abendgules: (Romanesque_Initial)
[personal profile] abendgules
Slow start to today. I blame the weekend.

I spent much of the weekend trying to get quills to work, again.

I have successfully cut and used quills in the past for calligraphy. What I realised after watching some footage of someone use a quill on BBC, though, is that my quills are quite stiff - the footage showed a very long nib flexing beautifully as the writer's hand started to draw the pen downward into a straight stroke. And I realised that while the stiff quill nibs work, a softer nib might work better.

Looking closely at my nibs, I realised my pens were getting short (ie getting closer and closer to the feathery bit of the feather), where the hollow tube of the quill gets thicker. So my nibs were thickening, possibly adding to their stiffness.

I grudgingly hauled out my supply of quills and looked through what I had to hand.

I'd dried quite a number of quills at least two? three? years ago during my last round of quill-keenness, and had started cutting them, but not used them. So I pulled them out to see what kind of shape they were in.

The answer? Brittle, that's what shape they were in.

However: they are long, and much thinner-walled than my working quills. So I've set aside my previously-working quills, and even thrown one out(!), in favour of working to develop thinner-walled, flexible nibs....

Cue a great deal of trimming, scraping, scooping, poking, testing, and cursing.

Some notes:
- quills are handed (winged?) so that right-wing quills sit best in the left hand for writing and vice-versa.
- they are also not perfectly round, they're oval, and the oval shape means you should check how the pen wants to sit in your hand, *before* cutting the barrel. It's clear now that I'd not taken this into account in my earlier attempts, which would explain why I found it hard to keep the earlier quill at the right angle, when it wanted to sit differently in my hand.
- I'd taken a cue from Mistress Caitlin de Courcy about how she cuts her quills - rather short. She has a steady supply of swan feathers from birds in Edinburgh, which gives her a selection of quite large-barrelled quills. My own supply isn't quite so plentiful, and so with narrower barrels, I may have to cut my nibs differently.

....well, might have just found the source of some of my problems. Should have RTFM earlier...

The manual in this case is Edward Johnston's book about Writing Illuminating and lettering. Johnston is responsible for the 'revival' of calligraphy as an art at least in England. It's a huge book, and I've extracted pages 51-85 which are mostly about pens, positioning, etc. Pp 51-60 is about cutting quills and reeds.

I just realised...I've been trimming the points of the nibs the wrong way, sloping the wrong way. No wonder the damned things didn't work. I wrote one scroll 3 times, cursing the whole way through two, because the pens weren't working smoothly. I had a deathgrip on one to such an extent my forearm is still sore today.

SIIIIIIIGH

I feel like an idiot.

Ok, well, that answers my questions about getting quills to work. Move along, nothing to see here.

Date: 2013-06-11 01:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] henrytroup.livejournal.com
There's a Hornblower story where he's stuck with a wrong wing quill.

Date: 2013-06-14 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] basal-surge.livejournal.com
I keep a stock of maybe a couple of hundred quills at any one time, and harvest more whenever I get the chance (usually when friends are culling geese, or just off roadkill). Rather than drying, I harden mine in hot sand. I tend to cut a new quill for every job, and almost never trim or re-cut quills, which may just be a facet of my rich supply.

I do cut the tip of my quills the opposite way to that recommended by Johnston. (Just grabbed my copy and checked; Hadn't looked at it for a decade or so.)

At the moment, I'm suffering from bad inks. My best writing ink (1880's era Stephens blue-black) is losing its lightfastness with age, but all the modern inks I have tend to gum up my quills with gunge. Experimenting with chinese ink sticks.

Date: 2013-06-14 09:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bend-gules.livejournal.com
I have a good supplier for historic inks in Cornelissen (not much help to you, I know).

http://www.cornelissen.com/drawing-and-calligraphy/traditional-inks.html

Roberson's historic inks - I buy one every visit. The Logwood black is excellent. Scriptorium oak gall is also very good, a bit lighter, but does go darker with age.

Since I complained about my supply, the excellent merlyn_gabriel has promised me goose quills next week! so I may be more profligate in future :-) And mine are sand-dried, though I might try the microwave method in future.

Date: 2013-06-28 10:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] basal-surge.livejournal.com
Ok, I just spent a significant part of last night, and this morning, attempting Johnson's knib cutting method. A complete series of blotting, hollow line, scratchy, unpleasant pens. Really doesn't work for me. This morning went back to my 'wrong slope' cutting method, and I'm back in business with a pen that writes sharply, flows well, etc.

I'm damned if I can work out how he makes it work without hollow-stroke problems, unless he had access to quills with unusually massively thick walls.

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