Friday, January 28, 2011

Quill Pen

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!


Lacey (schoolhousefarm) said...

a friend bought us one & we've been meaning to make ink this week! such fun.

Luisa said...

This is so funny! When I woke up this morning my son had the same exact book in his hands and wanted to ink from berries. And yup after searching in the freezer we settled for frozen cherries. We couldn't find the blueberries. How awesome. He is over my shoulder right now and we enjoyed your post.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Ah Beth,

You always tickle me. Maybe it is the quill pen.


Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Jessica said...

8 yr old Tigerlily is harry obsessed at the moment...taking of where our eldest left off.We are going to try this as sson as we can get a good feather!

Beth said...


How did the ink come out? Beth

Beth said...

I just visited your blog and saw walnut shells....I think that's what you need for ink! Beth

Beth said...


No wonder your books are successful. Even your comments are wonderfully written! Beth

Beth said...

Hi, Jessica! My eight year old loves Harry Potter, too, but we are half way through "Larklight" right now, a steampunk novel for children, and he likes it even more! Beth

Amanda said...

I enjoyed the comments almost as much as the clever post! Thank you ladies.

I look forward to using every one of your ideas when my girl gets a little older and we start to talk about how early people lived... maybe I'll start some of that next year (1st grade). You just have so many things we can do on here!

Hullabaloo Homestead said...

We are going to be delving into quill pens with our homeschooling group soon, as we are reading about the early homesteaders. I know my oldest in particular will love love it. Over the summer she whittled a feather she found in our yard and mashed some wild berries for ink.


Lacey (schoolhousefarm) said...

Beth--yes! we're stocked up on walnuts just for the ink--I'll let you know how it turns out. It's on the agenda for thursday!

Beth said...

I'd love to hear about it Lacey. I've never made walnut ink. Beth

Anonymous said...

I nominated you for the Stylish Blog Award:

Love following your journeys!