As far as I know, and I’ve looked pretty far and wide, there are no glossy or semi-glossy cream-colored papers available in the States. I’ve only found one cream-colored paper that works for Arabic calligraphy, and it doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to, so the only real option is to hand-dye paper. Calligraphy on pure white paper is too striking and looks wrong. So to dye paper in the traditional way, the ways Ottoman papersmiths would have, we can actually use tea as our dye. It may sound like an 8th grade history project, but it works, it’s permanent, and produces a very nice warm cream toned paper.
However, the problem with using black tea as a dye is that tea contains tannic acid. Not much, but enough to make your paper no longer acid-free or archival quality. So we have to add something to the tea to counteract the acidity. Calcium carbonate can’t harm paper, and is very basic, so it works to balance out the tannic acid.
I built a paper-press for flattening the paper. I used two pieces of 1-inch birch plywood, which I covered in acid-free craft paper. I put 8-inch bolts and massive handle clamps on the corners to press it down. Pretty easy assembly, just drill holes at the corners. I originally intended to have some on the sides as well, but once I got it together it seemed like the 4 corners would do it.
I used Lipton black tea and a quarter of a cup of CaCO3 from the health food store, and pH strips I found for 2 bucks on eBay. With this, or any other project involving paper arts and water, you must use only distilled water. This ensures archival-quality results. I used 15 bags of tea for a gallon of water.
I strung up some clothes-line in the basement and used about 100 bullclips. They need to be clipped to the verrrrrry edge, because they’ll crimp the paper. Then it’s just a matter of letting the paper sit in a bath of tea for about a minute to 2 minutes, and clipping it to the line. I clamp both sides of the paper, as opposed to just one, because if you only clip one side it will curl up big-time as it dries. You can’t just clip it to the line and leave, however. You need to stand around and flick the bottom of the paper as the tea beads along the bottom edge. If you don’t, you end up with this line of brown along the bottom of the page:
I let the paper sit on the line for about an hour, until it was mostly dry. I’ve found that clamping it when still wet doesn’t work, and the paper comes out all wrinkled and ruined. I wiped any excess tea or calcium residue off the papers and stacked them up, then sandwiched them between two pieces of book board, and clamped them for 24 hours.
This is what I did when I took it out of the clamps: