How to Make your own Quill
Quills have a long history, and some artists claim that feathers produce the best writing. Quills are still popular amongst calligraphers, and some even claim that the nib give a flexibility that no metal nib can achieve. Also, feathers curve around the body of the bird, so the feathers on the different sides of the birds are suited for left- and right-handers.
Of course, a quill is made from a feather. But actually the quill, scientifically speaking, is the part of the feather that is inside the skin, which is actually hollow and have no "fluff" sticking out of it. (This is the part we deal with.)
Picking the Feathers
Of course, we can't really all chase after birds to pluck their feather. We've got calligraphy to learn too! So, buy your feather from your local craft store.
When making a quill, most people prefer using swan feathers; Goose and turkey feathers are also quite popular. The feathers a quill maker uses are the first five flight feathers of the bird, because the others are too short a barrel to make a good quill.
Summary of Steps
- Choosing the Feather
- Curing the Feather
- With Sand
- With Microwave
- Cutting the Nib
- Making a Reservoir
Curing the Quill (preparations)
The best way to make a quill is to let the quills dry out by themselves. But often a calligrapher does not have time to let the feathers dry out over spans of years. “Curing a quill” is the method of drying a feather so that its barrel will harden in order to make a quill.
- Before the curing process, feathers should be trimmed, either with a knife or scissors, to the right length (around 20cm.)
- Remove the longer barbs by using a scissors because when tearing by hand might damage the membrane.
- Cut off the rounded tip of the barrel and remove the soft pliable membrane from the inside with a knitting needle. (Or anything at hand as long as you are careful not to damage the barrel.)
- With a small knitting needle, scrape the waxy material from the barrel. (Or with a thumbnail; or the back of a knife.)
- Soak the quill overnight in a jar with water, to cleanse the quill.
Curing with Sand
Because of the number of variables with this method, it is a wise idea to use a test feather to test the length of time required to cure the feathers. Allow the sand to cool a little before you cure the feathers, because if the sand is too hot, then the barrel will be too brittle.
- Place the sand in a medium sized heat-proof bowl, making sure the sand is about 4-5 cm (2 in.) deep.
- Put the sand in the oven for about 20-25 minutes at 180 degrees C, or 350 degrees F.
- While the sand is heating, dry the feathers that you have soaked overnight.
- Use a teaspoon to scoop some of the sand into the barrel of one feather and immediately plunge it into the hot sand so that all the barrel is covered with sand. Experiment with the amount of time needed with a test feather before you do this with the whole batch.
Curing with a Microwave
The microwave is perhaps the most convient, but least predictable method. However, because basically anyone with access to electricity nowadays has a microwave, I'll include this method. Also, the way to get around "over-curing" the quill is to use 10 second bursts of power from the microwave.
- Make sure the rounded tip is cut off, otherwise the quill might explode.
- Place the feathers in the microwave and turn the microwave to full power for 10-second blasts till the feather has been cured. (Milky white opaque to almost clear and slightly yellow.)
Cutting the Nib
Please, for your own safety, use a sharp knife. Sharp knives are better, since you won't have to put as much force into the cutting, and therefore minimizes uncontroled swinging of the knife after a cut.
- Determine the direction first:
- Roll the quill on your hands, and see which way the quill naturally bends onto the bottom.
- At times, if you're making a quill as a gift, you might want to have the person who is receiving the gift try out how he/she will hold the quill, because if the natural curve of a feather, it is essential that the nib is oriented as the writer prefers.
- Make a scoop about 1 in. from the bottom.
- Shape the shoulders by making antoher schoop cut on the left and right sides of the nib.
- Make a slit in the nib about 0.3 in. long.
- Trim the end of the quill.
- Hold the quill at an angle of about 30 degrees, and make a bevel cut to “sharpen” the nib.
Links to Picture Guides and Calligraphy Sites
Making the Reservoir
The last part of making a quill is to make it so that it can hold ink! (The reservoir.)
- Soft metal strips from soft-drink cans (after they are cleaned) make good reservoirs.
- Cut a strip of appropriate size (that will fit inside the barrel) and make it in a “s” shape, then gently push it into the quill, when the “s” shaped metal and the nib forms a “v” to hold ink.
I hope you enjoyed the tutorial on making your own quill. It’s a fun project, and a good investment if you plan on doing some art that involves calligraphy. A few older (1900’s) books on calligraphy also cover the quill making in detail. However, the authors usually only focus on their own ways, which is a bit annoying. (They also didn’t have microwaves back then.)
Well, good day for now, and have fun making quills!