German Blooms

German Blooms

June 27, 2023

Much of the inspiration for our prints comes from the vast array of decorated papers produced in 18th Century France. Many of these prints were designed to be used as wallpapers, as many of the patterns were repeating. At the same time in Germany, though, a similar but significantly different trend was occurring. Many of these German prints were generally not of a repeating pattern, and were not intended to be used as wallpaper, but rather as standalone pieces to be used for wrapping, book covers, lining small boxes and other applications. The style differs from the French papers in that they featured stylized floral designs. Like architectural tracery, many of the German designs were marked by foliage, leaves, animals, and a variety of imaginative natural elements tied together in a non-repeating web. These prints were perfect for small projects. They were usually stored folded, and so many of the remaining original sheets have a significant fold line. 

dutch gilt or german brocade paperBrocade paper by Johann Michael Munck, c. 1740. University of Illinois Library.

These prints were often printed in dark brown or black ink on colored paper. Unlike the white French papers of the period, the German counterparts were commonly printed on a variety of colored papers like reds greens and browns. They weren’t colored in the way we usually think of colored paper, where the pulp itself is colored, and the resulting sheet is colored through. Instead, paper decorators would paint the papers surface with some sort of wash or paint after the sheet had been made.

German blooms hand-dyed paper by papillon press
Three colors of hand-dyed paper for German Blooms Print. Papillon Press, 2023.

A variety of printing methods were used as well that are unique to these prints. Though many were printed with dark brown or black ink, many of these papers were printed with some sort of gold or silver, resulting in them often being referred to as brocade paper. They are sometimes also called Dutch Gilt papers, but this is a misnomer, as they are German, not Dutch. This possibly stems from the term Pennsylvania Dutch, which refers to the German population in Pennsylvania, which were confused as German since English speakers heard "Deutsch" ("German", in German), and assumed it was "Dutch." They may also be called this since these papers were often sold by Dutch traders.

Dutch gilt paper, German BLooms, by Papillon Press in black ink
A dark brown version of German Blooms on hand-dyed paper. Papillon Press, 2023.

At Papillon Press, when we create a paper inspired by a particular period or style, we also aim to re-create the process by which the original would have been made. So when we create a paper in the style of French 18th Century wallpapers, we print on hand made paper and hand paint them. With certain styles and trends it’s a fairly straightforward process to discover the original method of production. Sometimes there is literature and other documentation to suggest and guide how we might proceed. But many times the craftsmen’s processes remain a mystery, as methods of the various crafts were closely held secrets. When it comes to the brown and black printed papers, the process is fairly straightforward; we know that the paper would have been colored first, possibly with a brush. Some of these sheets were monochromatic, but others were dabbed with a sponge or brush to create a multi-color array of circles, blobs, diamonds, or squares in greens, reds, yellows or blues. What kind of paint was used is unclear, but one can imagine and work up a solution that can create a simulacrum of the original.

But with gold printing there is some mystery as to how the gold was applied. Some have suggested that the gold was applied as gold leaf, and stamped with a heated brass plate. Another suggestion is that the paper was printed with a gold ink. And a third possibility is that the paper was printed with a tacky ink, or size, onto which gold powder was brushed. These are all technically possible, but end with varying results.

In our experimentation, stamping with gold leaf would be the most expensive and time consuming option. One argument against the use of gold leaf is that these papers were often relatively inexpensive, and gold leaf is not. Today we have imitation gold foil which greatly reduces the cost and completely eliminates the time-consuming process of laying down leaf, but this would not have been an option for the 18th Century paper decorator. Imitation leaf may have been available and is significantly less expensive, but the time consuming process of laying the leaf down sheet by sheet until it covered the whole paper would have probably prevented these papers from being inexpensive. These are all conjectures of course. Then again, maybe some were produced using gold leaf, and those papers may have been more expensive. Another factor in using leaf is that it would have been necessary to use a brass die that could be heated to stamp the gold onto the paper. Though there are brass dies that survive from the period, many of the blocks used for printing were wood, eliminating leaf as an option.

design stamped with gold foil gold leafDecorative element stamped with gold leaf. Papillon Press, 2022.

Our experimentation with printing with gold ink resulted in a more drab result than is desirable. Because the paper isn’t a shiny coated sheet, the gold of the ink sinks into the structure of the paper, reducing its brilliance.

The last option we tried was to dust the freshly printed sheet with a gold powder. The powder adheres to the ink, and the rest can be brushed off. This is the method we opted for, as it is both relatively quick and results in a fairly bright print.

german blooms block print with gold, papillon press
The result of our experimentation with sizing and gold powder. Papillon Press, 2023.


Capturing the spirit of a particular design period requires diving deep into the many designs available from that given period. A book that was very helpful in this way was Sierpapier; Marmer, Brocaat- en Sitspapier in Nederland, by J. F. Heijbroek and T. C. Greven. In it are illustrated dozens of German decorated papers of the 18th Century.

Papillon Press german blooms drawingSome practice study drawings of floral elements. Papillon Press, 2023.

This made it possible to study the “language” of this family of design by drawing the various elements that appealed. Once a certain comfort level was achieved, a full drawing was made. 

 Papillon Press german blooms drawingFinished German Blooms design in pencil. Papillon Press, 2023.

When the drawing was done, the design was transferred to a Cherry wood block, and hand carved. This block took 24 hours to carve!

Papillon Press german blooms drawing and carvingGerman Blooms carving in process. Papillon Press, 2023.

Once the carving was finished, it was printed on our 1910 Potter Press on colored paper. The blue and brown papers were colored with a dye/paste/paint mixture, and the red was colored with dye made from the berries of Poke weed that grows behind our house.

Papillon Press german blooms drawing and woodblock printGerman Blooms print on the press. Papillon Press, 2023.

We printed a variety of color combinations, many of which are available at our online store, and several more of which are available in-person at our St. Louis shop and Grand Rapids studio. 

Papillon Press german blooms block print brocade goldSeveral color combinations of German Blooms. Papillon Press, 2023.

And here's the full sheet, final result of all our experimentation and printing!

Papillon Press german blooms block print brocade goldTwo full prints of German Blooms. Papillon Press, 2023.


Additional Sources:

Sierpapier; Marmer, Brocaat- en Sitspapier in Nederland, by J. F. Heijbroek and T. C. Greven.

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