Hemp paper from Italy: The stuff of dreams

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After discovering hemp’s potential for papermaking just three years ago, Italian artisan Sandro Tiberi has developed a diverse line of high-quality products ranging from a translucent vellum-style parchment to a pulpy, textured, material suitable for wallpaper and other decorating applications.

More importantly, Tiberi, who lives and works in the traditional Italian paper-making region around Fabriano, in central Italy, envisions a tantalizing future for hemp paper.

Preserving traditions

“It’s important to preserve our traditions,” said Tiberi, who learned papermaking during 15 years working in the factories of Fabriano, where production of paper dates to the 13th century. “But it’s most important to apply those traditions to the future.”

As Tiberi envisions the immediate future, hemp fiber soon will be more readily available from local sources in Italy, to be turned into pulp in Fabriano. While he struggled with the hassles and cost of importing small quantities of raw material from Spain, Tiberi recently found a friendly supplier in SouthHemp, a fiber processing firm in south Italy that was willing to sell him the small amounts needed for a growing artisan workshop.

“Hempathy” for paper

Having raw materials closer at hand is allowing him to expand his “Hempathy” line of papers, hand-made creations used by everyone from painters to graphic designers to marketers creating high-quality corporate communications materials.

“There’s greater and greater attention being paid to the bio and ecological sustainability aspects in products like the ones I produce,” Tiberi said, ticking off hemp’s eco-advantages: “Hemp has a low percentage of lignin compared to wood, so you don’t need the large amounts of acids required to melt wood into pulp,” he notes. “And the fiber and inner core of the hemp stalk are already white. So you also don’t need harmful chemical compounds used to increase whiteness in wood pulp.”

Perhaps most importantly, hemp produces the same amount of cellulose in one growing season as four hectares of forest will yield in decades, Tiberi notes.

Demand in specialty market

Sandro Tiberi, Italian paper artist
Sandro Tiberi fashions paper into exclusive print creations and art objects.

In the hand-made specialty market, Tiberi sees demand rising for limited production runs of papers with personalized watermarks and reliefs. “I don’t produce paper; I produce your paper, for your voice,” notes Tiberi. “There’s an alchemy to it.”

But he’s also working on bigger deals that would require him to ramp up production from what now is a three-person shop. Tiberi eventually sees a product line extending from hemp paper that can be run through modern ink jet and laser printers, to the highly-personalized, artistic creations he makes with his own hands.

An artist, and formally a “master” paper-maker, Tiberi also proselytizes about hemp paper, including it in workshops he conducts on the craft through an officially recognized school. “I tell them paper is where the material and the spiritual meet,” he says of his lectures. “We’re not just making paper, we’re making the substance of a dream.”

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