Bone Dust

Bone dust in period was used like pounce is today, to remove oils from the paper in prep for painting and or writing. This helps to prevent the ink from soldering out. Sprinkling a little on the paper and spreading it around then dusting the remainder off. 

This bone dust is also used in silver point sketching. See Cennini excerpts below. 

According to Cennini, take the bone from the second joints and wings of fowls, or capon. The older they are the better, just as you find them under the dining table. Put them into the fire and when you see that they are whiter than ash, draw them out and grind them well.  


Silverpoint is sketching with a silver stylus onto a prepared piece of paper or ground. The touch of the silver stylus alone will not leave a mark unless the paper has been prepared by either using bone pounce by sprinkling it on, rubbing it over the paper, then dusting it off or using the bone ash in a primer that you can paint directly on to the paper which may give the silverpoint drawing more permanence (caveat: I have not been able to determine if using a bone dust primer paint was done in period). If choosing the other method, you can line the sketch with pen and ink for more permanence.

Silverpoint is difficult to erase after it is applied so it is recommended to draw lightly, nearly invisible and then darken the outline layer by layer by overlaying lines with ever increasing pressure. Cross hatching is also used, which is changing the directions of the marks to follow the shape of the form.

Over time, the silver will tarnish going from a light grey color to more of a sepia color.

Cennini, “And then [after pouncing with bone dust] take a style of silver or brass or anything else provided the ends be of silver, very slender and smooth and handsome. Then, using a model, start to copy the easiest possible subjects, to get your hand in, and run the over the little panel so lightly that you can hardly make out what you first start to do; strengthening your strokes little by little, going back many times to produce the shadows. And the darker you want your shadows the more times you go over them, and so conversely, go back over the reliefs only a few times.”

“On parchment… put some of that bone, dry and powdered, like dust or pounding rosin, all over the parchment, sprinkling it on, spreading it out, and dusting it off with a hare’s foot. If after you have drawn it with the style, you want to clear it up, fix it with ink at the points of accent and stress

Lead point drawing (no bone dust)

Cennini, ” You may also draw without any bone, on this parchment with a style of lead; that is made out of 2 parts lead and one part tin, well beaten with a hammer.”

How to Cut & Use Quills

by Magistra Mara Palmer

This is how I personally cut quills, but if you would like to explore the primary sources, The Craftman’s Handbook by Cennini (p. 8) and Scribes and Sources (p. 94 as well as scattered pages throughout the rest of the book) are both excellent starting points!
Reed pens and feather quills are both period and this handout CAN work for shaping both, though I will say that cutting quills usually adds in a couple other steps for structural reasons that you just don’t need with reeds. So while it works for reeds, it’s the longer way around; however, the opposite isn’t true and I wouldn’t use reed pen cutting methods on feather quills personally. Goose feathers were the most common, but if there was a good feather lying around, they’d use it. Crow feathers were almost exclusively used for fine point inking (hence “crowquill”) but very well could have been used for tiny calligraphy, marginalia, glossing, etc. A cheap modern alternative to goose feathers are turkey feathers, but try to avoid feathers that have been dyed/ bleached as this can mess with the cutting process or interact poorly with your ink. I go through specifics in both cutting and using the quill below.
How to Cut a Quill
The first step is to cut the very tip off the feather and soak it in water. This softens the insides. I generally soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. Once the insides are softened, pull the guts of the feather out with a pointed or hooked stick (period) or a really small crochet hook (modern but super easy). Make sure all of the insides of the feather are out before proceeding.
The next step is to cut and strip the feather (make sure to do this before curing as it is easier when the feather is wet). Cut the feather down to about the size of a pencil and throw away the top (I know this can be hard for your first quill since so many of us have the vision of the large feather quill. If you want to skip this step, you can, but it will be less versatile, though you should probably strip the very bottom fluff of feathers). At some point before curing, you will also take the blunt side of your knife and scrape off the waxy layer coating the shaft of the feather.
Strip the feather by simply pulling the bits off. Usually you can grab it at the top and pull them all off at the same time in one strip, though touch ups may be needed. You can leave a bit of feather on the side for brushing away eraser bits, etc, but if you want it to be in a penner you may want to strip all of it.
This is where you cure your quill. It is important to note that this step can be optional; it just means your quills may soften faster during use. It is also possible to have naturally cured feathers to start with before gutting/etc., and that’s okay too.In modern quill cutting classes, we are taught to put it in jeweler’s sand in a crock pot that is kept warm but not hot. You leave it in there until the keratin becomes more clear. Alternatively, you can hold it over a hot iron or stove top. Another way to do it is to let it heat cure naturally, which is much slower. The faster version is to leave it on your dash for a few days. When preparing quills for an entry, however, I let it cure in the sun outside for a few weeks. This means that I keep a lot of uncut, cured quills laying around for when I need them. The only documentation specifies curing as “hard and clear”.

Next comes the cutting. The quill is cut in two steps, the major cut and minor cut (at least that’s what I call them; terminology may vary). The major cut tapers so that about half of the barrel is cut away. Be wary of guides such as in Lettering & Calligraphy Workbook by the Diagram Group. They do the major and minor cuts for the reed pen, though they merge the shaping and minor cut into more of a single step. However, they bypass this entirely in their quill walkthrough and that will lead to a lot of frustration with a cut quill for broad-edge period use. They also tend to cut the slit really early on when it actually should be one of the last  steps.
The minor cut is further down. This is done to give the pen more balance and support than if there were just one cut tapered down to the tip.
From there you shape the nib, scraping it on the top and bottom to sharpen it, then along the sides to actually shape it. As you can see, this pen is cut at a left oblique since that was what was needed for this particular project.
The next step is optional. The picture shows splitting the nib (albeit a sloppy job of it). The easiest way to do this is to lay the tip down on your cutting board and press your knife into the tip to split it. It does not need to be as large a split as depicted. My preferred option is to score the nib on both sides. This allows for the ink to flow while letting your tip last longer. The third option is to do neither. While I cannot get ink to flow as well, some people prefer this method. All are period practices.
And now your quill is cut!

Using Your Quill

Using the quill is not as tricky as you would think. You use it much like a metal nib, but you don’t need to bear down as hard. It takes a light touch, like painting but more rigid. After being used for a stretch of time, the quill can re-soften. The best way is to either walk away and leave it be for a while before picking it back up, or use multiple quills (which is likely what they would have done in period). Since I have been unable to ever cut two quills exactly the same, I tend to have one or two projects, each with their own quill, and rotate between them as they begin to soften.

This makes getting that period look a lot easier though, because the small flicks, flourishes, etc. are amazingly easier to do than mimicking the look with a metal nib on bristol board. Any scripts where you need to twist the nib to get a certain look are also a million times easier with a quill on parchment/perg. It is also a lot easier on your hands and tons faster since you don’t have to pick up your pen as often.