An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

04 September 2009

Onion skin love

At times I wonder if I chose to be a writer because I am enamored with words, or because I am enamored with paper. For one, as a writer I have always felt the need to hold paper in my hands. Not for me, those things like word processing or eBooks or working in The Cloud; give me paper and any writing instrument, and I’m all set. I have used computers – the old Macintosh Powerbook 165c from my Dad, my sister’s Intel desktop she had through college, my own iBook G3, a 12-inch PowerBook G4, my sister’s next Intel desktop she had as a fresh graduate, and my current 15-inch MacBook Pro – only for preparing drafts for publication, and for games and email and browsing the web. For writing needs, I always went to back to good old paper manufactured from good old trees.

And my favorite paper is onion skin. Ever since I was little, I have always held a fascination for the delicate, cream-colored paper that rustled noisily each time I held it in my hands. I love that it is so thin but has its own integrity that it can’t easily be torn. I love that its watermark looks more “watery” that regular paper watermarks. I love that you can see through it to the writing on the next page, like a promise of something more to come. I love that the delicate thinness of its structure gives its creamy surface a gently mottled look, like the skin of a lady that has elegantly and beautifully graced. I love that it is not white. I love that it does not give me paper cuts. I love that when it is held in a thick sheaf the sheaf acquires an unforeseen heft, as if each extra-thin onion skin sheet held secret powers of weight that were drawn out only by the presence of hundreds of other onion skin papers, a discreet and very stylish army of pressed and distressed paper pulp that can broadcast volumes worth of words to the whole world.

I would write on these onion skin sheets and type on them using at least twenty sheets a day on the average. They made up the pages of my journal for several years. I would carry around sheets of onion skin paper in my bag and write entries for my journal during the day while at school or in the library or at work. I would roll them into my typewriter and type my journal entries very early in the morning, before my day began. My journals for the period between 1998 and 2006 are composed of ten volumes of two inch-thick books filled entirely with onion skin paper, mostly in cream, sometimes in pink and green and blue. I would send friends and relatives long letters typewritten on onion skin paper, and I kept carbon copies to keep in my diaries. I loved how I could mail up to fifteen onion skin pages in a letter envelope and still be charged only the standard postage. And that made me send even more letters to more friends and relatives more often.

For a while I even tried to feed onionskin paper into inkjet printers and laser printers in the hope that I can send a polished word-processed draft to an editor in onion skin. The bright idea didn’t work; the printers either jammed or won’t take in the sheet. (In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t work, for the industry standard is really at least mid-weight regular white letter-sized paper. I’d have been the laughing stock of editors all over Metro Manila.) But for personal use, onion skin paper was my staple. There's always an envelope of them in my bags, in my drawers, on my desks. I’d bind them into notebooks, I’d cut them into smaller pieces for writing down notes to myself and other people, and I’d never be without a constant supply of at least two reams. Sometimes I would even dream of onion skin paper butterflies while I slept.

I first discovered onionskin paper one afternoon when I was quite young. I was rummaging for a pen in my father’s desk, and I came upon a sheaf of very thin paper. I asked my father about it when he came home that night, and he told me that it was called onion skin paper because it was as thin as the skin of an onion. And then he showed me on the typewriter how onion skin paper is used to make carbon copies. I decided at that moment that onionskin paper was one of the most beautiful things in the world, and that I would never be without it.

Now I'm still an onion skin user and I'm even more fascinated by it than I was on the first day. For after a while, I realized how ironic it was that it is called onion skin – a euphimism for being highly sensitive and easily hurt, in humans – when onion skin paper is a rather tough weave, tougher than most other papers because it’s made of more cotton fibers than most other papers. The onion is also one very tough bulb. Slice it and you cry. Add it to food and the food suddenly acquires a tang. Munch on it and you will repel all kinds of people. String several of them on a piece of twine and you will repel all kinds of aswang. It’s been around for decades, witness to the movement of civilizations and their food and the evolution of the occult.

And yet when we speak of onion skin paper what comes to mind is fine, creamy, delicate paper that needs to be handled with care. The writer in me swoons at the irony. Yes, I did become a writer because I am enamored with paper – onion skin paper. But I am also enamored with connections, with history, with irony. I’m enjoying the best of these worlds. I am lucky.

[Image credits: 1, 2]


Anonymous Mary W. said...

I love this--I too am a big fan of onion skin, and paper in general. To this day I have trouble composing a paper on my laptop, and my journals are always handwritten. I always have little scraps of different papers floating around on my desk and in my bag, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm glad someone else is writing about paper (and other things)--keep it up!

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need your help. I live in the US, and it's impossible to find onionskin paper. I know this is asking a lot, but would you be willing to ship some to me? Please contact me so we can discuss the details. Thank you.

2:55 AM  
Blogger Harrity said...

Terrific article. I'm writing an op-ed piece at the moment on the beauty and power of handwritten letters and notes, so you inspired me.

6:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

really enjoyed your blog - reminds me of my younger days - could you send me your source for onion skin? been unsuccessful in sourcing it here

thank you

pls email me at



1:55 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

nothing is better than onion skin paper. Used it 45 years ago and am trying to find more. I really want only the cream colored paper. I too would like to find your source for your paper.

4:33 AM  
Blogger Subashini said...

loved your article which I came across whilst searching for onion skin paper. As with the others, could you please tell me your source for onion skin paper? My email add is

Thank you.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Trisha said...

I'm searching for onionskin paper for letter writing too - it used to be so easy to get but now virtually impossible. I too would appreciate your stockist - thanks. email

8:43 PM  
Blogger Trisha said...

I'm searching for onionskin paper for letter writing too - it used to be so easy to get but now virtually impossible. I too would appreciate your stockist - thanks. email

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Inked Words said...

Looks like you've got a lot of comments with the same question I have. Where do you get your onion skin paper?

12:14 PM  
Blogger Maryanne Moll said...

Hello, everyone! Thanks for dropping by my blog. I get my onionskin paper from National Book Store here in the Philippines. Some offices here still use typewriters. National Book store also carries nylon typewriter ribbons. :)

12:44 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

I've tried to contact National Bookstore...but with their reply and entering their url site....does not recognize. Back to square one!

10:38 AM  
Blogger Maryanne Moll said...

Hi, Linda. Please try this url:

10:44 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

I've checked their catalogue, and if it is there, I'm not sure how the product is listed. I see vellum and parchment...but no onion skin. Can you give me the name of the product so that I can go back to Nationalbook....? Also, what is the conversion of Philippino currency with the US?

11:33 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

I'm doing this again...but, what is the Name of the onion skin paper that is sold by the National Book Store? I've found the regular/specialty papers, but no onion skin; unless it is under a different description. sorry to bother you, but I am really wanting to purchase a supply. Also, what is the conversion rate of the Philippine currency and that of the USA?

11:36 PM  
Blogger Maryanne Moll said...

Hi, Linda. Hmmm. It's really just the generic onion skin paper. I wonder why it's not showing up in the catalogue. Next time I go to National Book Store I'll ask them how you can order this particular product online.

The conversion is about 43 Philippine pesos to 1 US dollar.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though this post was penned down a number of years ago, I love it because I am also a great fan of onion skin paper.

Here in Hong Kong, I first have my fingers on this wonderful paper in 1991, at a Japanese bank. Typing up letter to friends with this paper was once a high enjoyment to me.

It is difficult to buy onion skin paper in town. I was given a small pile. My next was bought on and brought back to me by a friend living in New Hampshire.

I have never imagined I would have bought paper from the USA, really funny.

Thank you for this post, you have written my mind out. Hugs.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Maryanne Moll said...

Thanks for leaving a comment. Hugs. :)

11:40 AM  

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