post by Patricia Lovett, HCA Vice Chair
Vellum and parchment making has been going on for thousands of years. It is a writing surface that lasts - the earliest vellum books in existence are 3rd century AD.
William Cowley in Buckinghamshire is now the only parchmenters in the UK and they continue to use traditional methods to treat the skin. They supply the world in quality skins.
Goat, sheep and calf skins are selected at abbatoirs for quality and, once at the parchmenters, are first soaked in a lime solution to expand the hair follicles and treat the skins.
Skins soaked in vats of lime solution
Once ready, the skins are the placed over a beamer and a special knife called a scudder is used to remove the hair.
Removing the hair using a scudder
Skins are washed and treated again and then stretched out on wooden frames. There is skill at every level but here a slight slip and the whole skin could be ruined. Tension in the skin is adjusted continually while a razor sharp lunar knife is used to scrape the skin. This creates an even thickness as well as ensuring the grain is all in the same direction.
Master parchmenter Lee Mapley scraping the skin with a lunar knife
Skins drying on wooden frames
When completely dry the skins are cut from their frames, rolled and stored ready for use.
Writing, painting and gilding on vellum is unlike using any other material, and is wonderful!
© Patricia Lovett 2012