Quills were one of the dominant forms of writing throughout the Medieval period. Made from the feathers of common birds, like geese and ducks, quills were easy to make and worked brilliantly well.
Monks living in monasteries, like the Abbey of St Mary's in Furness, would use quills on a daily basis to write copies of scripture while sat in the Cloister Range. At our upcoming event, Life in the Past, during our Meet the Monks day (7th June, 11am - 5pm) you can have a go at writing with one of these wonderful writing implements.
This is how such a quill is made:
Take a feather, the one I am using is a white duck feather. You then can cut away some of the feather's barbs (the main body of the feather). I leave some at the top, mostly for decoration.
Now it's time to start shaping the nib of the quill, the bit that will do the writing and hold the ink. Feathers have a hollow shaft towards the bottom, this is perfect for creating an ink well which will hold the ink while writing.
It's time to cut the end. Take a sharp knife and take an angled cut down towards the end of the shaft. Following this cut again in a steeper angle nearer the end and shape the nib.
Once the nib has been shaped cut a slit down the centre of the nib. This will allow the ink to flow down the shaft to the parchment. Once this has been done you have a new, working, quill. Ready for writing with.
Feather Quills are wonderful implements to write with. It really makes you appreciate the art of writing, that is of course if you can write. In our time not everyone was literate or able to write. Monks were well educated and wrote everyday but peasants would, mostly, never write or read.
800 years ago this year, in 1215, the Magna Carta was written with feather pens just like this!
Come see us on the 7th of June at Furness Abbey to have a go writing with one of these quills at our Meet the Monks display and discover what life was like for Monks in the 13th Century. You can also come and see us at our Meet the Peasants day on the 6th June to learn more about life in the 12th Century.