Tuesday, 22 March 2016

baking sand; or odd things to do at the weekend

Hello to any OU A334 buddies!

And to everybody else, here's how I came to be baking sand.

One of the interesting bits of independent study I was doing for my OU course recently was learning about writing technology of the past. If you're a bit of a stationery nerd, as I am, this is pretty interesting stuff.  The independent study options were related to the section on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters, so that we could imagine intrepid Lady M writing and rewriting her letters (she kept copies) with the available technology - quills, oak gall ink, writing slopes, sanders and what have you - knowing that some of her letters might never reach the recipients at all.

One thing led to another - an article on how quills were made and re-cut led to Youtube videos on making quill pens, naturally leading me to a walk round the local loch to see if the geese had moulted anything useful.  They hadn't, so I ordered some goose feathers from ebay (is there anything that you can't buy on ebay..?) and on Saturday I thought I'd have a go.

Stage 1 - cutting the feather down to a comfortable length and stripping the barbs. With the first feather I cut the barbs off with a knife but with the second I just pulled them off by hand which is easier and leaves a softer edge (so more comfortable to hold, I imagine).

Stage 2 - baking sand.
Apparently heating the quill in hot sand and then letting it cool makes it easier to cut and less brittle, so I baked some sand in the oven for 20 mins, then took it out and stuck the feathers in it. This makes you feel a) very silly and b) as if you're at playgroup again.

Actually while I was baking the sand I took one of the other feathers and thought I'd try skipping the heating the quill stage to see if there was a discernible difference (for Science! - and also for impatience and curiosity).

Stage 3 was the cutting. I have no pictures of this because I was too busy muttering and swearing. The sharpest knife I could find was my husband's Stanley knife which only had the tiniest bit of blade left, so it was a bit awkward. I may invest in a craft knife.

Quill 1, the unheated one, was indeed an absolute pig to cut, as you can probably see from the first bit of writing: 

However it was still exciting to have created a writing implement, and Miss M, who had been to a birthday party, decided to have a go too, hence 'The party was fun!'

Quill 2 was easier to cut but needed some trimming to get it to write in a vaguely satisfactory manner. If you click-to-embiggen that picture above you'll see it was writing double, so I was trying to smooth out any scratchy bits to make it clearer.

As you'll see from the next two pictures the writing can be pretty variable. My natural writing with a pencil or ballpoint is pretty small. With a fountain pen I write slightly larger and more slowly. With a quill, my writing was forced to be a good bit larger still, just to make it legible, though I imagine some of that would improve with practise. The first picture is the only half-decent one I managed to get of the tip of the quill. I imagine cutting the 'nib' would improve with practise too!

And finally, blotting (see this clip from The Wrong Box, 2 and half minutes in). Actually this was my editor. She likes to check everything I write. Or do. She was most offended when I wiped her paws after this, but I don't know how toxic ink is to kitties. (Incidentally, if you're one of my stationery-nerd chums, the ink is Diamine in green-black.)

What surprised me actually is how much I could write before dipping the quill into the ink again. I thought I'd be lucky to get a couple of words but I probably got at least three-quarters of a line each time. It does make me curious as to how much time Lady M spent on her letters, not just on the writing itself but recutting quills. It's also made me view the various letters in Pride and Prejudice in a different light - how long would it take Mr. Darcy to write his fairly epic letter to Elizabeth? Well, if he were me, ages.  I'd have given up, it would be a rather shorter story and Colin Firth wouldn't have to listen to jokes about wet shirts.


Dad said...

Methinks that you're deceiving us
And so our reasoning goes thus:
The pictures speak of hotter climes
And of those from former times:
The Baking sands of Araby?
No, merely those of Gas, Mark Three!

Peeriemoot said...

Lol! Though it was really more 200C.. :-)

Mrs. Micawber said...

Of course Mr. D's letter originally read: "Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this letter, that I have strained my hand in the writing thereof, or cut my thumb whilst mending my pen. For I mend pens remarkably well, as befits a gentleman whose condition in life is so decidedly above your own. Nor need you fear that this epistle contains a renewal of those sentiments" etc. etc. Unfortunately the editor cut out the bit about the pen, forcing Miss Austen to use some of those lines elsewhere.

How did they ever manage to write entire books in those days?!?

Hope you're doing well.