Thursday, May 22, 2008

Quill pens

Duck & goose feathers

There are a number of ducks and geese that wander around the farm constantly preening, fighting and generally leaving feathers of all sorts behind. This weekend as I did some gardening I was picking up large flight feathers from them and as I held them, wondering if I could create a quill pen.

BD & Buddy, my Muscovy ducks, are here having a great time searching for worms in a newly ploughed garden. They LOVE bugs and mice to eat. Yes, mice. Its bizarre. They are my favourite ducks. They are the ugliest creatures, but placid, slow moving and quackless. They hiss which sounds threatening but its their only way of communicating. They greet me each day when I come home, bobbing their heads, hissing and wagging their tails like little dogs. I adore them. They are very large ducks, the size of turkeys or geese so their feathers are perfect for quill pens.

A quill pen is made from a flight feather of a large bird, most often a goose. Quills were used as instruments for writing with ink before the metal dip pen, the fountain pen and ballpoint pen came into use.

Common writing equipment in medieval times were the quill and parchment. The strongest quills were the primary flight feathers taken from living birds in the spring. The left wing was favored because the feathers curved outward and away when used by a right-handed writer. Goose feathers were most commonly used and swan feathers were of a premium grade being scarcer and more expensive. For making fine lines, crow feathers were the best, and then came the feathers of the eagle, owl, hawk and turkey. Quills obtained from living birds in the spring proved to be the best for writing.

The method of making a quill pen is a little time consuming, but achievable with some practice. I have quite a few feathers to choose from but I won't be tackling one of the geese to get a 'live' flight feather!

How to make a quill pen

Keeping with the era of quill pens, I'm still working on my 1460 self portrait, so here's another update. Everything seems to be done in small chunks of time lately as I haven't had a block of time to sit down and finish a more complex piece. Next week...

I'm working on developing the dark background and dress and sculpting the upper portion of the head dress and the gauze. I've been using charcoal for the dark background but its not covering really well at this point. I'll try a little fixative and go over it again for a smooth surface.

1460 Self Portrait
after Rogier van der Weyden's Portrait of a Lady
copyright Jeanette Jobson


Laurel Neustadter said...

Your portrait is coming along nicely. I use goose feathers from Dick Blick for ink work ... I didn't know I could make them into a more sophisticated writing instrument. I'll try it out.

"JeanneG" said...

I don't blame you for not tackling the goose. Probably a battle you would lose. Your portrait is looking really nice. I uploaded some new pictures in RIL. Animals and cacti.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I wonder if Customs & Excise allow quills to be imported???? Have you ever thought of setting up a small business in quill exports?

Can you tell that I'm really looking forward to your Quill Pen step by step? ;)

Jeanette said...

I'll be experimenting with the process and see what happens Laurel.

No....not tackling the geese...I'm not that brave - or stupid. :)

Well they only know if you tell them Katherine :) Its amazing what comes in packages...

I don't know if quill harvest is large enough to warrant export somehow. I'll be sure to post a step by step once I get the process in place. I need some sand first and don't want to buy a whole bag of it just to create a few quill pens with.

Stay tuned!