Joomchi is the unique Korean traditional way of making textured and colored handmade paper by simply using Hanji (Korean mulberry paper), water, and eager hands. Many layers of Hanji are made from dak (100% mulberry fiber) used together with water, and then rubbing, squeezing, agitating with the hands, causing the fibers to tangle and adhere firmly to each other, similar to the felting process. The paper becomes stronger and tougher the longer it is worked with water and hands. The term originated from the expression, “making a Joomoney” (“Pouch” in English). Not much has been written about Joomchi, but historic records indicate that the Koreans started actively making Joomchi in the Goryeo Dynasty, 918 – 1392. The process creates strong, textural, and smooth surfaces. As time goes on, the surface becomes more and more smooth and elegant, like leather.
Paper made by the Joomchi technique is six times stronger than ordinary Hanji paper. Historic examples have lasted for at least one thousand years. Joomchi can be treated like cloth, and has often been sewn into clothing. Because of Joomchi’s strength and durability, it has been used for making functional items such containers and wallets, and even for military armor.
A variety of surface treatments have been applied to Joomchi paper work to make it waterproof, such as coating it with a natural lacquer (Okchil), or raw soybean juice, raw persimmon juice, or some other preservative. Historically, coated Joomchi was used for rainproof clothing and for farmer’s protective clothing.
Contemporary artists are discovering that Joomchi interacts easily with other art disciplines, such as painting, collage, fiber arts, and book arts. Other art-making techniques can be incorporated into the making of a Joomchi work, such as drawing, calligraphy, stitching, dyeing, digital printing, and laser cutting, resulting in unique contemporary jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures and or installations.
I have been practicing and teaching Joomchi in academic settings, international conferences, and through organizations in the United States, Netherlands, Australia, Korea, and U.K. Over the years, I have curated several International Joomchi shows for museums and galleries in Korea, France, and USA. Through many years of sharing Joomchi with Korean and non-Korean artists, I have also witnessed how Joomchi has been practiced traditionally and in contemporary work, not only in Korea but also in America, Europe, and Asia.
After all these years, I find myself completely intrigued by Joomchi work. I like the point in Joomchi where, through hand agitation with water, the paper transforms into a durable work of art, a metaphor for life. It is my belief that, like Joomchi, through agitation, through trials and tribulation, man becomes stronger, more refined, and more solid. -Jiyoung Chung