Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Quill is Mightier than . . . well, Me, betimes

Between struggling with email client software, building puppets and devising a new show for April 11 (my other life), and reading piles of "finances of the eighteenth century" tomes, finding a relaxing "occupation" or time for such has been at a premium. I have tried my hand at knitting a couple of monmouth caps which, as it turned out, was quite successful.

One small skill, however, I am really trying to master (if not perfect) is the cutting of a quill. Some people find whittling wood relaxing, and turn out fine products, not to mention piles of chips. Cutting a quill is a bit less messy, but much more challenging I find.

Although I've read a number of old and new how-to's (one of my favorites being "The Young Clerk's Assistant . . . " Richard Ware, London, 1764 because of, among other things, it's pretty complete instructions for how to write, how to assess your ink, how to cut your quill correctly) and looked at many online instructionals, I still find that each quill seems to have its own nib hidden within its barrel, and doing its best to keep a fine writing point from me.

Actually, I can cut a pretty good nib. I have a good quill knife for the task, although I wish I had one of Stan Knight's (sadly out of production). And the quills work pretty well, too. I just find that finding the "sweet spot" of a well defined nib with just the right balance of rigidity and flexibility is till difficult.

A task that was so common to do so well (or perhaps I'm exaggerating the merely middling ability of most writers to cut their quills) seems so much like a craft or art today.

Tenacity, thy name is cutting the perfect quill.

Still, the neatest demonstration of quill cutting (though with a modern twist) is calligrapher Martin Jackson's online instructional video. Check it out.

The Clerk

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