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Paper - 'support of thoughts'

In Tudor Roses from John Tate, Allan Stevenson justifies his own forensic study of the paper made by one man as follows: "As the history of paper is the history of an important human activity, it deserves notice both for its own sake and for its implications for economics and culture." He comments that many academics studying books have taken the paper they are written on rather for granted but tells us that the "...French frequently honor it as the suppôt des pensées". Paper - the 'support of thoughts'. What a perfect definition. As a paper artist perhaps I am biased. But then, I began my work making paper clothes after having seen a paper kaftan made for a sultan in Turkey, covered in religious script and worn to remind him of his spiritual duty. It was the 'what if...?' question that this conjured in my mind that provoked my work and thereby The House of Embroidered Paper. That is, what if everything that is normally internal, our thoughts, history, feelings, memories, imaginings, were written and drawn on the surface of our clothes for others to see and read when they meet us?

Surely such clothes could be fabricated from no other material but paper. Not only does it present the most suitable surface for the 'support' of the stuff of the mind, when it is recorded in the form of text and imagery, but it even allows for the artistic representation of the fact that the impressions we generate mentally are ephemeral, normally invisible and often transitory but sometimes so strongly formed as to inspire others. When I get asked about working with paper as a material for construction, the most usual implication behind the question is concern, regarding its' fragility. I give the same answer that I used to to give when asked about working with glass. In fact it's much stronger than is generally assumed as long as you work with it's nature, rather than trying to force your will upon it. Paper is perfect for demonstrating the quality of the fragility of the stuff of the mind, but it is also capable of great strength. The ideas recorded upon it might seem opaque but paper is also potentially beautifully translucent, as are our thoughts. And because this latter quality requires certain conditions of light, notions that are usually invisible can be recorded on paper in ways that allow them to remain so, until there's a change in illumination.

Nb. concerning the strength and survivability of paper:

in 1145 the King of Sicily ordered that "...deeds written on paper must be

transcribed onto parchment because it was feared that paper would not last.

The oldest document on paper in the Italian peninsular appears

to be one of 1109 in the archives of Palermo in Sicily."


As part of my latest complete collection The Regency Wardrobe I made three all white 'Walking Dresses.' There were layers of the decoration of these pieces that only became visible when the overhead lights were lowered and lights under the skirts came on. In this case the extra decoration was formed by cutting and stitching hidden design elements layered beneath the top surface. But what if hidden imagery could be imbued within a single sheet? Well of course it can. Paper is also capable of holding, containing and hiding or revealing imagery and text as part of it's construction. I hadn't made the link until I read Stevenson's piece but his study of the paper made by John Tate (1448 - 1507) focuses on how one can be sure that one is indeed looking at Tate's own paper and this is done by considering a watermark created in each sheet.

There I am (much of the time) worrying that the paper stocks I have stored will, despite my best efforts, pick up moisture from the atmosphere and, though I have done enough paper making to know it's formed in water, I hadn't given much thought to the process of mark making that takes advantage of this fact. Marks that can be made in it when it is wet, that then become hidden as it dries. You can see the process here

That video shows a ready made sheet, made wet, written on, then dried. That is not how Tate's watermarks would have been formed of course. They would have been made using moulds. The technique shown in this video comes a bit closer

I am now beginning work on a new collection, titled Weaving Silk Stories and so am on the look out for techniques I haven't tried before. This collection will see me making garments inspired by the history of silk in the UK, it's manufacture and trade. The other material I work with is thread of course so this project will integrate silk thread. I will be focusing on that in other blog posts. In this one the focus is on new links to be made between the venues involved, the general research I am carrying out and my use of paper.

So back to the watermarks of John Tate. Stevenson tells us of the likely origins of his paper making moulds:

"We see that the moulds were Italianate, perhaps made for Tate by a workman from Genoa..."

Nb. In Italy, a society for manufacturing paper had been formed near

Genoa in 1255 but in Valencia, Spain, the first paper mill may have

been started as early as 1056. Parchment filled in in between the

introduction of paper and the loss of papyrus, the other material commonly

used as a substance for writing in the ancient world, which had

disappeared by the Tenth century (the reason for which is unknown).

The traditionally assumed date for the introduction of papermaking to

the West is 751 but Legend has it that in 105, T’sai Lun

first presented a sheet of paper to the Chinese Emperor

as a substitute writing surface instead of the silk or other cloth

which had been used up to that time...

He then goes on to talk more about the process of manufacture in relation to Tate's watermark:

"In the unwatermarked half of the sheet the spacing of the chains is uniform, with the spaces averaging around 35 mm. But in the watermarked end the spacing varies, so as to provide the watermark with a supporting chain through its center and a place between attendant chains..." - p20 Tudor Roses from John Tate, please click link above

At first I didn't understand the meaning of the word chain in this context so I had to do a search for a definition which you can read here:

"Before the mechanization of papermaking, paper was made by hand, using a wire sieve mounted in a rectangular mould to produce a single sheet at a time. A papermaker would dip the mould into a vat containing diluted pulp of hemp or linen fibers, then lift it out, tilt it to spread the pulp evenly over the sieve and, as the water drained out between the wires, shake the mould to lock the fibers together. In the process, the pattern of the wires in the sieve was imparted to the sheet of paper.

Up until the invention of wove paper around 1756, these screens were made up of thicker, more widely spaced wires around which were woven finer and more tightly packed wires. The traditional laid pattern thus consists of a series of wide-spaced lines (chain lines) parallel to the shorter sides of the sheet and more narrowly spaced lines (laid lines) at right angles to the chain lines. A further distinction exists between what are called "antique laid" and "modern laid" papers. From the 12th century on, the chain wires of a paper mould were attached directly to wooden ribs in the frame itself. When the frame was pulled from the vat, these ribs produced a slight suction which pulled the water out of the newly formed sheet, and a slightly thicker layer of pulp was left across the top of the ribs. In a dried sheet, darker strips can be seen running along these chain lines when the sheet is held to the light. Improvements in mould making in the early 1800s lifted the chain wires slightly, resulting in a more evenly toned sheet."

What I should definitely have explained by now is that John Tate is credited as the first English papermaker. Hence Stevenson's particular interest in him and his work, and by extension my interest also. Stevenson was tracing his watermark (effectively his signature) so as to identify his particular sheets of paper, found in some of the most ancient books held by the great institutions in England. I am interested in it also for anything it might tell us of his personality that more ephemeral element. It seems to me that whilst he would have been selling it as blank sheets for use by book makers, his paper supported something of his thoughts in the form of his choices regarding his personal mark making. That is, it held (half hidden, half revealed) his makers mark.

In Papermaking in Britain 1488–1988 A Short History Richard L. Hills tells us: "Nothing is known about John Tate’s reasons for launching out into the paper industry. It may be significant that he also was a member of the Mercers’ Company. His father was John Tate, another Mercer, who was Mayor of London in 1473 and died in 1478 or early 1479. It is difficult to identify positively either of these John Tates and the position is further confused because they had a relative, Sir John Tate, who was Mayor in 1496 and died in 1514. He had a son John as well. Our John Tate also had worked for the Merchant Adventurers on the Continent and so was well placed to be involved in trade and commerce....Generally we find that a country had been importing paper for a considerable period before starting to make paper. England was no exception for, while our white paper industry was not firmly established until the end of the seventeenth century, the oldest surviving piece of paper found in the Public Record Office dates from about 1220. Yet it is not until after 1500 in Tudor times that paper is to be found with any frequency among the records there." Precisely when John Tate began to build his own papermill is also unknown, a date of 1476 is suggested. And whilst the moulds used may have been made abroad it is reasonable " assume that paper bearing his watermark was actually made at Tate’s mill near Hertford and that therefore this mill was in operation by at least 1494."

What then was Tate's watermark? Stevenson includes a photo and tells us:

"Most accounts of the beginnings of papermaking in England tell us that the first mill was established near Hertford by John Tate the younger and that his paper-mark was a Flower or Star or Wheel...there has been much uncertainty as to what the device represents, for it is a conventional or mathematical figure consisting of eight thin loops within a two-line circle about an inch and a quarter (32 mm) across. No botanist would accept it as a composite, for though it has rays like an aster it has no center flowers. No astronomer would recognize it as a star, for it has eight beams roughly pointed at both ends. And no wheelwright would fashion a wheel with spokes not reaching the rim. Nevertheless, as there are eight of these floating spokes, as in a comic-strip cartwheel or waterwheel, I call it sometimes the Wheel of Tate."

- p15 Tudor Roses from John Tate

Stevenson notes subtle differences in the exact shape of the Wheel of Tate on different pages. From this he concludes:

"...the watermark is twins...two similar but distinguishable marks from the pair of moulds handled by vatman and coucher.". - p15-16 Tudor Roses from John Tate

He finds this mark in copies of: Bartholomaeus: De proprietatibus rerum, tr. Caxton [1495]; Jacobus de Voragine: The Golden Legend, tr. Trevisa (8 Jan. 1498); Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (1498); Lydgate: The Assembly of the Gods [1498] all of which were printed by Wynkyn de Worde.

"The Bartholomaeus has the famous verses at its end in which Wynkyn tells us that the paper was supplied by Tate:

And John Tate the yonger Joye mote he broke Whiche late hathe in Englond doo make this paper thynne That now in our englyssh this boke is prynted Inne"

- p17 Tudor Roses from John Tate

"Wynkyn de Worde: (died c. 1534) was a printer and publisher in London known

for his work with William Caxton, and is recognised as the first to popularise

the products of the printing press in England". To read more please click here

"William Caxton (c. 1422 – c. 1491) was an English merchant, diplomat and writer.

He is thought to be the first person to introduce a printing press into England,

in 1476, and as a printer to be the first English retailer of printed books."

To read more please click here

Stevenson explains: "...a careful study of the Wheel marks has shown that Tate had but one pair of them, whose prolonged life extended from 1494 to 1499, whereas moulds producing paper in great demand commonly lasted but a year or two." Unfortunately Stevenson doesn't suggest any reasons for the nature of this design beyond his comment above which concludes the wheel of Tate to be not quite a wheel, a flower or a star. So I had thought it was only in my imagination that I could fill in that gap. Then I read: "...there is no reason to suppose that the design was personal to him. A motif of eight points or petals within a double circle, bearing a considerable resemblance to this watermark, was sometimes carved in Tudor wooden panelling; an example can be seen in the Tudor guest house at Topsham, Devon, which dates from the fifteenth century. The design may have been quite common at that time." -

Ok, I admit I was disappointed. I wanted a more personal reason. But by this time I was already in discussion with Historic Royal Palaces about showing Weaving Silk Stories, the collection, at Hampton Court so you can imagine how serendipitous I found it that Stevenson goes on to describe as many as three possible other watermarks which he could attribute to Tate. One of these looks more floral still than the Wheel of Tate. It looks in fact like a rose. A Tudor rose.

"Two further Tate books have been discovered...among Wynkyn de Worde's books after the turn of the century...Thordynary of crysten men (1506) and The Justyces of paes (1510)...suddenly I realized that Thordynary contains other paper manufactured by John Tate...Among the ambiguities three principal facts stood out...the Roses so intermingled with the Wheels are surely Tudor Roses . . . and the two papers have the same Italian chain pattern and the same substance.."

The pages with his wheel on and the pages with this rose on are interspersed throughout Thordynary of crysten men, a book of religious instruction. It seems Wynkyn might have had to use stock from two production runs by Tate:

"A Tudor Rose is of course a double rose compounded of the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York. Though the Rose watermark has no contrasting colors, it shows prettily and convincingly five cordiform petals with sepals between and in the midst thereof a similar group of five small petals overlapping the larger ones. It is a free treatment of the heraldic rose, not a Gallic or garden rose with multiple petals. Here it arrives auspiciously as a symbol of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, within their reign, which lasted till 1509, and within the lifetime of John Tate, who died in 1507, the year after Thordynary was published...

Stevenson tells us that there is room for argument that such Roses may have come instead out of Italy or France as the chain pattern could suggest Genoese make or influence His sources knew of few double roses in Italian paper. He tells us that " enterprising Norman maker appears to have anticipated the Tudor Rose by a year or so...a Rose with stem and leaves...comes from Cuy (Orne) near Argentan dated 1484. Three quarters of a century later a Rose of Tudor form appears upon a small Shield...As Briquet found this mark among the Archives of Calvados in tabellionage from Troarn, east of Caen in the direction of Lisieux, the paper probably came from the Pays d'Auge, which had supplied Unicorn paper to England." Caxton's first procurements of paper into England are known to have come from the Low Countries in France with watermarks of a bull’s head and a unicorn.

He says that rose paper (isn't that a lovely notion) was made in the "Bocage near Sourdeval also...Nevertheless it was proper for an English mill to make her own roses. Around 1600 England again had a white paper mill, in which John Spilman, Elizabeth I's jeweller and papermaker, made suitable paper for printed books and manuscripts.

Stevenson finds a rose watermark on paper upon which is written a Proclamation that denounces the Earls of Essex, Rutland, and Southampton as traitors. "The Tudor Rose is unmistakable in the Huntington copy, where I first came upon it, as also in two British Museum copies. For Essex this symbol of Tudor authority must have seemed the unkindest of his career, and its thorn cut to the heart."

"It is probable that the same Italian mould maker who had made the Wheel moulds and marks made the Rose moulds and marks as well." Again he finds two slightly variant versions of the mark and therefore believes there was more than one mould made. "All this may seem insufficiently convincing that the Rose paper is Tate's. But final and sufficient evidence resides in the character and the texture of the paper, the stuff from which it was made. For the Rose paper and the Wheel paper obviously came out of the same vatstuff. In [one] volume they have the same yellow-whiteness, with the same liability to slight foxing, the same tendency to close felted thickness, some sheets of both being overly thick, and, most telling of all, the same flecks and occasional clots of foreign matter, perhaps knots from wollen underwear. For the paper is indeed 'naughty', as Moxon would have said. Tate's once-beautiful paper has slipped a long way in quality....The distribution suggests that de Worde used the Wheel and Rose papers as if they were one... or else that the paper came from the mill with some reams made up of both sorts. In any case short runs of Rose paper occur, into which the Wheel paper intrudes; and sometimes the Wheel in one copy is opposite a Rose in other copies."


As you might imagine all of this made me very interested to learn more about the origins of the Tudor rose design which I believe many people would associate most especially with Henry VIII (of Hampton Court) and indeed with Elizabeth I. But it should be noted that it was on his marriage to Elizabeth of York that Henry VII (son of Edward Tudor and Margaret Beaufort from the House of Lancaster) adopted the Tudor rose badge conjoining the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster. And the Tudor rose still symbolized the English monarchy when it became the heraldic emblem of the reign of William (reigned 1689-1702) and Mary (reigned 1689-94). It is primarily from the dates of their reign onwards that I will be concentrating the research for Weaving Silk Stories and in the William III apartments at Hampton Court that the collection will stand.


So what was the reason that Tate produced paper with this symbol as its watermark? Well, the fact that his paper mill "...was in or near Hertford is confirmed by a poem of William Vallans, printed in 1590 and called A Tale of two Swannes, which describes the River Lee and its tributaries. In the notes appended to the poem, there is the following, "In the times of Henry VIII [correctly VII] there was a paper mill at Hertford and belonged to John Tate, whose father was Mayor of London..."

We know "...from the Household book of Henry VII, he was at Hertford Castle on 23 May 1498 and on the 25th he saw the papermill. The entry reads:

For a rewarde geven at the Paper Mylne, 16s 8d

The interesting thing is that a similar entry occurs in the following year:

Geven a rewarde to Tate of the Mylne, 6s 8d

What is the meaning of the additional reward? Apparently the King did not revisit the mill. I suggest that after the visit of May 1498 Tate's Italian workman fashioned new moulds emblazoned with the royal symbol and that at Westminster (say) John Tate presented to Henry VII a supply of writing paper marked with Tudor Roses.";;toc.depth=1;;brand=default

"So it has been suggested that, after the first visit of the King in 1498, Tate’s Italian workman fashioned new wire profiles emblazoned with the royal Tudor Rose and that some of the paper made with this watermark was presented later to the King himself." -

The royal links are fascinating in the ways in which they tie in with my research and the reason that Tate's mill was located where it was is also interesting to me. For it is at one end of " ...the River Lee (or Lea)...because he needed transport of the raw materials, the rags, and the finished article, the paper, as well as power to work the papermaking machinery. The River Lee and its tributaries supplied both." Because of work carried out under Acts passed in 1424 and 1425, that began just below the Town Mills in the centre of Hertford, Tate had "...good transport within easy reach of an important town and harbour, the City of London."

My partner grew up close to the Lee in Hackney, so I already knew that this river runs into the East End, but in fact at it's other end it joins the Thames at Limehouse, close to Spitalfields, the area where Huguenot migrants settled and established the silk production in the City of London, largely during the period of the reign of William and Mary. The Lee therefore offers a nice (silken) blue thread joining the area of the first paper made in England and early London silk centre some three hundred years later, whilst Tudor rose history covers a similar distance in time.

But then there are two other variations on a third water mark also. These show a hand:

"There are two contrasting sorts of Hand paper in the book. The main one, the one associated with the Rose and Wheel papers, has a Hand & star mark with close fingers and is situated on a regular chain in the Genoese manner. It is the sort of Hand that the Norman paper-makers began to imitate twenty years later, producing what the printer Thomas Berthelet called 'jene' in his bill to Henry VIII...The other, coming late in the volume, is a Hand mark without star but with separated fingers, of a sort preferred by other makers at Genoa and in Piedmont. And now we note that this open-fingered paper uses supporting chains in the manner of the Rose and Wheel papers... It looks as if Wynkyn de Worde regarded the Rose-Wheel and Hand & star papers as a sufficiently homogeneous stock of paper and the Hand separated as a satisfactory one to follow with...I began to think that the Hand papers might also be Tate's. For again these papers have occasional thick sheets and similar flaws or knots in the stuff...Where it [had] been generally supposed that Tate had but one mark or pair of marks, we now see that he had at least two. The Tudor Roses are surely his, the Hand & star marks probably his, the Hand separated marks possibly his."


I've not found an illustration of the hand watermarks only a crest for the Tate family (from the same line I can't be sure) that includes a hand and interestingly a heraldic rose,

In the end the mill Tate owned ceased production. "It may have been difficulty in obtaining rags as was suggested soon afterwards, ‘Foreigners bought up our broken linnen cloth and ragges’ and sold them to us in the form of paper"


But I feel that as part of the collection Weaving Silk Stories a dress which recalls this man and his work, made of paper which can be seen to 'support thoughts of roses' is definitely called for.

Do have a look at:

Support thoughts of Roses - the dress

As I wrote the post above as part of my research for my next collection Weaving Silk Stories I started to see a dress in my mind, inspired by the Mercers worshipful company, who were heavily involved in the buying and selling of silk as well as paper and roses.

But how not to become twee? Around this time I attended a dye garden event at Ditchling Museum in Sussex I learnt about a technique called Hapa Zome that involved crushing roses between sheets of cloth (or in my case paper). You can see how it's done here:

So I had to have a go:

The results were interesting though I wasn't fully convinced but the print reminded me of an embroidered rose I'd seen on the train of a dress in the Dressing The Georgians exhibition at The Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace in 2023

Researching trim from the 1700's I came across this item and loved the combination of flower and fold:

© MFA Boston Muff, French, Louis XVI, 1774–93

Many other dresses from the period incorporated roses or small flowers:

please double click on each picture to be linked directly to the website © collection

An outline sketch is done (in my mind) please check back to see this piece develop.

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