. The mould then goes through the process of smoothening known as daubi-kadun, wherein the pulp on the mould is pressed with a wooden block to obtain the required uniformity of surface.

After this the mould is left to dry in the sun for about 7 to 10 days. (Formerly the paper was not reduced to pulp but simply softened and then pasted layer upon layer on the mould. In this way seven or eight layers were placed on top of one another, repeatedly undergoing through a process of slow drying till the article attained the correct shape and thickness. The mould was wrapped in thin muslin and then coated with gatch and sareesh).The pulp is removed from the mould when still slightly wet by application of saw (litter) and file (kath wav). Some items like vases are sawed in the middle and then the top (neck) and bottom portion, which have been cast separately on a different mould, are glued together by means of dhyur (or glue). Thus an object like shield may consist of a single piece made on one single mould; while a flower vase consists of four pieces (khant) manufactured on three different moulds and then joined together. The object is then sent for smoothening, a process known as pishlawun. A master kalib using traditional methods earns an income of around Rs 5000/month. These days’ objects of varied shapes and designs are also being manufactured from wood or ghata also.

2. Smoothening or Pishlawun

From kalib, the object whether of paper, wood or ghata is handed over for smoothening. Women are mostly engaged in this process though men are also sometimes employed.

The two important ingredients required for this process are gacch and dhyur.
Gacch : The traditional gypsum plaster used in residences for plastering is known as gacch and is mostly obtained from Manasbal area. The gacch used in papier machie usually comprises fine stucco used in the plastering of walls obtained from old buildings.
Dhyur : It is obtained by mixing sareesh with water letting it boil on heat till a glue like substance of uniform consistency is obtained. The sareesh obtained from fish is of a purer, whiter quality while the one obtained from sheep fat is in the form of long strips and is consequently called as raz-i-duor.

The first step followed in the process of pishlawun is to apply a light coat of sareesh on the object. This is followed by a second coat, which consists of sareesh mixed with gacch and water. These days chalk powder is used in place of gacch. The object is then left to dry for an hour and then a second coat applied and left to dry again. Smoothening of the surface by rubbing the object with kirkut follows the third coat. Kirkut is either a small piece of over burnt brick or pumice stone (sangh-i-paya). The kirkut is gently rubbed along the surface of object. The fourth coat consists of rubbing the object with hand. This ends the process of smoothening and the object is the transferred to the naqash or hunarmand for painting the surface. A person employed in the process of smoothening earns around Rs 1000- 2000/ months.

3. Naqashi or Papier Mache

Selection of Design

The client (middle man/ karkhanawala or sometimes even the naqash) places the order for a certain number of objects to be made with the kalib or sakhtsaz. Once the object is made and its surface prepared; the important stage of design selection is reached. The client tells the naqash that the object is to be painted with a certain design. The naqash then prepares two to three dummies of the design, which are shown to the client. The client consults the naqash regarding the design, colour and the cost involved.
Once the deal is negotiated; the client deposits the objects with naqash and a certain sum of money; usually lump sum and time frame is decided upon. The payment is made depending upon the agreement reached, with a certain amount being paid in advance.
In some cases the naqash prepares an object on his own and then sells it to the client. The nature of design, colour scheme etc is decided upon by the naqash himself. Such objects, which tend to be rare are created over a period of time in spare moments by the naqash and are meant for high priced segments.



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