Feather was the theme of this week’s Unplugged Project. We decided to try making a quill pen out of some big, beautiful turkey feathers that a friend gave us.
I found very detailed instructions here: Cutting Quill Pens from Feathers. This project involves sharp knives, so unless you have older children, you will probably end up doing most of the work like I did.
First temper the quill to toughen it up. We filled a small, all metal pan with sand from our giant sand pile (you can use a tin can for this part too) and heated it in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Next we stuck our feather tip into the hot sand and left it there until the sand was cool.
Use a sharp kitchen knife to scrape off some of the feathers near the end in order to make a feather-free area to grip.
Find the orientation of your feather. This will determine which side you are going to cut. Feathers curve and you want the pen to curve back in your hand as you write. The feather is top side up in this photo.
The first cut is actually made opposite the way you would think. Hold the feather pointed away from you and top side up. Using scissors, cut the tip off the feather at an angle slanting away from you (so more of the top side is gone than the bottom).
The second cut is a long shallow cut along the bottom of the feather. It should be centered along the top cut and should remove about half the tube. This opens up the feather and you can dig out any membranes that are inside using tweezers.
The next part is making the slit. I didn’t really understand this step until I saw how my cuts had shaped the tip, but you will see two little points (the website calls them “horns”) that are formed by the intersection of the two cuts.
Squash the tip of the feather flat so the two points/horns are flat one against the other. Press hard and this should make a crack in your feather tip halfway between the points. Ideally it should only be about 1/4″ long.
The final step (and the one I found the most difficult) is shaping the nib. Look closely at the instructions to determine the proper shape. I used scissors for my first cuts, and then a sharp kitchen knife to gradually shave the nib to hopefully something like the proper shape!
Clip off any teeny tiny rough bits, dip your nib in some good ink and test your quill on high-quality paper. I used sepia non-waterproof (ie. washable) ink. Obviously washable ink is preferable if kids are going to use it!
I must say, while not perfect, the quill actually did hold ink in the shaft and wrote much better than I expected. Not too bad for a first try at a lost skill that really requires much practice and patience to learn properly.
If you decide to try this, I urge you to read the much more complete, knowledgeable and well-photographed instructions at Cutting Quill Pens from Feathers.
If you did a feather Unplugged Project this week, then please link to your project post in the linky below. If you didn’t join in, please do not link, but read more about how to get involved in the Weekly Unplugged Project here. We’d love to have you!
By the way, sorry I am late with the post this week, but life comes before blogging!
The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be very open-ended:
The Letter J