Deciphering Secrets: Preparing the Quires

Deciphering Secrets – Preparing the Quires

Because I only have the one piece of vellum, I’m only making one quire.


The next step in the process is to fold the parchment into quires, but before I do that, I need to prepare the vellum for writing and then cut it to size.  However before I do either, I want to cut a couple of goose feathers for use as quills, one cut to a crowquill, the other to a broad nib for writing.


First, I’ll soak the quills in water for about 20 minutes to soften them.  They’ve been sitting in a jar for months and have air-cured.  Then I’ll trim off all the feathers, cut off the tip and clean out the barrels.  I made the cuts and the quills are working fine (though they generally work better on a slanted surface and not flat.)

I used a very fine sandpaper to smooth the hair side which was a little rough and to raise a slight nap on the flesh side, as it appeared too slick to write on.  I then pounced both sides with pounce, dusting it lightly on the parchment and then rubbing it gently with a scrap of linen cloth.  I’m not sure exactly what is in the pounce container.  (I inherited it with some old art supplies but pounce can be made from finely powdered cuttlefish bone, gum sandarac, chalk or similar substances.)  I also smoothed the hair side with a bone folder, but there is still a rough spot that is going to be very hard to calligraph over.

After that was done I cut the vellum down to size.  I was just going to eyeball it but realized the piece is not rectangular. So I trimmed it (and it’s still a little off.)


After I fold and cut the parchment it will be 8 pages, comprised of two bifolium which I believe is a binio,

Time to fold the quires!  No problem with the first fold.  The second fold was a little harder as the vellum folded was now thicker.  Made the folds with the bone folder.  Then I decided to trim the uneven edges with my Exacto knife.  It’s not easy cutting through several layers of vellum!

Next to cut the quires open. I’ll switch blades on the Exacto knife so it is totally sharp. And then I trimmed the pages again because they still aren’t even (and aren’t perfect after trimming).  That was a little nerve-wracking.

Next I put a hole in the spine to tacket my bifolum together.  The most common tacket (thong used to bind loose bifolium pages together) is a sliver of parchment which I’ve done.

Last I will mark the order of the pages.  I have the text written out, though I may still do some editing on it.  I do know the order of what I want on the pages and will use letters to mark each page.  I’ll put the signatures in a box like the Lutrell Psalter.

Here’s a few manuscripts and other sources I used for inspiration:

Luttrell Psalter:  Catchphrase in a box.

1325-1340, Contents: ff. 1r-12v: Calendar, with the feasts of the following English saints included: Edward (18 March); Augustine (26 May); Translation of Thomas of Canterbury (7 July); Wilfrid (12 October); Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln (17 November); Edmund

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a website showing the step by step process of rebounding a choir book from Florence. Part way down the image labeled “The manuscript before rebinding” clearly shows the quires.

Here’s another manuscript that looks a little distressed but shows quires:

The Aberdeen Bestiary lists quite a lot of information about the quires:


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