The last remaining master animal-skin parchment maker in the world demonstrates how paper was made in medieval Europe (and why it wasn’t for vegetarians).
How Medieval Parchment is Made
Published: October 13, 2020
Lee Mapley: I’m Lee Mapley. I am the only traditional master parchment maker left in the world, which is quite unique. Essentially, we are taking a raw material, completely natural sheepskin, calfskin or goatskin, and we are converting it into a beautiful writing material. I’ll tie the skin into a frame. And it has to be stretched. I’m realigning the fibers of the skin, to get it nice and solid, to keep that nice flat surface. So, then I can also work any flesh off the skin and work the grease out of the skin, in the frame. So, it’s literally elbow grease and hot water to remove that grease from the skin.
Brody Neuenschwander: For a thousand years this was the only writing surface Europe had. It’s a piece of parchment. Now medieval books were not made by vegetarians. And you can see that it’s an animal product, because running right down the center, this pale zone, is the spine of the animal, with the pelvic bones even shown here. Here, we would fold to make a large book. And that’s why we call it the “spine” of a book.
Narrator: The fact that parchment could be folded made it possible to stitch leaves together into a “codex,” the form of the modern book. Each sheet of parchment would yield eight pages of an “octavo” volume, which meant that it took a lot of animals to make a single book. The medieval pen was also an animal product, a bird’s feather.
Neuenschwander: Cutting a quill starts with shortening it, sadly. It’s a little less romantic that way, but otherwise it would stick in your eye. And then you have to open the end of it and make a slit and the slit that I make now by lifting the knife is what brings the ink to the point of the pen, and then starting on the other side I cut from one side towards the slit that I just made and then, from the other side towards the /slit and I make a symmetrical point.
Now, I use a lot of different tools, modern ones, and all, but I’ve still never found anything better than a good swan quill.
Martin De La Fouchardière
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
ANIMATION AND GRAPHICS
Caroline Le Hello
Davide Ribeiro Da Silva
Tom De Pauw
Clara Della Torre
Romain Colonna d’Istria
Magdy El Rashidy
Zhuang Yimin, Flying Sparrow Films Co. Ltd
Penny Dan Xu
Jo De Baerdemaeker
Dai Yuexuan Calligraphy Store, China
Hast Imam Library Museum, Uzbekistan
Leiden University, Netherlands
Meros Paper Mill, Uzbekistan
Mo Fan Bookshop, China
Municipal Archive of Bruges, Belgium
Ulugh Beg Astronomical Observatory, Uzbekistan
Ulugh Beg Madrassa, Uzbekistan
William Cowley Parchment Makers, UK
National Association of Electronic Mass Media, Uzbekistan
Foreign Affairs Office of the People’s Government of Beijing Municipality, China
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