The Beauty of Joomchi, Korean Textured Paper

April 2, 2017 by Erin Behan

     
Where is the intersection of paper-making and sculpture? Joomchi, the Korean tradition of agitating paper to create an entirely new form that's reminiscent of both paper and fabric, has the ability to be molded into shapes.

In the ancient practice, water is added to two or more sheets of handmade paper — usually Korean mulberry paper called hanji — and the papers are agitated for hours in a manner similar to felting (rolling, squeezing, manipulating etc.) until the fibers bond together into a new piece.

The Beauty of Joomchi, Korean Textured Paper
One of the technique's most well-known practitioner is Jiyoung Chung, who has been quietly leading a joomchi revival in the fabric arts world, showing her pieces in solo and group exhibitions, teaching workshops, and writing a beautiful book on the topic, Joomchi and Beyond.

The Beauty of Joomchi, Korean Textured Paper
In a 2012 interview with The American Craft Council, Chung, who trained as a painter, says that the accessibility of joomchi appealed to her over other types of paper making, which can be bulky and expensive: "all you need is a table and water and eager hands, and you can make it anywhere, 24/7."

That simplistic description of the process belies the artistry and ethereal quality of her work, which might have holes through which light and air can flow, or might incorporate additional materials like yarn, string, or stones. The finished pieces look effortlessly natural, despite the physical labor behind them.

The Beauty of Joomchi, Korean Textured Paper
Another artist raising awareness of Korean papermaking techniques is Aimee Lee. She's taught courses at the Center for Book Arts in New York City, among others, and works with hanji and the techniques of joomchi to create pieces reminiscent of landscapes, craft dresses, and create three-dimensional forms like baskets and shoes. She's written a book on the topic, Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking, which is part how-to and part a look at the Korean paper-making technique's place in the world.


The Beauty of Joomchi, Korean Textured Paper
Contemporary artist Julie Sirek also works with the technique and uses joomchi to create sculptural shapes that resemble dresses and colorful works that look as much like a quilt as they do paper. On her website she says the process works for her because it "enables me to create two and three-dimensional sculptural pieces without the use of glue or armatures. This process allows me to produce cloth-like paper/textiles that range from delicate in nature to strong and leather-like textures."

To try it for yourself, order some sheets of hanji and follow fiber artist Theresa Ellerbrock's technique, or watch Chung describe the technique as her students demonstrate on this Vox YouTube video. In it, Chung touts the craft's flexibility and shoots down every excuse you've ever had for not being crafty. "I have been making paper in the toilet, airport, Amtrak, bus station, parking lot — any place that you are eager to make the paper you can."

SHOP AT Distinct Papers for paper and card stock.


Erin Behan

Written by Erin Behan

Erin Behan is an L.A.-based writer and editor who considers fine paper one of life's little pleasures.

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