Tag Archives: leather

Making parchment

Soaking a hide in water and lime.

I’m a big old animal lover, so I won’t go too deep into the details of how parchment is made. It’s roughly the same process as making leather, with lots of soaking and stretching and scraping. You soak an animal skin in water, then water and lime (to get the fur off), for a week or two; stretch it on a frame; scrape it smooth with a knife; and dry it.

The result is a smooth, thin, durable (it lasts for centuries) material that is a treat to write on. Vellum is just thick enough that if you make a goof, you can scrape off the dried ink with a sharp blade and write over it (look at mediæval pictures of scribes at work—they hold both a pen and a small knife). If you want to make your own parchment, Lisa Parris gives you the recipe here. ourpastimes.com/make-vellum-4814566.html As Western Civ Irregular and animal-lover Heidi K points out, it’s worth noting that parchment makers were being respectful of the animal by using every bit of it.

This is kind of fanciful. In reality he’d work on one page at a time, not the whole scroll.

If you like cute baby calves and live in the country (in northeastern USA), maybe you’d like to foster this adorable guy. He’s not available for making parchment out of! https://www.facebook.com/SperanzaAnimalRescue/photos/pcb.3693007027481424/3693006924148101/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/parchment
http://www.edenworkshops.com/Vellum_&_Parchment.html
http://www.historyofpaper.net/paper-history/history-of-parchment/
https://www.abaa.org/blog/post/the-history-of-vellum-and-parchment
https://blog.artweb.com/how-to/vellum/
Here’s where to buy ethically-sourced vellum:
https://www.williamcowley.co.uk/
Skip ahead to 5:30 to see this guy writing on parchment—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwVeMVr9s14
https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Parchment

In some ways the history of the alphabet is a history of art supplies. How you write is influenced by what you have to write with—or on.

For a very long time, scribes wrote on papyrus. The papyrus reed seems to grow only in the Fertile Crescent: the delta of the Nile or between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If you didn’t live there, papyrus had to be imported which made it pricey. As more and more people bought papyrus, it became scarce. Not only that, papyrus as a writing surface likes to be in a hot, dry environment. Places farther north are too humid for papyrus and it rots.



On the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, just down the coast from Ilium, in a little town called Pergamon, craftspeople were developing a new writing surface that would be more durable than papyrus—and smoother, too. This new stuff was made out of animal hide, kind of like leather, sliced really thin. Its name, ‘parchment,’ is likely derived from its hometown: Pergamon. It’s also known as ‘vellum,’ if made from calfskin.*

*The words ‘vellum’ and ‘veal’ are related.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.