Tag Archives: vellum

The Lindisfarne Gospels

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed759970d-580wiThe Lindisfarne Gospels are, in the opinion of many (including me!) the greatest treasure we have. This manuscript had, of course, to be featured in my book The Art and History of Calligraphy, published by the British Library in May 2017. The Lindisfarne Gospels were written before 720 and the scribe and artist was Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, according to Aldred who added a colophon (scribe’s note) at the back of the book in the tenth century. You can see Aldred’s dancing Insular Minuscule gloss between the lines on the right; he added this lettering during the 100 years or so when the monks were at Chester-le-Street. However, what is far more eye-catching are the wonderful colourful and decorated letters. The patterns range from interlace, to geometric red dots, to birds with necks and legs intertwined in the first and last strokes of the enlarged letter N at the start. And it is the invention of letter-forms and their placement that is so delighted. Look at the letter U sitting comfortably within what actually is a V but looks like a U on the top line – NOVUM. Note, too, the four birds’ heads hanging off the top serifs and springing up from the bottom ones on the squared-off letter O on the next line.

pod85Opposite this page is one of the famous cross-carpet pages, called this because they are densely decorated and patterned like a Persian carpet, but are also in the shape of a cross. On the right is the cross carpet page opposite the incipit, the beginning, of Mark.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.56What is intriguing with this cross-carpet is the central part of the design in that the lines are not completely straight; so this circular design looks almost as if it is slightly raised in the centre, a bit like the ‘boss’ on a shield perhaps. Look at the red geometric patterns top and bottom and right and left; notice the way in which the black outlines aren’t exactly perpendicular emphasising this effect.

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 12.39.37Now these patterns didn’t come about by chance when Eadfrith was doodling away one wet afternoon. They were very carefully planned and constructed. This is the back of that page. These are the guidelines made by lead point, the earliest example of it according to the great Michelle Brown. However there are also pin prick marks where a set of dividers has been used to ensure that the distances between the lines on that central ‘boss’ shape are even. Michelle suggests that some sort of back lighting was likely so that Eadfrith could follow his planned design. Read more here about Michelle’s work on the Lindisfarne Gospels.

images-2The intricacy of Eadfrith’s designs are quite amazing when magnified. The is the chi-rho page – the first two letters of the name Christ in Greek (not x and p as some believe!).

 

 

 

 

imagesAnd this is a close up of part of that page. The swirls are very similar to patterns on jewellery and metalwork around this time.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 21.29.18Red dots feature heavily in this manuscript, in patterns around and between the letters as here.

 

 

 

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73dbed769970d-580wiWhen the patterns are really enlarged the dots each have a dimple. This means that there would have been a dome. So, were these dots done with a pen/quill or a brush? I’ve experimented and am sure that they were done with a quill. There is a fascinating blogpost from the great British Library Typepad where they have enlarged various parts the page at the top of the blogpost, click here for more details.

 

images-3The lettering is in a particularly clear Half-Uncial, and even if you don’t read Latin, you will be able to make out the letters once you have realised that the letter A is a ‘two c’ letter and the rather strange squiggle is a letter G.

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 22.13.21This shows the clear letter-forms. Note the two c letter A at the end of the first line (TERRA), and the Half-Uncial letter G is the third letter from the end of the last line.

 

 

 

 

images-1There are also four author portraits of the Evangelists. This one shows St Matthew writing his Gospel in a book, with his symbol of a winged man blowing a trumpet behind him.

 

 

But you can see all this yourself as the Lindisfarne Gospels have been digitised by the British Library and you can look at page after page of wonderful lettering and glorious patterns, and enlarge them to your heart’s content! Click here for a couple of hours of pure joy!

 

Gilding and painting a miniature of a female martyr

cimg2855I had been asked to speak at the Houghton Library, and teach and give a demonstration at Harvard as part of the wonderful ‘Beyond Words’ exhibition there. Taking a lot of tools and materials on a plane is not sensible, and so I decided to almost finish a tiny miniature shown in the exhibition, which is a cutting from an Italian mid-fifteenth century Anitphonal (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Typ 983), and then add some more gold and paint more as a demonstration. The original female martyr, holding her martyr’s palm, had a bit of a double chin and a rather unfortunate expression, so I decided to do a bit of cosmetic surgery on her, and make a few adjustments (if only it was that easy in real life!).

 

cimg2833I selected a piece of vellum which had hair follicle markings on it and traced down the outline in red (minium) which is traditional. I then laid gesso ready to receive the real gold leaf.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2834I planned from the start not to gild it all so that I could show how it was done when I went to Harvard.

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2835Then it was on to painting the base colours. At this point, as always, any painting skills that you think you might have seem to go out the window (!).

 

 

 

 

 

cimg2855However, once the shades and tones, fine lines and details are added, suddenly the whole thing seems to come to life. The face, hair, hands and delicate white tracery on the blue background are very finely painted indeed, the dress and left-hand side of the initial ‘D’ less so. It is quite possible that the ‘master’ did the former, and an apprentice did the slightly less-well executed ‘colouring in’. It was a very interesting exercise and I do hope that Harvard find it a useful addition to their teaching repertoire.

The Brentwood Charters

cimg2583One of the more unusual commissions I had recently was to copy out two thirteenth-century charters on to vellum panels, and write the translations underneath.

 

 

cimg2585The charters granted the rights to a weekly market and an annual two-day fair to the district of Brentwood (Bois Arsus, Brendewode, and Burntwood); one was dated 1227 and the other 1252.

 

 

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This may seem straightforward – until you see the actual charters, as one of them on the right. The earlier one of 1227 had a great many contractions, and I was most grateful to Tessa Webber at Cambridge University for very kindly transcribing it for me, so at least I was able to try to decipher whether a Latin word started with ‘min…’ or ‘uni…’ or ‘niu…’ etc! The later charter of 1252 was slightly clearer, but it still meant that I had to resort to my scant knowledge of mediæval Latin on occasion.

cimg2556The width of the panels was determined by the charters themselves, and I felt that there should be a consistency between the two panels in terms of size, shape and layout, even though this may mean larger gaps between the copied Latin and the English translation (as in the first panel above). I was able to get some wonderfully marked skin from Cowleys and cut pieces to size before stretching them. The excess was ideal to use for determining how much preparation was required for each skin.

cimg2560Then it was time to rule the lines with a 4H pencil and the sliding rule of my sloping board. Distances between the lines were marked with dividers.

 

 

 

cimg2563I started with the translations. The two charters were in totally different hands, albeit being only twenty-five years apart, but I thought it important that the translations should be in the same writing style, trying to marry together the hands on the two charters rather than choosing any particular calligraphic style. Also, the writing needed to be legible for those who wished to know what the Latin in the charter meant.

cimg2562This is a close-up of my first efforts. I thought the final effect too heavy and dominant and so chose a smaller nib which seemed to balance the writing in the charters better.

 

 

 

 

cimg2480The writing in that period of time was Gothic, but Gothic Black Letter majuscules are so difficult to read, so again I devised a style, this time based on Gothic Black Letter and Gothic Cursive. I used a five-diamond cross to separate the title from the date, as this looked more in keeping than the simple dash. The titles were written in vermilion.

cimg2589The third panel, on paper the same size as the stretched vellum, explained about the charters, what they were written on and the pen and ink used originally. The cost of the charters was met entirely by sponsors who commissioned the panels (The Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Essex Farmers’ Markets Ltd) and Clive Othen, Chair of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, was the driving force behind this project. Dr Jennifer Ward translated them. Clive and Elaine Richardson from the Borough were some of the best clients I have worked with and I hope the panels prove interesting to those who live in Brentwood and others who visit.

 

An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


CIMG2727
Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Glittering Gilders

IMG_1469We had an early start at the London University Palæography International Summer School to ensure that the images of mediæval beasts were transferred on to prepared vellum, and the adhesive laid before a break for coffee. It was marvellous that everyone managed this, but hard and concentrated work!

 

 

IMG_1472It’s tricky to get a whole miniature gilded and painted in a day, especially as most people have no experience whatsoever in even handling a paintbrush, let alone one with so few hairs, so we chose the miniatures carefully, focusing on animals from bestiaries. This lovely peacock is the copy, not the bestiary original!

 

 

IMG_1470Here is a fearsome bonnacon without its usual defence mechanism (look it up!), with two soldiers holding spears and shields.

 

 

 

 

IMG_1474And here two elegant goats, with the ‘original’ being copied in front. Notice the shine of real gold leaf on the vellum!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderA red elephant and a blue dragon are fighting here perhaps producing dragon’s blood!

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And a knight on a horse is hunting a boar here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1475Two strongly coloured pigs!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1477 2And lastly a white horse fit for a princess!

Comments from students included:

Excellent!

Best class of the week.

A detailed, practical workshop.

I thought the teaching was excellent; all the explanations were very clear and thorough. Patricia was very encouraging throughout the course and I never felt that I wouldn’t achieve something worthwhile. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this course.

Next year, 2017, I shall be teaching a one-day practical calligraphy course for LIPSS, and the year after that, 2018, there will be a repeat of this course. Meanwhile, in 2017 I am thinking of running the three-day gilding and painting a mediæval miniature course again here in Sevenoaks, probably over the late May Bank Holiday. Look out for details and dates in my newsletters. This was the one last year.

Plaxtol Roll of Honour

IMG_1110The vast number of people involved in the First World War is being highlighted during these centenary years. This huge number is perhaps particularly exemplified  in the small Kentish village of Plaxtol. Over 150 men, all former pupils of the local village school, went to the front, as well as four members of staff. I was asked recently to prepare a Roll of Honour on vellum recording the names of these men.

 

 

CIMG2464I was given a typed list and the requirement that there would be a decorated border of cob nuts and hops, as these were local to the area, and so set about designing the panel. I experimented with the styles and sizes of text, spacing between the lines, placing of the blocks of text and so on.

 

 

CIMG2468I decided on Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand for the text, as it was this style, and Roman Capitals, again championed by Johnston, that MacDonald (Max) Gill used as his lettering design for all the First World War Memorials; Max being a student of Johnston. As always, everything was written out in rough first, and then positioned where it was to go. In the typewritten version the letters ‘RIP’ were written without fullstops, which I copied for two of the columns, and then inserted the fullstops for the other two – we all agreed that the latter looked better. I also used the traditional colour scheme for such panels of red and black.
IMG_1108Then it was deep breath time, the vellum was prepared, ruling up done, and I had to start the writing. I tacked the four columns of names first to get the body of the panel done, writing all the names and then returning with the same size nib and red paint to insert the words ‘Wounded’, or ‘R.I.P’ where appropriate. However, I used a compressed Roman form for ‘Wounded’ so that the columns weren’t too wide.

 

CIMG2630I left painting the border until last. My original design had the hops and cob nuts entwined but this was not was wanted. The suggestion of having separate blocks of the two plants would have made this part of the panel very disjointed, so I drew a long wavy line along the whole border, with the cob nuts growing up from the ‘valley’ and the hops hanging down from the ‘hills’. The width of border was about an inch (2–3 cm) high. The hops are about 1–2 mm each in size and each have about 5 different colours on them.

CIMG2617The panel was too large for me to stretch the vellum first around a board as I couldn’t then reach the top of it, so I had to do this after it was all done. The need for stretching is obvious from the way in which the skin is bumpy in the picture on the right.

It was a huge job and difficult to cost at the beginning – I spent far more time on it than I charged for, and now it hangs in Plaxtol Village Memorial Hall. It would be nice if more people knew about it and were able to see it.

Gold on Parchment, exhibition at Cornelissen in London

Cornelissen_smIt was a great privilege to work with L Cornelissen & Son at 105 Great Russell Street in London (just along from the British Museum) to mount the very first exhibition they have had at the shop. They are on a very busy thoroughfare and most people visiting the British Museum go past their front door. The exhibition was in the window and so it could be seen even when the shop was closed. The shop itself is wonderful as can be seen on the right – and it really is almost impossible not to go inside! Kathy Pearlson from Cornelissen, who set up the exhibition, did a terrific job of making sure that every piece could be seen and that the exhibition looked wonderful.

image12The exhibition was arranged on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association for London Craft Week 2016, echoing the theme of ‘paper’ for their first anniversary. Some of the best calligraphers and illuminators in the country were asked to submit one or two pieces of their work on vellum for the exhibition, and the response was terrific! For those who didn’t mange to see it, here are some of the pieces exhibited. The photographs were kindly taken by Yanko Tihov. On the right: Sam Somerville.

 

 

 

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Tim Noad, on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image2Mary Noble (this piece is tiny!)

 

 

 

 

 

image21Ronnie Cruwys – also see her website ‘Drawing the Street‘, and again a small piece

 

 

image16

Ann Hechle

 

 

 

 

 

 

image17Patricia Lovett, another small piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

image24Peter Thornton, small again

 

 

 

 

 

 

image23Peter Halliday (I am featuring this piece in my British Library book, The Art and History of Calligraphy, to be published in 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

image9Ewan Clayton

 

 
image5John Woodcock (another tiny piece)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image11Gemma Black

 

 

 

 

 

 

image10Jan Pickett

 

 

 

 

 

 

image13Jan Mehigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

image8Cathy Stables

 

 

 

 

 

 

image28Lin Kerr

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament II

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Great news! There was a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th April 2016, on whether to continue to print Acts of Parliament on vellum or not. This is the record of the debate in Hansard. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing to print Acts of Parliament on vellum. This was a wonderful reward to all the hard work many people had done in writing to their MPs and publicising the campaign. However, this decision lasts only for this parliament, so the question may well be raised again.

February 16th 2016: I had started to write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday 7th February 2016, we heard that the printers of Acts of Parliament on vellum had been given 30 days’ notice, and that printing was due to stop on April 1st (what an appropriate date I thought!). This was a surprise as we understood from James Gray MP’s Point of Order last November that there would be a debate in the House of Commons. This was what happened in 1999 when the Lords decided to stop using vellum and a debate and vote in the House of Commons decided to continue, so vellum was still used. So this time there was no debate and the decision had been taken.

35910.jpgI contacted the great Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children, and she raised a Point of Order on Tuesday 9th February and the Speaker advised her to look into an Early Day Motion so that MPs could register their views on this.

However, the decision had clearly been made. Sir Paul Beresford is the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, and Lord Laming is the Chair of the equivalent in the House of Lords. James Gray is a member of the Commons committee and he, and two other MP members who said that they had been ‘misled’ were not in favour of using paper instead of vellum. So who took the decision, when and where?

_88273692_vellum-making-lovettFollowing Sharon’s Point of Order there was a bit of a media circus and I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live, Radio Scotland, and was on BBC News at 10. I was also interviewed for a piece on the BBC website. They used my photo of Lee Mapley (right) scraping a skin, which is featured in my Illumination – Gold and Colour book.

Sharon was on a number of programmes too and Paul Wright of William Cowley on even more.

We made the case as well as we could but knew it was bolting the stable door …!

Then on Monday 15th March we all woke up to the news that Matt Hancock MP has stated that the Cabinet Office would cover the cost of vellum. Hurray! He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Recording our laws on vellum is a millennium long tradition, and surprisingly cost effective. While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out.’

There were many newspaper articles as a result – the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail being but some.

The campaign has been run by the Heritage Crafts Association; this is their press release.

As I write this all is not quite safely delivered in that the process still has to be gone through, the decision reversed, as many MPs as possible to sign the Early Day Motion which James Gray is leading. I am positive but also know that ‘there’s many a slip …’!

I’ll update this blog when everything has been confirmed – in the way we hope it will be!

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament

Parliamentary archives - Acts of Parliament (4)Vellum has been used for printing or writing Acts of Parliament almost since they were first recorded. In 1999 there was a move to print these Acts on paper, which was defeated. However, on 14th October this year, William Cowley, who are the last vellum and parchment makers in the UK, heard from their MP, Mark Lancaster, that there was to be a House of Commons meeting where the end result could well be that printing on vellum would cease.

 

 

 

imagesI was actually at a committee in the Houses of Parliament when I got this message, and went on to a meeting just after with one of the Heritage Craft Association’s patrons, Lord Cormack. He kindly agreed to write a letter in support of the continuation of the use of vellum, and also gave me invaluable advice.

 

A phone call with Paul Wright of William Cowley that evening, and a further conversation with Lord Cormack clarified the situation. The House of Lords agreed in 1999 to discontinue printing on vellum, however the House of Commons disagreed and so the use of vellum has continued. The discussion and vote was to be by the Administration Committee, chaired by Sir Paul Beresford MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sir-paul-beresford/103).

I wrote to Sir Paul Beresford and contacted as many people as I could who worked in conservation, museums, libraries, as book binders, and also other practitioners. I explained the situation briefly, and asked them to contact Sir Paul themselves.

There are three main points about paper and vellum and then one about the craft:

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  1. Vellum lasts. We have vellum documents that are over 2,000 years old, and whole books from around 350 AD (see right: Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library) which can still be consulted and used, pages turned etc. If vellum had not been used, the new Archbishop of Canterbury would not be able to kiss the St Augustine Gospels (brought over in 597 with St Augustine) when enthroned, we wouldn’t have the Domesday Book (1086), nor be celebrating 800 years of the Magna Carta with all the significance of the rights of people. Paper does not last anything like as long. Archival paper lasts for about 250 years; it may last longer if it is stored in special conditions, but no specialist will actually guarantee the ‘500 years’ that has been suggested. In any case, this is not 2,000 years!
  2. vellum makingWe have been told that the cost of printing Acts of Parliament is about £103,000 per year. We know from William Cowley that they receive about £47,000 per year for supplying vellum. This means that printing and other costs are £56,000. These costs will apply whether printing is on vellum or on paper, as there are no extra costs for printing on vellum nor any different inks needed. So the saving would be the cost of vellum, £47,000, minus the cost of archival paper, which we have been told is about £20,000. The saving is, therefore, £27,000. This relatively tiny amount is what the decision rests on!
  3. CIMG1640Vellum isn’t only green but green-plus, as it is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Male calves are killed for veal (veal and vellum have the same derivation) when they are a certain size if they aren’t selected for breeding and as they can’t produce milk. Once processed, their skins go to be tanned for the leather industry, more than we think go to landfill as we produce more skins than are required, and a few are used for vellum. No forests are cut down, no harmful chemicals are used, no energy-using machinery is required to produce vellum. The only energy is that of the parchmenter, who has taken 7 years to learn the craft skills.
  4. images-1William Cowley is the last vellum and parchment maker in the UK, and takes the passing on of skills seriously. It takes 7 years to train an apprentice to journeyman level, and they have one being trained at the moment. Supplying skin to parliament considerably boosts the sales of vellum and the effect cannot be over-estimated. It will have a serious effect on William Cowley if this supply stopped. We are losing too many of our heritage crafts by default and many of them are, like Cowleys, currently thriving businesses. (for the difference between parchment and vellum etc see:  http://www.patricialovett.com/vellum-and-parchment-and-a-special-offer/)

b6994e70-79b8-11e5-_999169cOn Saturday 24th October, there was an article in The Times*, and also a piece in their ‘comment’ section. Both were broadly positive, although there were errors. First, the cost of vellum is nothing like the £80,000 per year quoted, and secondly, no calves would be ‘saved’ by not printing on vellum, simply more calfskins would go to landfill. I sent email a letter to the Times correcting these facts but sadly my letter wasn’t published!  *(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4594895.ece)

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 15.53.57During that Saturday, I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC World Service, the PM Programme, and Radio 5, which I did. During Sunday I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC2’s Daily Politics programme on Monday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06myj7x/daily-politics-26102015) . I was able to make all 3 main points on vellum vs. paper, and also raise the fact that William Cowley were the last makers of vellum producing a world-class product. Wonderfully, the two MPs also being interviewed agreed with me, the Labour MP pointing out that we were the sixth richest country in the world and were arguing over such a small sum. To round off this ‘media frenzy’ (!) I was interviewed a few weeks later by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, where we had half an hour, interspersed with music, to flesh the debate out more.

select committeeThe House of Commons committee, meanwhile, had voted ‘unanimously’ to discontinue the use of vellum. One member of the committee, James Grey MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/james-gray/261) was slightly delayed to the meeting and would have voted against the proposal to print on paper. In the House of Commons later that day, James Grey made a Point of Order where he said that it was recorded that the vote of the committee was unanimous, when in fact he had objected to it, and also that this vote should be one needing a vote of the full House. He went on to say that he thought this ‘a disgraceful piece of heritage vandalism’.

So it is likely that there will be a debate in the House of Commons, with a free vote.

In addition, Sharon Hodgson MP, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education has taken this matter up, and has tabled a series of excellent and pertinent questions. (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/mrs-sharon-hodgson/1521). These relate to the actual cost (we have queried the £80,000 figure), how much would be saved by not using vellum, how much it would cost to create a special storage environment, what the advice is from archival experts in terms of the longevity of paper, how much it would cost to reprint the Acts of Parliament when the paper has deteriorated, and so on.

So the matter is not closed and I would urge everyone in the UK to write to their MP to point out that the cost implications are not the only thing to bear in mind when the continued supply of vellum and parchment is questioned, and the cost of the conservation of paper and re-printing of the Acts of Parliament at some time in the future need also to be taken into account. Many thanks to those of you who have kindly already written to your MPs. It is important and it does matter!

Vellum and Parchment, and a special offer

IMG_1600 - Version 2Most people are not aware that there is a difference between vellum and parchment – both being animal skin (not pretend ‘parchment’ paper). The names of skins are often used interchangeably and it can be quite difficult when looking at mediæval manuscripts to determine whether the substrate is vellum or parchment. The clue is often the crispness of the letter-forms, but if a sharpened quill is not used in the first place, then this can be even more challenging! I prefer the terms that the makers of vellum and parchment use and so regard vellum as calfskin; it is a dream surface to work on when prepared properly. Parchment is sheepskin and, in many people’s opinion, is inferior to vellum for calligraphy. Goatskin can also be used but its surface is often very bumpy. The skins are a by-product of the meat industry, and as far more skins are produced than can be used by the leatherworkers, many skins end up in land fill.

IMG_2351To see more about vellum and parchment and the qualities of the skin, what to look for, types of skins and the best to use, see my Calligraphy Clip, vellum and parchment.

 

 

 

vellum making

Skins for both parchment and vellum are selected carefully, washed and soaked in lime to slightly swell the hair follicles so that the hair can be removed more easily. The skins are washed again and then stretched out on a ‘frame’ or ‘herse’. Whilst on the frames they are kept under constant tension and scraped with a semi-circular razor-sharp knife. Lee Mapley of William Cowley Parchment Works, finalist in the Craft Skills Awards, is shown on the right; he produces skins of excellent quality. The skins are then allowed to dry and when ready, cut from the frames and rolled, stored and then sent out.

FullSizeRender******SPECIAL OFFER!! Three pieces of skin for £12 (+ p+p), usually £16 (+p+p). I always use skins from William Cowley, the only parchment and vellum maker in the UK, and I highly recommend their products. They have kindly agreed to a special trial offer for subscribers to my newsletter. A whole skin is very expensive, so why not try manuscript calfskin vellum, classic vellum and sheepskin parchment (*see next but one paragraph). All three pieces are about 5 x 3 inches (approximately 13 x 8 cm) which will be big enough to write out a verse of a short poem, piece of prose or paint a mediæval miniature (and without the hole as in those shown here!). To get this offer, please email me at the address on my website. I will then give you a personal code and the website link to William Cowley. They will give details of payment and ask where to send the offer. This offer is available to all my subscribers, and William Cowley will advise on postage for non-UK addresses.

FullSizeRender*******The Private Library, the journal of the Private Libraries Association, has produced a whole edition on vellum, featuring a fascinating, detailed article about many aspects of skin written by James Freemantle. It costs £6 for UK residents (£5 + appropriate p+p for non-UK) and is available from Jim Maslen at maslen@maslen.karoo.co.uk

 

 

 

 

vellum skinVellum skins are not the same thickness all over as is paper; this can be seen from the picture on the right. This was the skin that I produced for the British Library’s major Genius of Illumination exhibition. The haunches, spine and shoulders are thicker and the ribs thinner. Care must be taken when selecting the part of the skin to use as parts will move and buckle or cockle in heat or when damp.

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*There are also different types of vellum skin. Calfskin manuscript vellum is prepared on both sides and so can be used in books or where you want to use the back of the skin. Classic vellum is bleached but prepared on only one side – useful if you want to create a broadsheet. Natural vellum is not bleached, shows the character of the skin, and again prepared on only one side. Kelmscott vellum has a surface coating which makes it ideal for printing; it was made originally for William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. It’s good for painting, but you need to use a dry-ish mix of gouache to avoid lifting the special finish. Slunk vellum is from the skins of stillborn or uterine calves and is quite thin but still strong. You can see the thinness in the picture as the handle of the paintbrush shows through much more in the skin on the far left.
Lovett P 6 copyThe skin needs to be prepared before use for writing and painting, and this information is in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour – and the accompanying (and stand alone) DVD Illumination, which is over 3 hours long. Both include how to stretch vellum over board to avoid it buckling and cockling and how to gild and paint a mediæval miniature in the traditional way. There’s lots of information about tools and materials for Illumination, as well as projects which are very simple to make.

CIMG2164Vellum skin does, though, give the most wonderful surface for writing and painting, and if you’ve never tried it then you are missing a rare treat!