Fish paper, also known as fish skin parchment, is a type of parchment made from the skins of fish. It has been used for thousands of years in various cultures around the world as a writing surface. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in fish parchment thanks to its sustainability and unique properties compared to traditional parchment made from animal skins.
What is parchment?
Parchment is a material made from processed and stretched animal skins that have been dried under tension. The skins are first cleaned, de-haired, and scraped thin before being stretched on a wooden frame. Once stretched and dried, the collagen fibers in the skin contract, resulting in a smooth, durable surface that is excellent for writing and drawing.
The most common parchment is made from calf, sheep, and goat skins. However, parchment can also be made from the skins of other animals like deer, antelope, rabbits, squirrels, seals, and even fish.
History of fish parchment
Using fish skin to make parchment and leather has an ancient history across many cultures:
- In Japan, craftsmen have used skins from trout, salmon, and other fish to make a parchment called “gyoseishi” for over 1,300 years.
- Native Americans on the Northwest Pacific coast made salmon skin parchment for drums and other uses.
- In Iceland, cod skins were processed into a parchment-like material as early as the 16th century.
- Ethiopian Coptic churches have long used parchment made from Nile perch for religious texts.
However, the use of fish parchment declined as alternatives like paper production took over. But today there is renewed interest thanks to its sustainability benefits.
How is fish parchment made?
Fish parchment is made through a similar process as traditional parchment. Here are the basic steps:
- The skin is removed from the fish and cleaned of any residual tissue or scales.
- It is then soaked in alkali lime solution to loosen fibers and draw out fats.
- The skin is scraped and split into thin layers.
- It is stretched and attached to a frame to dry under tension.
- Once dried, oils or finishes can be applied for protection and appearance.
It takes great skill and meticulous handiwork to produce high-quality fish parchment. Variables like the fish species, age, sex, and season caught can impact the quality and color of the finished parchment.
What types of fish are used?
Many different fish species can be used to make parchment. Some commonly used types include:
- Salmon – Pacific salmon like sockeye, coho, and chum produce parchments with orange, pink, and red hues.
- Cod – Codskin parchment has a smooth, white surface.
- Halibut – The largest flatfish, halibut skin makes a thick, durable parchment.
- Wolffish – Also called wolf eel, wolffish parchment has a unique patterned texture.
- Pollock – Abundant wild Alaska pollock is a popular choice for sustainable parchment.
- Tilapia – Farmed tilapia are a renewable source for high-quality parchment.
Fish like trout, carp, barramundi, grouper, and stingray can also be used. The key is using skins from fish with high collagen content.
Benefits of fish parchment
There are many advantages that make fish parchment an excellent choice compared to traditional animal-based parchments:
- Sustainability – Fish skin is a byproduct of the seafood industry and helps reduce waste.
- Renewable resource – Many fish stocks are well-managed for continued harvesting.
- Unique textures/colors – Fish skin can create varied hues and patterns.
- Strength – Fish collagen makes a durable material when processed into parchment.
- Lightweight – Fish parchment is thinner and lighter than animal skin parchments.
Additionally, fish parchment is hypoallergenic and more eco-friendly to produce than calf, goat, or sheep parchment. These advantages make it an excellent choice for modern needs.
Uses of fish parchment
Thanks to its versatility and sustainability, fish parchment is growing in popularity for many traditional and novel uses:
- Writing – Its smooth surface makes it ideal for calligraphy and letter writing.
- Printing – Works well for fine art prints and printing invitations or certificates.
- Bookbinding – Durable enough for book covers and binding.
- Decorative arts – For lampshades, wall hangings, scrolls, and more.
- Clothing – Can be oiled for use as a leather alternative in garments.
- Accessories – Makes unique jewelry, handbags, shoes, and other accessories.
Fish parchment is also used by crafters, tattoo artists, and furniture makers looking for a sustainable material with beautiful natural variations.
Popular fish parchment products
Here are some popular retailers offering high-quality fish parchment products:
- Certificated salmon skins – Available from online stores like The Salmon Store and Arctic Leather.
- Iceland parchment – Fish skins from Iceland available at The Icelandic Parchment Studio.
- Pergamena – Sustainable parchment studio in San Francisco working with tanneries in Japan and Italy.
- Halibut skins – Halibut parchment uniquely patterned with circle motifs, offered by Halibut Skin Studio.
- Rogue River journals – Handmade writing journals from Oregon bound in salmon skin covers.
These products allow consumers to experience the beauty and sustainability of fish parchment across many applications from fine stationery to leather goods.
How to care for fish parchment
Caring properly for fish parchment will help it last for many years. Here are some tips:
- Avoid excessive moisture – Do not over-handle wet fish parchment as it can weaken fibers.
- Protect from UV light – Direct sunlight can cause fading over time.
- Gently clean – Use a soft cloth dampened with distilled water to clean.
- Handle with care – Avoid folding or creasing to prevent cracking.
- Watch humidity – Store in a stable environment between 30-50% relative humidity.
- Apply oil finishes – Coat with oils like jojoba or coconut oil to protect and enhance luster.
By keeping fish parchment out of direct light and moisture, handling gently, and applying protective finishes, it will retain its beauty and durability for many years of use and enjoyment.
Future of fish parchment
The unique sustainability of fish parchment makes it poised for a growth in popularity in the coming years. Here are some directions the industry may take:
- New sustainable fisheries – Expanding fish parchment to abundant and well-managed species like tilapia, carp, and catfish.
- Technical improvements – Optimizing processing techniques to enhance strength, flexibility, and colors.
- Innovative products – Use in creative industries and products like fashion, tattoos, architecture, and design.
- Designer collaborations – Partnerships with brands to bring fish leather into luxury goods.
- Greater availability – Increased online ordering and artisan workshops providing custom fish parchment products.
With its renewable nature and artisanal production, fish parchment offers an exciting eco-friendly material for craftspeople and designers seeking to create beautiful and sustainable works of art, fashion, decor, and more.
Fish parchment is an ancient material made new again thanks to its sustainability and aesthetic beauty. Skins from renewable fish species like salmon, cod, and tilapia are transformed into a durable writing surface and leather alternative. Fish parchment offers many advantages over traditional animal-based parchments including a lightweight feel, vibrant colors, and patterns that celebrate the natural variations of each fish. Driven by its eco-friendly and ethical production, fish parchment is gaining popularity among new generations of artisans, writers, and designers looking to create beautiful works while also caring for the planet.