Monday, July 8, 2013

Quill Pens and Berry Ink

During the Civil War, quill pens were still a common writing instrument. Metal nibs were used sometimes too, but quills were cheap and convenient, and ink was often made out of berries. So we decided to try our hands and making and writing with quill pens.

First we made our ink. I had a few strawberries that had gone bad which I saved just for this purpose (I suppose I would have used good berries if we'd had to, but it would have been sad to waste them). We just followed the recipe here: crush some berries and strain the juice into a bowl, then add a bit of vinegar (to set the dye) and salt (so it won't spoil if you keep it around for awhile).
Nice and squishy
Berry ink!

There are a lot of ways to cut quills, some more complicated than others. You can heat up some sand and stick your feather in it to harden the end, which apparently achieves good results, but we didn't bother with that step. Therefore, when we tried to cut our quills like this, they just sort of chipped off or got crushed. But the simple method, of just cutting the shaft of the feather off at an angle, worked just fine for our purposes.

Before we used our pens, we talked about how important handwriting was in those days, and how people would sometimes hire scribes to write their letters for them. We talked about how the mail system changed during the war, and the prevalance of letters for disseminating information. We also looked at lots of handwriting samples. I just love the fancy script the best calligraphers used!
Here is a handwritten letter from a Civil War Soldier
Here is some lovely fancy penmanship (the flourishes are my favorite)
Here is one alphabet (I tried to copy this font style with my quill)

Even Junie and Daisy really loved sitting down with a quill, dipping it in a little "inkwell," and drawing with it. Here are some things we wrote and drew with our quill pens and berry ink:
Ha, I always want to sign letters like this

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