Making Quill Pens and "Parchment"

We're having so much fun with our medieval studies over here, that we decided to delve a bit more into the tasks of the early Christian monks.  We read how the monks made their parchment papers (which was actually quite an involved process utilizing animal skins) and sewed their pages we decided to attempt something like this.

Not having any fresh animal skins to work with, we decided to "fake" the parchment and just make it look like parchment.  This is a pretty easy process, where you begin with a peerless piece of modern white paper (that a monk would have honestly killed for), and demolish and otherwise destroy it with coffee and crumpling so that it looks a bit more like the stuff they had to use.

But we'll walk you through it here.  Start by tearing off those pristine edges:

Then crumple it up as small as possible in your fist, flatten it out on a cookie sheet, and smear left-over coffee all over it.

After the paper is nice and soggy, spread it out somewhere to dry, either naturally in the sunshine, in the oven for a minute at 350 degrees, or even with a blow-dryer.

That's how you make "parchment" (in quotes because it has absolutely nothing to do with the way parchment is actually made, but the finished product does have a nice ancient paper look).  We were so inspired with our skill, that we decided we could make ink in old fashioned ways, too.  And besides, The Hippy Homemaker had this amazing post about the many different ways you could make ink at home.  The kids and I took a nature walk, found pocketfuls of acorns and brought them home to give the acorn ink a try.

After boiling these guys for about 45 minutes and adding water when it steamed off, we finally got a liquid that looked promising.  We added a touch of gelatin to increase its thickness, and got out our dried parchment to give it a try.

Now to be fair, it did leave a faint stain on the parchment.  Very, very faint.  Maybe acorn ink needs about double the boiling time we gave it.  Whatever the case, we gave homemade charcoal ink a try, too.  But it was watery and faint, too.

Actually, trying these inks gave a whole new meaning to this little image showing complaints of monks from a prior age:

We read all of these over after our failed ink attempts and chuckled in understanding as these guys from long ago could definitely be related with, now.

The next day, I went out and bought ink from a craft store.

The feathers worked really well, once we trimmed them into nibs.  If you're trying to trim them yourself, you can follow this excellent video which explains how to cut a decent feather quill pen:

But before we could use our Quill pens, we decided we better sew up our parchment pages first.

A nice sharp needle and some sturdy thread made short work of that.  But the kids did observe that they were glad they were only sewing together two pages because any more than that would have been a challenge.  If you use regular paper rather than cardstock you might be able to sew more together at a time.

Now, we have our parchment book.  All ready to pull out the homemade store-bought ink and try it out with our fresh quill pens.

The kids took to these pens remarkably easily, I thought.  They were surprised at how often they were required to dip their pens into the ink in order to complete just one letter, though.

But then it became business as usual, "Dip - Write - Dip - Write".  But the learning moment was expressed out loud by this memorable quote:

And there, you have it:  why we do these crazy things.  I mean, aside from the fact that it is oodles of fun to try out things and experience them for ourselves.  Because you cannot impress something like that on a young mind better than letting them discover it personally.

Maybe, I should pull out our Medieval Illuminations quotes one more time and let the kids try inking those letters in one more time, but with a quill pen...

Nah, let's keep it all fun.

And speaking of fun, don't forget to read about the very fun Medieval Feast we experienced last time.


Sparkling Science said...

Such a cute idea! I'm so thankful for my felt tip FLARE pens! 😊

Amanda said...

Your posts about medieval history lessons makes me really hope that our students express interest in learning about medieval times! I hope I can get them interested in trying out some of these awesome activities! I love how involved your students are in their own learning, and how excited they are to try new things. Can't wait to see what you do next!

Christina Morrison said...

Haha! It brings a whole new appreciation in my world to every Ink Pen I own, let me tell you! :) Thanks.

Christina Morrison said...

Thanks, Amanda! I love how involved they are, too. Their enjoyment and creativity adds so much to our learning!