Making a quill pen is a fun activity for children who like the Harry Potter books, or who love to learn how people used to do things.
We made a quill pen a few weeks ago as an experiment. We had a beautiful feather which my son found in Idaho. We think it is a hawk's feather.
We weren't at home where I have some ink, and we didn't have oak gall and iron filings to make ink as they did in the Middle Ages! We used strong tea. It was a feeble ink, but it was still fun for an experiment.
In this picture my child is using a wonderful quill set made by the American Document Company, which makes quill pens for The United States Supreme Court, 1200 of them per year! We got it at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum of the 17th century separatists' settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Quill pens were the primary writing instrument from the 6th to the 19th centuries. Even easier to come by was the wood-nib pen, made out of a twig whittled to a point. Making a wood nib pen would be a good first whittling project. It isn't as nice as a quill pen because it doesn't hold much ink and must be dipped frequently. Children at Plimoth Plantation also used chalk on slate to practice their letters.
The quill pen set from the American Document Company came with some ink powder, but you can make your own ink, as American school children did, out of walnut shells or berry juice. We used to make ink out of poke berry juice when we were girls, (which is poisonous, incidentally.) There are instructions for how to make a quill pen, a wood nib pen, and ink in Steven Caney's wonderful book "Kids' America." I also found a YouTube video about how to make a quill pen today. It was filmed at Kenilworth Castle. Have a look at it if you are think of making one. Just click on the title of this post. And I recommend the beautiful award-winning animated film "The Secret of Kells," about a boy monk and a magic wolf-girl, and the power of calligraphy and illumination, though it might be scary for some children.
Now it is time to get out your primer, and practice good penmanship!