A Celebration of British Craftsmanship

IMG_1740 2The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) was set up by the Royal Warrant Holders Association nearly thirty years ago. QEST awards funding for its scholarships and apprenticeships in a whole variety of crafts. This range is shown in this splendid new book on British Craftsmanship. It is a huge book – almost coffee table size in itself – and contains a series of stunning photographs taken by Julian Calder, who has managed to capture each maker, with text by Karen Bennett.

 

 

IMG_1756Each of a selection of scholars and apprentices is featured on an opening spread. Mia Sable shown here is a saddler and leather designer. Having a varied career, including time at Canary Wharf, Mia started to learn saddlery at Capel Manor, by chance at three days’ notice! With saddlery skills tucked under her belt, Mia diversified into watch straps and bespoke watch straps now form her main business.She says ‘It is satisfying to make things that could last for a generation’.

 

 

IMG_1757Nick Gill was a musician when he bought a second-hand press to produce the sleeves for CDs. He had two weeks’ experience with Phil Able at Hand & Eye Letterpress, and gained more experience when he returned to help on a large job. More equipment, more type, more tuition all increased Nick’s proficiency, experience and skill. He travelled to the US in the meantime to further his knowledge. Now working in Yorkshire, Nick also casts and sells metal type as well as printing. And he is still a musician.

 

 

IMG_1755Perhaps it was inevitable that Amy Goodwin is now a signwriter and fairground artist as she spent most summers in her youth travelling as part of a steam fairground. She trained with one of the best and, traditionally, uses no guidelines, tape, or computers – it’s all done by hand. Amy is now mid-way through a practice-based PhD focusing on five women in fairgrounds.

 

 

 

This glorious book is lavishly illustrated, beautifully photographed, with detailed text on many of the QEST scholars and apprentices, showing the variety of backgrounds and experiences and the paths these wonderful craftspeople have taken. It is an ideal book for anyone interested in heritage crafts as well as for those tricky-to-buy-for people. You can buy it here.

 

A stunning Renaissance manuscript

BL, Add ms 19553

BL, Add ms 19553

The British Library has a stunning array of manuscripts and one that has been recently digitised caught my eye because of its lively and idiosyncratic lettering; the shelf reference is BL, Add ms 19553. The page shown has typical Renaissance decoration – the manuscript is dated to c.1505 – with a rather restrained red, blue and green decoration on shell gold (powdered gold in gum Arabic base).

 

 

 

 

'que'It is the lively lettering, though, not the decoration, that caught my eye, particularly the exuberently free curved stroke on the letter q in the middle of the second line. This is an abbreviation and indicates that this word should be tibisque. There is wonderful control of the pen as the pen moves from the right to the left, and, with again great control, moves to the left with a slight hesitation at the finish of the stroke adding a hint of a thickening at the very end. Note also the letter g with the exaggerated lower bowl, and no little ‘ear’ to the right of the upper bowl. This scribe is really enjoying making these strokes!

xAnother beautiful stroke is the one from top right to bottom left in this letter x; it is rather more successful that the slightly more wobbly stroke from top left to bottom right. Notice also the very flat pen nib angle to the strokes. Usually the nib angle for this writing style, Humanistic Minuscule, is about 30°. The flatter nib angle gives a more chunky feel to the lettering.

a:eWhen the letters a and e are combined as a ligature it can be a rather clumsy form. Here, though, the scribe has sloped the usual upright of the letter a and the e nestles in neatly, sharing the same stroke. Extending the ‘crossbar’ of the e and just pushing it up slightly at the end, which thickens the stroke, gives a very elegant letter-form overall. Note, too, the second thoughts the scribe has had with the long s and t in posteritate . The long s started just above the line for x-height, and the letter t was written normally. Then the decision was made to extend both strokes and join them together. It’s great when watery ink like this is used as these sorts of things can be detected.

& and extended fThe ampersand (et = and) is very graceful here, with the smaller bowl written as a complete letter o, and the lower stroke travelling to the right has a real swoosh to it. Note, too, the additional extension to the letter f written after the letter had been completed.

 

 

 

yAnd lastly another wonderful stroke on this letter y, where the slight thickening at the end of the stroke bottom left not only collides with the letters o and n on the lines below, but the pen has also caught a little on the surface so it looks a bit messy.

And if you want to see more of this intriguing manuscript and spot fabulous letters yourself, then click here.

 

Recreating the ‘Beatus’ page from the Eadui Psalter

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

As part of the Polonsky project for the British Library and the Bibliotèque Nationale I was asked to show how mediæval manuscripts were made to create a series of short informative films. To show the process of completing a miniature we selected the ‘Beatus’ page from the Eadui Psalter, (although, to be honest, I immediately regretted it because it was so complicated!). We agreed that for filming, because of time and logistics, I would concentrate only on the central letter B, but aim to complete it after the filming.

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The first stage was to trace the outline from a print out of the original. It was such a complicated image that the tracing alone took 5 hours. The tracing needed then to be transferred to vellum. I used my own Armenian bole paper as ‘carbon’ paper; doing this took another 5 hours.Then the outline was reinforced in red, which is the traditional colour; this process took 6·5 hours.

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The next step was to lay the gesso with a quill. Gesso is the plaster-based cushion that raises the leaf gold from the surface, and the slight rounding of the cushion, once the gold leaf is attached, really catches the light so it looks as if light is coming from the book itself – truly illuminated. I had made a batch of good gesso and was filmed laying this on the letter B. The interlace at the head and foot of the minim was very complicated and it took a while to work out the pattern and lay the gesso according to the original. I had one day in between the schedule before the next filming session to lay, scrape and prepare the gesso. However, there was so much to be gilded that I ran out of gesso halfway round the border. I made another batch but didn’t have time to test it, and found out as I was laying it that it was rather bubbly. Laying, preparing and scraping the gesso took over 12 hours.

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And then for the gold. The stickiness in the gesso is reactivate by moisture in the breath and the leaf gold (23·5 carat) attached immediately. Once secure, the gold is polished to a high shine with a stone burnisher (just visible on the left). Building up layers of gold improves the depth of burnish.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The gold leaf can attach to the surface of the vellum as well, especially after a hard burnish. It was particularly difficult to remove the excess in the gold interlace area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Well-burnished gold really does catch the light.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Applying the gold, burnishing it and cleaning it up took 14 hours, but the end result was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

It was a difficult to decide what to do about the colours. Although contained within a book, pigments still deteriorate over time; some of the colours had changed even in adjacent areas. So should this copy of the manuscript page be exactly the same as the original that has deteriorated, or should I try to recreate the page as it was? I decided to plump for trying to paint it as it was. Matching the colours was a bit of a challenge!

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

Painting mediæval manuscripts is a little like painting by numbers sometimes. Each colour is done completely and separately. Here the blue has been done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And now the magenta red, no doubt it’s madder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The basic colours have now been completed. At this point, I often feel that any artistic skills I may well have had have disappeared because it all looks so flat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

However, adding tones and shades starts to lift the image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The white highlights improve the image even more and it starts to take shape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

The black outline makes all the difference, separating the gold from colour and colour from colour, also emphasising what look like folds on draped cloth. Notice the difference between the letter B which has been outlined in black and the rest of the border where there is no black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

© 2018, Patricia Lovett MBE

And the final result again.

If you would like to recreate your own mediæval image, then my book and DVD on Illumination: Gold and Colour have clear instructions on making and using gesso, cutting quills, treating vellum for painting (and writing), and the process of creating a mediæval miniature shown step-by-step. See here.

Quills and Quill Knives

Image-1An unusual quill knife in a manuscript image on Twitter made me look again at quill knives. This one had the necessary curved blade (don’t get me started on straight edges for cutting quills!) but a strange curved hook shape which seems to end in a point. I’ve really thought about why this shape of knife was developed and can’t see any real advantages for it over what I would call a ‘normal’ quill knife as below. It would be really difficult to sharpen that inner curved edge, so what would a dull inner curved blade be used for. Has anyone got any suggestions?

 

 

IMG_0101This is a trusty quill knife which I use when being filmed cutting quills. The shape of the handle sits really well in the hand, but for me the blade is rather too long and the lower part of the blade (the bolster or shank) should have been inserted more into the handle for better control. The blade is of steel, but not stainless steel, so there is some rust. Some years ago I was told that it wasn’t possible to get a good sharp edge on stainless steel, but according to Robin Wood MBE, who knows a thing or two about blades, modern stainless steels are much improved and these are what he uses for his tools and axes so they must be good.

IMG_0642So what’s important about a quill knife? First that it has a good handle that sits well and is comfortable in the hand; it is also important that it is substantial. I teach quill cutting as part of some of my Calligraphy courses, and in the three-day Painting a Mediæval Miniature course I run at the end of May each year. For these I use X-Acto knives (see image) which have good solid handles. They are sold with a pointed blade, but I buy curved blades and replace the pointed blade with these. In my opinion it is easier to replace a curved blade when it dulls for quill cutting than sharpening 16 knives! (And the blades aren’t wasted as they are then used for scraping mistakes from vellum, and then for cutting vellum and paper. And at the very end of their life, they’re used to sharpen pencils!). I would never cut quills with scalpels because the barrel of a quill is tough and a scalpel can so easily turn in the hand; having control of a razor sharp blade is paramount in my opinion!

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Then the blade itself. First it needs to be reasonably short. There is strength in a more stubby blade that isn’t there in a longer, perhaps more flexible blade. And because cutting a quill requires only a short section of the blade, a knife with a longer blade where the whole edge slices isn’t necessary.

CIMG2507So how to cut a quill? If you want to see how it’s done then it’s all explained in my Illumination book and associated DVD (see here for details). The feathers used are the first five flight feathers of large birds. The differences between the first five flight feathers are explained in the book and DVD.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0977Once the feather is hardened, it is prepared and the nib then shaped.The first step here is making the long scoop cut.

 

 

 

CIMG0985Then the sides of the nib are shaped.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0991The long tip is trimmed to a manageable length.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG1205And finally the end of the nib is shaped to make a quill that writes.

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

All modern pen knives – and the clue is in the name – have a curved blade. I’m not getting into ‘quill knife wars’, but every part of logic leads to the blade being curved so that it can ‘rock’ over the similarly curved end of the barrel of the feather when trimming the nib tip without splitting it. I do appreciate that there are those who swear by a straight blade, and these are sold on many websites, but it’s a curve for me and my students!

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

The images of historical quill knives have kindly been provided by Alan Cole of the University of London’s Museum of Writing to whom I am very grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chronology of the Penknife (Finlay, 1990)There is an excellent pictorial history of the shapes of pen knives from the early 8th century to 1698 produced by Michael Finlay in ‘Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen’ (Carlisle, UK, Plains Books, 1990) and reproduced here. (Thank you to Alexander Devine of the Parker Library for kindly sending this to me.)

 

 

 

 

So what would an ideal quill knife look like? For me it would have a short, slim, razor-sharp curved blade (the curve being on the outer edge of the blade), the blade should be inserted well into the handle, and that handle have a heft that sits well in the hand. An additional refinement for me would be the insertion somewhere on the handle of a crochet hook, perhaps pulling out in a way similar to a modern pen knife attachment. The crochet hook catches on to the membrane inside the barrel of the feather and is used to pull the membrane out. If the membrane isn’t removed it gets in the way of writing the letter-forms.

IMG_0644Classes of children were often large in the past, and until machine-made pen nibs were adopted in schools in the 19th century, one of the tedious jobs of a school teacher was to cut and trim the quills of the pupils in their classes. With often more than 40 students per class, a great deal of time would be attending to pens. What a boon it must have been when the quill cutter was invented, however, these were used almost invariably to cut a feather tip only into a point for Copperplate-type writing, To write letter-forms shaped by a broad-edged nib, it was back to the quill knife. This is a quill cutter with a curved blade to trim the quill, and then the part that cuts the quill and makes the slit is at the top.

 

Writing with a quill is magical – it is, literally, feather-light – and it becomes almost an extension of the arm. The downside, of course, is that the quill needs to be trimmed about every paragraph, and then recut eventually.

 

‘Cræft’ by Alex Langlands

images-1Many in the UK and elsewhere will be familiar with Dr Alex Langlands through his TV presenting skills and archæological and historical knowledge on BBC programmes such as Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Full Steam Ahead and so on. However his interest, knowledge, expertise and skills in traditional crafts are perhaps less well known, but recognised by the Heritage Crafts Association – he is one of our Founder Patrons, and one of our most supportive.

 

 

imagesHis new book – Cræft – How Traditional Crafts are About More Than Just Making – shows this fascination with craft to excellent effect. However, it is not ‘just’ craft, Alex brings into consideration  landscape, geology, archæology, hand skills, tools, communities and so much more in this book which is both informative and a really good read.

 

 

 

eb5063a773f0f95b8b0be22c88b875deIn the fourteen chapters, after defining craft, Alex considers a range of linked crafts from weaving and baskets, to shoes and harnesses, from making golf clubs to preserving eating apples – this book is a mine of fascinating information. However, it is not just information presented here in a dry and erudite way, but information that is linked to our heritage countryside and considered in terms of what we may lose, what we have now and what would be of benefit in the future. On the right Alex is making a cable tie from a bramble using initially a sparhook. Who knew that those pesky brambles that catch and scratch your legs and trip you up if you’re not careful, could be so useful, and in this clip here, Alex uses one of the ties to make a faggot for his fire.

images-3We all know that there are different types of sheep, those for wool and those for meat, but Alex explains that actually the wool on those sheep very handily matches the climate conditions locally – not a coincidence! Devon Longwool, for example produces cloth that is suitable for wet and often bleak parts of the UK, such as in Devon. And mountain breeds produce coarse cloth suitable for tough trench coats and the very durable cloth, serge. This consideration leads Alex on to look at the most efficient way of cleaning sheep wool for shearing – wash the sheep in a nearby stream where the dirt is then dealt with by the water and drains away naturally, and the wool dries most efficiently, without any artificial means, on the sheep’s back! And then on to carding, spinning (which Ruth Goodman, fellow presenter shown here also with Peter Ginn, taught Alex to do using a simple wooden spoon) and weaving. Alex then focuses on the advantages of woollen clothing, for him (and all of us!), and his predilection for tweed suits and fair isle jumpers as worn here. But the story doesn’t stop in the past – as with many crafts – the link between Harris Tweed and Nike is also included. And to this could be added the high-end fashion houses fascination with beautiful woollen cloth mainly from Scotland. And then there is the link to hurdles – but here you will need to get the book yourself to find out what that is.

alexI tried dipping in to this book for speed to write this review, but would then find myself half and hour later absolutely hooked on the craft and Alex’s explanation. It is a book that you can read in small sections, but far better to read at a stretch, and what a rewarding stretch that would be. As Chair of the Heritage Crafts Association of course I would say that this is a book everyone should read, but even without that, this is a book that everyone should read! It brings together so much about our past, about the skills and techniques, about why the craft is there in the first place in terms of the landscape, about the links with our ancestors and about how much we can learn by marvelling at the skills, techniques and traditions that have shaped us as a nation, and including also the important part crafts can well play in our future. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

Gilding and Painting a Mediæval Letter Course

Lovett courseComments from students on previous courses:

Wonderful fun atmosphere, made something I always thought was so difficult easy.

Patricia was very professional and enthusiastic.

Wonderful and enthusiastic.

Excellent. Very encouraging to all students.

I could see the improvement in my work and my confidence.

I have achieved a long-held ambition, and, thanks to Patricia and the relaxed atmosphere she created, I have amazed myself.

gilding courseI honestly don’t think the course could have been better.

Excellent course, would love to come on another.

Every day has been excellent and I have achieved more than I thought I was capable of. Thanks for everything.

It was a privilege to have attended.

Have you ever wanted to find out how to cut a quill, use vellum, make and use gesso, attach leaf gold and paint a mediæval letter? This is your chance!

gilding courseI am running a three-day course next year, Saturday 23rd, Sunday 24th and Monday 25th May 2015 to do just that. Before the course we shall select the letter online that you would like to produce, based on those in mediæval manuscripts, so that when you arrive in Sevenoaks, no time will be lost. You’ll cut a quill to lay gesso, prepare vellum, make and lay gesso (and take some home), find out how to prepare gesso for the gold to attach successfully, and carry out the painting all with expert tuition. In fact, you’ll do the painting process twice so that your second one will be as good as you can do. And you’ll take home your quill and two letters – your practice one and your final one.

Courses are held in the studio at my home in Sevenoaks, with ample parking. You need to bring nothing with you (apart from a magnifying glass and additional light if you prefer) as all the tools and materials are supplied. So, too, is tea, coffee and home-made cakes and biscuits, and also a light lunch, most of which is also home-made.

Classes are kept deliberately small so that you get almost one-to-one tuition, and, because everything is provided including manuscript vellum and real gold leaf, the course is rather expensive. However, places do fill very quickly, so if you are interested, please get in touch with me as soon as you can. I’ll send you details when you express an interest by e-mail. Use the one on this website, or at the end of my online newsletter.