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A deckle edge is the raw end of handmade or machine-made paper. It typically appears as a rough, frayed edge. Many artists and crafters like to keep this look as an artistic embellishment, but the deckle edge is typically cut off when manufactured paper is sold. If the paper has already been machine cut, an artist or crafter may create the deckle edge look by giving the paper one of several treatments.
Deckle edges form when the edges of the paper dry. Deckle is the term applied to the frame that holds paper pulp in a mold. This frame keeps the pulp from spreading out too thin, and allows the pulp to self-level as it settles in the mold.
The natural edge typically forms when the wet paper is removed from the mold and squeezed dry. The excess water is pressed out of the paper, forcing some pulp past the molded edge. This surplus pulp thins and frays as it is pressed out. When it dries, this raw edge is visible as the deckle edge.
If a crafter holds a raw piece of paper up to a light, he or she will probably see where the paper thins to the edge. This raw edge varies in width depending on the type of paper. Thicker papers may have a wider deckle edge than thinner ones.
Most handmade papers have four deckle edges, while machine-made papers typically have two. This is typically trimmed off, leaving the paper with a crisp edge. The edges may also be trimmed to cut a stack of papers down to a standard size.
Many artists and crafters consider deckle edges to be artistic embellishments. Often, artist-quality papers, scrapbooking papers, and stationery are sold with natural deckle edges intact. Other machine-made styles may have been intentionally ripped to appear to have a deckle edge.
There are many techniques for simulating a deckle edge on a clean cut sheet of machine-made or handmade paper. The most common method is to fold a piece of paper several times in the same place and rip it along this fold line. Some craft stores sell specially made rulers, which have rippled edges to guide where the paper should be torn to create this look.
Another way to imitate a deckle edge is to rip the paper with water. Paint a thin stripe of water on the paper, and just before it dries, rip it along the water line. This technique typically creates a close imitation to a raw edge.
I am a printmaker and live in Israel. Because I work with many kids, I can now tear a large piece of paper, the edge of which has been damped and make a deckled edge on four sides for them.
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