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Noted: Papermaking in the Caves of Shiqiao

May 12, 2011

by Chappell Ellison handmade and vintage goods

After hearing about the small Chinese village of Shiqiao, famous for its traditional papermaking, blogger Fiona Reilly traveled to the quiet town to see it firsthand. What she didn’t expect was the surreal experience of witnessing the process of this traditional handcraft within the confines of a cave.

After reaching and exploring Shiqiao, Fiona describes the approach to the cave with visceral detail:

“After twenty minutes on treacherous single lane winding roads the car stopped at the mouth of a huge limestone cave, some distance off the main road. There was a dirt track of sorts leading down to it, full of deep potholes and thick brown mud that stuck to our shoes as we walked, and I still wasn’t quite sure what we were coming to see, perhaps a bat colony inside the cave, or a small waterfall. It was only once we got closer that I could make out the striped red white and blue awning covering some kind of workshop.”


Photo by Fionna Reilly

What she found was a small papermaking workshop, run by a handful of hard working villagers. With so many basins filled with water and tubs of paper pulp packed into the space, Fiona wondered the obvious question: why a cave? One papermaker responded that they were all from the nearby village and simply wanted to set up their own business. The cave was a good water source and provided protection from the weather.

Though the winters are presumably harsh working in a cold, damp and dark cave, the workers set their own hours and find it a better option than plowing the fields. Fiona added,”It still seemed like very difficult conditions…but like many who rely on the land for a living, any regular money-making work that supplements the uncertain income from farming is welcome, even if it involves eight wet hours of work in a cave.”

Read the rest of the story and see more pictures on Fiona’s blog, Life on Nanchan Lu.

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  • JasmineLund

    JasmineLund said 5 years ago

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

  • redhardwick

    redhardwick said 5 years ago

    Great article, thank you for sharing.

  • lulusnest

    lulusnest said 5 years ago

    Such a fascinating article! Thanks for sharing it with us! Gotta love how great Etsy is with all of these stories.

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye said 5 years ago

    Wonderful post. Thank you!

  • overthemeadow

    overthemeadow said 5 years ago

    Incredible article. Very interesting.

  • SewardsCuriosities

    SewardsCuriosities said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring story. The description from Fiona is delightful.

  • montanagirl

    montanagirl said 5 years ago

    I'm inspired by their resourcefulness.

  • MegansMenagerie

    MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    That is amazing! What a great post! Thanks for sharing :)

  • AmberGypsySky

    AmberGypsySky said 5 years ago

    now that's a cool studio...

  • bedouin

    bedouin said 5 years ago

    fantastic photo's and continuing story on your blog ~ love to have learned something new this morning ~ thanks for sharing your journey

  • TerisParadiseStudio

    TerisParadiseStudio said 5 years ago

    Fascinating Story! Thanks for Sharing!

  • pinksnakejewelry

    pinksnakejewelry said 5 years ago

    Wow!! Thank you so much for sharing!! I love learning this/these kinds of things- the people, places etc. where artisans live and work.

  • woolies

    woolies said 5 years ago

    Fabulous - trying to imagine it there. :)

  • volcanogirlcreations

    volcanogirlcreations said 5 years ago

    I really enjoyed this article, I am following Fiona's blog, always loved China. We have a few papermakers/artists of Chinese descent here in Hawaii. Aloha!

  • LabyrinthLeather

    LabyrinthLeather said 5 years ago

    So interesting - I wish I could learn more about this.

  • rebourne

    rebourne said 5 years ago

    I would love to feel that paper, or better yet, print a woodcut onto it!

  • thevelvetheart

    thevelvetheart said 5 years ago


  • sabiesabi

    sabiesabi said 5 years ago

    really interesting...thank you!

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 5 years ago

    Fantastic piece on handmade paper. When I studied in Japan, the women made all the paper. Watching it was mesmerizing !

  • mariposavintage

    mariposavintage said 5 years ago

    this is so cool I have been considering printing out in an old shed in our back garden but I was worried it was too cold but after seeing this my place looks so modern! wish I had a cave!

  • BetaBoutique

    BetaBoutique said 5 years ago

    oh, thank you for sharing this. analog is the best

  • lindaketelhut

    lindaketelhut said 5 years ago

    Breathtaking photo of the cave. I can't imagine what it must have been like coming upon it after such a journey!! Amazing story. Thanks for sharing.

  • SweetOliveSupplies

    SweetOliveSupplies said 5 years ago

    Fascinating to know the story behind the supplies we use! Unfortunately, I suspect that most stories are not as charming as this one.

  • VitalVintage

    VitalVintage said 5 years ago

    So neat- thanks for sharing!

  • glassypainterdesigns

    glassypainterdesigns said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing!

  • SignaturebyNatonia

    SignaturebyNatonia said 5 years ago


  • OverstockDeals

    OverstockDeals said 5 years ago

    groovy :)

  • JulieMeyer

    JulieMeyer said 5 years ago

    I fondly remember the one paper making class I took in college. Thanks for sharing!

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 said 5 years ago

    Absolutely fascinating! So now I'm wondering where this paper is sold. Will reread the blog to see if I missed that info. Is it just paper for everyday use or that paper we spend $9 a sheet for here, I wonder.

  • stepbackink

    stepbackink said 5 years ago

    great informative article Sam

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace said 5 years ago

    this is so inspiring, no matter conditions of life, use what you have to prosper!

  • paramountvintage

    paramountvintage said 5 years ago

    wow, how amazing! but ive made paper and boy does it smell. haha, that is the first thing i think of when i look at these beautiful pictures. oh the price of making something so very incredible and useful.

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery said 5 years ago

    wow amazing, I guess anywhere can be a studio if you want it to!

  • Tidepools

    Tidepools said 5 years ago


  • minouette

    minouette said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing... that's very interesting. Making paper by hand is a lot of hard work, and in my experience, humidity doesn't help. What an incredible choice. Hand-made paper is worth the price and invaluable to us printmakers.

  • WriteTheGoodWrite

    WriteTheGoodWrite said 5 years ago

    I'd love to see their finished paper product! Someone should convince them to sell in Etsy!!!

  • dreamversion

    dreamversion said 5 years ago

    Amazing what mankind can think and do!!! How creative can it be, even in the middle of nowhere!!! What can I say, what we can all say? WOW!!!

  • Verdurebydesign

    Verdurebydesign said 5 years ago

    Those conditions would take a toll on the body...and here I was complaining about getting out of bed as it is a little chilly this morning. Thanks for putting life in prospective for me. There is a great paper centre in Burnie, Tasmania, Australia. Fantastic hands on area. Interesting paper too made from apple pulp, roo and wombat poo. Kids love it :)

  • AdornmentsNYC

    AdornmentsNYC said 5 years ago

    Great post - thanks for sharing this!

  • ButtonBog

    ButtonBog said 5 years ago

    As a big fan of paper, this primitive factory is fascinating! And a romp through Fiona's blog is a treasure trove of interesting photos and writing!

  • sensitivefern

    sensitivefern said 5 years ago

    Take me with you.. wonderful pics on your blog.

  • TheZestyDesk

    TheZestyDesk said 5 years ago

    I experimented with paper making when I was in college...It's a blast! What a cool experience that must have been to see this first hand.

  • JulieLillian

    JulieLillian said 5 years ago

    amazing and inspiring. thank you so much for sharing!

  • ninajones

    ninajones said 5 years ago

    Fascinating. I could not stop reading until I got to the end. It really makes me appreciate my life here...

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 5 years ago

    that's quite fantastic. love.

  • UrbanTickle

    UrbanTickle said 5 years ago

    how lucky to have seen this in person...great article

  • simplyworn

    simplyworn said 5 years ago

    wow...enjoyed this piece very sureal...when we think we're working hard, add the elements under these working conditions...beautiful and challenging. thanks!

  • AudreyGardenLady

    AudreyGardenLady said 5 years ago

    What a great share! Your photography is outstanding too! I absolutely love finding cultural traditions and customs like this. One of my favroite trips was to the Pueblo of Taos, NM. I spent the whole day talking to and watching Native Americans create wonderful things from their loacl micaious clay, leather, silver ,beads, eating a meal with them, etc. For me, it was the trip of a life time!!!

  • tugboatprintshop

    tugboatprintshop said 5 years ago

    really neat!

  • borneoart

    borneoart said 5 years ago

    would be great to travel to china and see how they do their work

  • NewEnglandCurio

    NewEnglandCurio said 5 years ago

    To us their work enviroment looks very tranquil, though it must be very uncomfortable to have to use a cold damp cave to create their handcrafted paper. A very insightful blog and wonderful pictures too!

  • BingoBits

    BingoBits said 5 years ago

    That kooks amazing !

  • CraftyStitches

    CraftyStitches said 5 years ago

    Love this article! Traditional crafts that have lasted this long Wow impressive. Thank you so much for bringing the far far away up close. Truly a handcrafted work or art.

  • LizzyLizano

    LizzyLizano said 5 years ago


  • SimpleJoysPaperie

    SimpleJoysPaperie said 5 years ago

    This is such an interesting story! Thank you for bringing it to us! :)

  • blessedvintage

    blessedvintage said 5 years ago

    Awesome story, it remind me of the who loans groups like this money to start small business like this.

  • vKnit

    vKnit said 5 years ago


  • sunkae

    sunkae said 5 years ago


  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Very interesting! It's amazing what people can do!

  • notApplicable

    notApplicable said 5 years ago

    ReaLLy beAUtiFull ~

  • sinoera

    sinoera said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing

  • evermind

    evermind said 5 years ago

    I would make paper in a cave.

  • TheLightStore

    TheLightStore said 5 years ago


  • treasurebooth

    treasurebooth said 5 years ago

    Wow that's amazing, how surreal to come upon a business set up in a cave!

  • AccentsandPetals

    AccentsandPetals said 5 years ago

    Love this. thanks for sharing.

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    We must remember that there are worlds not just outside our own but far removed from what we know. When I need supplies, I hop in the car or train, run to the stores in the city and purchase whatever I need. I use electricity for steam, lights, heat , internet, etc. This workshop is completely unplugged yet I get to see them! Amazing.

  • prenda

    prenda said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • Nothos

    Nothos said 5 years ago

    very interesting article. wouldn't mind working there for awhile...

  • Fashionsbyizzie

    Fashionsbyizzie said 5 years ago

    I feel so proud of being a Chinese

  • Krissykrull

    Krissykrull said 5 years ago

    I spent 6 weeks in China, and took 3 papermaking classes in College. If I could combine the two awesome experiences into one, this would be it. If I had to have an "eat pray love" moment in my life, this would be it. This article is truly awe inspiring. I'm so glad I quit my job to follow my heart--jewelry design. If all the gemstone beads in the world disappeared tomorrow, I'd be back making crazy paper, maybe with these guys in the cave. Coolest thing I've seen in a long time, thank you for bringing it into awareness. xoxo camba

  • AnDieFreude

    AnDieFreude said 5 years ago

    Awesome! Very interesting article. Lovely photos.

  • ananwang

    ananwang said 5 years ago

    The success of Etsy is it takes us back-to-original: vintage or handmade. Just like the story you shared with us. Thank you!

  • TheIndianPaperForest

    TheIndianPaperForest said 5 years ago

    Wow, fascinating read - I promptly read your full blog post and shared the tweet. Thanks for sharing your journey and its treasures, Fiona! Suzanne

  • galstudio

    galstudio said 5 years ago

    Enjoy this... love the outdoor studio!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 5 years ago

    absolutely beautiful

  • kararane

    kararane said 5 years ago

    outdoor ☼❀ workshops are the best!

  • rozzie

    rozzie said 5 years ago

    Wow very cool - Makes me want to visit ... I'm going to keep dreaming. - Rozzie

  • munaluna

    munaluna said 5 years ago

    I've taken papermaking and it's truly a beautiful artform - the paper along can be framed!! For anyone interested in papermaking, I highly recommend taking a class :)

  • SimplyInvitingCards

    SimplyInvitingCards said 5 years ago

    I would love to see the end result of all this paper that they're making!

  • AllThingsPretty

    AllThingsPretty said 5 years ago

    So interesting, thanks for sharing this wonderful experience :-)

  • areyoutakingmeout

    areyoutakingmeout said 5 years ago

    Wow this is amazing! The experience is going to be memorable one =)

  • katrinaalana

    katrinaalana said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • osnatharnoy

    osnatharnoy said 5 years ago

    wow, amazing studio.

  • newrain

    newrain said 5 years ago

    Fascinating!Thanks for sharing!

  • lalalandArt

    lalalandArt said 5 years ago

    Wow! this article is really interesting and it transports you to another dimension! Thank you for sharing it!

  • cheonghyangDESIGNs

    cheonghyangDESIGNs said 5 years ago

    Great and interesting article..Thanks~~^^

  • frejj

    frejj said 5 years ago

    Truly amazing. There is a surprise waiting for you around every corner in China.

  • luluslittleshop

    luluslittleshop said 5 years ago

    I'm so glad they are carrying on the tradition!

  • NiChaPoN

    NiChaPoN said 5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing

  • Trinidadian

    Trinidadian said 5 years ago

    Entrancing. So far from hustle and bustle that it feels like home.

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies said 5 years ago

    Wow. Amazing.

  • musebymichelle

    musebymichelle said 5 years ago

    Coolest article! I have a love of beautiful papers and this is amazing.

  • WeeBindery

    WeeBindery said 5 years ago

    What a truly interesting story! I am off to read the rest of the story on Fiona's blog! Thank you!

  • GreenPost

    GreenPost said 5 years ago

    As a papermaker myself, this story is inspiring and reminds me of the great tradition in which I am working. Making paper is hard work, but worthwhile work and a good way to earn a living. Working in a cave, however, is the most unique idea for a papermaking studio that I've seen yet! Although, water is an essential to the process and it always makes sense to be as close to the source as possible. Thank you for sharing this fascinating article about a craft that is so close to my heart!

  • ikabags

    ikabags said 5 years ago

    This is wonderful ! Many thanks for sharing traditional handmade work !

  • TheScarfTree

    TheScarfTree said 5 years ago

    A beautiful story! Thank you for sharing - makes you want to go there and see for yourself!

  • SoliDeoGloriaSDG

    SoliDeoGloriaSDG said 5 years ago

    How absolutely fascinating! Love it!

  • DonnaWalker

    DonnaWalker said 5 years ago

    Wonderful article! When I was studying printmaking and papermaking I was lucky enough to be able to visit a similar village in Japan- Kurotani-- years ago to see artisan making paper first hand. It is hard work and the results are extraordinarily beautiful !

  • designlab443

    designlab443 said 5 years ago

    off to read more... you got me hooked to find out more!

  • strawberryluna

    strawberryluna said 5 years ago

    Wow, how cool and industrious. As a printmaker, I find the process of hand making paper to be so wonderful, it's the step before I come into the picture and it's such an ancient craft. Neato!

  • michelepaule

    michelepaule said 5 years ago

    This was an amazing article, but what I want to know is how, as an artist, I can support their co-operative and get some of that paper! I would like more info. Anyone?

  • girltuesdayjewelry

    girltuesdayjewelry said 5 years ago


  • Iammie

    Iammie said 5 years ago

    Interesting story.

  • AmelieTalks

    AmelieTalks said 5 years ago

    Really impressive... thanks for your sharing.

  • Mumbot

    Mumbot said 5 years ago

    Wow, awesome post - thank you for sharing!

  • lapetiteposy

    lapetiteposy said 5 years ago

    very interesting! thanks for posting!

  • ElenaMary

    ElenaMary said 5 years ago

    As a paper maker I found this they use pigment in their paper and where do they sell it? I worked in a paper factory for 2 weeks in Japan years of the highlights of my life!

  • HouseOfMoss

    HouseOfMoss said 5 years ago

    This is amazing! I'm also intrigued about how the paper-makers keep the paper dry in a cold, damp cave...

  • jnorvelle

    jnorvelle said 5 years ago

    Wow! Truely awesome! Thanks for sharing such a cool "studio" ! : )

  • jennasaurusfun

    jennasaurusfun said 5 years ago

    This is incredible. What a wonderful adventure. I'm glad Fiona took such amazing pictures. I almost feel like I've been there, too. Thank you for sharing! <3jenna(saurus)

  • LittleStudioJewels

    LittleStudioJewels said 5 years ago

    Just stunning! I can't imagine what that would have been like to be there first hand. What an experience! I hope she bought lots of paper from them, I'd love to see what they produce :)

  • Stargazer02

    Stargazer02 said 5 years ago


  • LavenderField

    LavenderField said 5 years ago

    Wow! Simply amazing! This was really interesting to read.

  • AffairesNomades

    AffairesNomades said 5 years ago

    Captivating. I feel escape to get to the cave. Thank you for sharing!

  • TheNightjar

    TheNightjar said 5 years ago

    a very fascinating story, a cave of all places! very cool thank you for sharing, I just wonder what the paper looks like and, eerrrrr, (above me)please go away

  • classicsunglasses

    classicsunglasses said 5 years ago

    good motivational story!

  • ParisandPetals

    ParisandPetals said 5 years ago

    Now that is what I call an interesting studio! Very interesting! Thanks!

  • BambuEarth

    BambuEarth said 5 years ago

    So awesome!

  • jungledread

    jungledread said 5 years ago

    I'd love to have my work space in a cave!!!

  • therocketshop

    therocketshop said 5 years ago

    This was very interesting and I hope to someday go to see this first-hand.

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns said 5 years ago

    This article is so amazing and so beautiful how we can create any where in the world even in a beautiful cave such as this.

  • chaps676 Admin

    chaps676 said 5 years ago

    For those who are asking how they can buy paper from these artisans, I'm afraid it's not so easy. According to Fiona's blog, they only sell their paper in the village of Shiqiao. Sounds like it's time for an Etsy field trip to China!

  • janeeroberti

    janeeroberti said 5 years ago

    This is one of the essential things I love about Etsy, finding and spreading work that educates us about the way things are really, really, MADE. This post, and Fiona's blog, Life on Nanchan Lu, expresses the polar opposite the TV show "How It's Made" (itself a product of the Church of Technology, deifying mass production machinery). I grew up trailing my Dad through printing plants, and respected the serious machinery that was doing on a large scale what was once done by hand.Too too many people in our western-techno-digito-plastico society are so far removed from any actual craftspeople, they have no idea of how difficult it is to really make so many vital things, like paper!

  • Oakmother

    Oakmother said 5 years ago

    As a papermaker I am intrigued by the process in other parts of the world. I'm always looking through the photos carefully for ideas for DIY studio equipment! Thank you for sharing your blog!

  • pollarddesigns

    pollarddesigns said 5 years ago

    I love this story - It makes me want to do paper making again. I used to love it and I've been thinking lately to start again. Thank you:)

  • lulouandada

    lulouandada said 5 years ago

    This is right up my alley! Maybe they'll give me a job.

  • babybayrs

    babybayrs said 5 years ago

    OMG! The working condition is so poor! Now I feel really good about being a "stepmother" (no offence, stepmothers please) of my daughter on which piece of paper she can use to scribble, cut, glue, staple..etc at home. She can't be wasteful.

  • girliepains

    girliepains said 5 years ago


  • kanekl

    kanekl said 5 years ago

    Great article, very cool.

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