How to make a quill pen the REAL way. (And also the cheater’s way!)

I have always loved the look of quill pens and have often wondered what it was like to write with one. When you see the beautiful documents and letters people wrote with quills it is awe inspiring: 

Psst, I’m pretty sure a machine wrote this…

If you read historical romance (and why wouldn’t you?!) you may have noticed that people often faff around with quills. It seems to have been an excellent way to get up to a little flirting: the heroine mashes or splits the end of her quill and then requires some hunky hero to trim the quill with his pen knife.  Yeah, you know what I’m talking about…. 

People back then liked to paint other people with quills, too.

Elmira: Do it, Horatia! Do it! Break the nib already! Horatia: *I wish men still wore wigs–he’s DREAMY!*

 

 

Not again….

Hmmm, my wig itches…

Here are the parts of a feather, if you are interested in learning something new today. If you aren’t, just move along, move along! Nothing to see here….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyhow, I’ve always saved the large feathers my turkey Wiccus likes to molt almost every year. I’ve also collected a few goose feathers over the past few years, although they don’t seem to have an all-over molt like chickens and turkeys. 

Here is a picture of Wiccus in all his feathered glory:

Wiccus with a full set of feathers

Some of the feathers had become pretty dirty so I gave them a good scrubbing. Feathers are durable and get wet all the time. Birds usually preen them with natural oils to make them water-resistant so some of these feathers were remarkably clean. Those that had been left out in the sun and elements were harder to wash. You can give them a vigorous scrubbing with a brush in warm, soapy water if necessary.

Once they’ve dried they’ll be all nice and fluffy again!

After reading various “how-to” instructions (the website https://www.instructables.com/ is one great source) I decided to try my hand at cutting my own quill.

Now, before everyone at home rushes out to try this (as I know you all WILL) please be warned that cutting a quill is dangerous, tricky business. I’ve seen how durable a bird’s plumage is, so I don’t know why I was so surprised a feather would be so damned hard to cut–but they are!

But before I proceed I need to make a confession. Cutting and shaping feathers was not only dangerous, it was damned near impossible. So, I ended up cheating a little. You can read about that and see pictures below.

For those of you who are purists here is what you will need:

  • A feather. (Please don’t buy a feather from a hobby store as most of them have been taken from birds in inhumane conditions rather than voluntarily donated. Take a look on Craigslist as people often just save them and give them away. I have bags of feathers and I’m always glad to share!)
  • a cutting board (I used an old plastic board that I keep on hand for cutting non-food items)
  • a thin tipped marker
  • scissors
  • a VERY sharp Xacto knife (this is important! The feathers are hard enough to cut as it is)
  • safety glasses- you scoff, but an Xacto tip snapped off and I was glad I was wearing glasses. Glad.

And here is what you’ll need if you want to be a cheater, like ME!

  • metal nibs
  • glue
  • embroidery floss/thread

HINT: if you soak the end of the feather in water overnight it will be a little easier to cut, but still difficult.

Anyhow, first you want to cut the end of the feather: 

See how I’ve cut it straight. This is a tricky process as it is really easy to split the feather if you apply too much pressure. A split tip is a big deal if you are going to be a purist and hand carve your nib but not so important if you are a CHEATER. Like me…

Once you’ve cut the end off you can always clean the fluff from the center of the feather if you like.

Hold the quill the way you will want to hold it to write. Now, the truth is that actual quill pens were mostly stripped of their barbs (the fluffy part that makes the feather so pretty). Apparently they did this so the pen was easier to handle. I leave the barbs on my quills although I will trim them up if the feather has been damaged.

Anyhow, you want to make sure you hold the pen in the position you will use to write before you draw your marks.

There is no shortcut to carving. You basically draw the lines of the nib onto the feather: Start shaping with your Xacto knife. I recommend cutting less and then slowly whittling toward the line. Here is a picture of the shape you want to end up with:

Once you’ve shaped the nib you will use the Xacto to make a split in the writing tip. Here is a picture of the nib. You can’t see the split because I’m not skilled at taking pictures…. Anyhow, you just use the tip of the Xacto to make the cut. It’s probably the easiest of the cuts since you can do it by pressing the nib onto the cutting board.

Here are some cool little pots of different colored ink I ordered from Dick Blick’s :

Okay, no laughing–here is a sample of my writing with my nifty new quill pen:

I have to confess that took a while. If writing a book with a quill was the only way to get the job done I’m not sure I could do it…

Okay, if you’ve stuck around until this point I can now show you the cheater’s way.

You can order yourself some of these little guys:

Again, I ordered mine from Dick Blick, which definitely had the biggest selection and best price. The only reason I ordered 2 is because I’m making 50 of these little guys as giveaways and have feathers that really vary in diameter. You can’t tell from the picture, but the top nib is a lot narrower than the lower one.

So, you’re going to cut the tip off, just like you did above, but this time you will make a slit in the quill. Make it long enough to accommodate the base of the nib. You can use scissors on this because it doesn’t matter if the cut is really clean.

Clearly you’re going to have to do something to secure the nib in the feather. Here is a use for all that embroidery thread you have just lying around! Okay, so maybe you’ll have to to out and buy some. 

I recommend the sparkly kind, although it is a bit harder to use because it keeps fraying.

For demonstration purposes I’m going to use some regular, non-sparkly, blue.

See how I’ve laid the thread with the tail end away from the nib? This is a good idea because it will leave the area nearest the nib smooth. Start wrapping the thread around the nib end and work down the feather. Make sure to leave enough of the tail end to tie with the strand you are using to wrap. See below how I’ve tied the knot and cut the thread. I’ve done it beneath the quill so it won’t interfere with your fingers when you hold it. Take your glue of choice (I’m using Gorilla Glue here and coat all of the thread. Once you’ve covered it on all sides you need to leave it to dry (but you knew that, didn’t you?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it has completely dried you can trim the threads or tie them into a bow or whatever floats your boat. Sometimes I leave them, sometimes I cut them.

Here are a couple different feathers. I’ve stripped the barb from the one on the left, which is closer to what a real quill would have looked like. The one on the right is a feather in all its glory (well, except there is no turkey attached, which is the REAL glory!)

 

I’ve punched a hole in one of my business cards and attached the quill to a little pot of ink. These are some of the reader gifts I will be giving away at my debut signings. 

Fabulous quill, ink, and historically inaccurate timepiece!

 

*Want to win a quill and other cool stuff? Go to my Giveaways page and sign up for my newsletter

 

 

Upcycle Feed Sacks!

Upcycle Your Animal Feed Sacks

Do you like animals? Do like to sew? Even if you don’t have a hobby farm you still might have some animal feed bags laying around you could “upcycle” into re-usable shopping bags, beach bags, or a hip bag to take to your local farmer’s market.

In addition to poultry and dog feed I buy a lot of bird seed, both mixed seed and black oil sunflower. Oftentimes the bags have very pretty designs, like this one: 

The best bags are the ones that have a weave as you can use a sewing machine to put them together.

You can use other types of bags, like dog or cat food bags, but those cannot be punctured with a needle without damaging the bag material. You can always make a bag from them using my method, you just need to use glue, instead of a sewing machine.

Once you’ve found the bag you want you should take off both the top and bottom binding material and lay the bag out flat on a cutting surface and trim the edges of the top or bottom if necessary.

I am using a cutting wheel with a ruler made specifically for cutting wheels on my bag but you can use regular scissors. 

Once you’ve evened up the edges you can cut off the top part of the bag so you will have some material to make a handle.

 

 

 

 

Don’t worry if the strip you have to work with is wrinkled or ugly, by the time you are finished flattening and folding and sewing it the handle will be fine.

I cut off enough so that I can fold it in half with the ends tucked in–so maybe 2.5 times the width of the final handle.

Here is the strip I cut in the first picture. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the second picture you can see the piece is much flatter after “hand ironing” and clamping with binder clips. I use binder clips for this project because they are much easier than shoving pins into the stiff material.

Once your handle is folded, clipped, and ready to sew you can set it aside.

Turn your bag inside out and use binder clips to fold a seam on the bottom edge of the bag.

You will then sew the seam and also sew the handle.

I sew two seams on the handle, one on each side, which stabilizes it and makes it less likely to roll. (see picture on lower left)

Once you’ve sewed the bottom seam you next sew the corners so you will have a bag that sits up on its own.

You will open the bag up (still keeping it inside out) and use a triangle guide to mark the corners.

I just make a triangle guide out of a reinforced piece of paper.

It’s easier to look at the following pictures to understand what I mean.

First you will turn the bag so the seam you’ve just sewed is running vertically, make sure the seam is centered and place the triangle on the corner and mark it with a pen or marker. 

See how the seam you’ve just sewn is facing you in the picture to the left (the one with my hand almost covering all the seam!)

That is the bottom of the bag and this is what you will stitch to make your bag stand up on its own.  

Here it is after I’ve drawn the marking:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then here it is after I’ve sewn both corners. I’ve left the picture larger so you can see what I mean. See how it is standing up, even though it is inside out?

Now you can turn your bag rightside out.

For the top edge of the bag you are going to fold the top over two times so there are no raw edges showing.

Once you’ve turned it over all the way around you can either pin or clamp it so that it’s even.

Now you will tuck the end of the handle under the fold at whatever two points on the bag you would like your handle.

Again I use binder clips to get everything into position.

Here is a picture of the back side of the bag all clipped and ready to sew!

Once everything is secure, you can sew it. It won’t be easy, the material is stiff and you will have to struggle with it. Just go slowly and keep checking that the slick material isn’t slipping.

Before I show you the finished project I’d like to share a bit about the sewing machine I’m using.

I bought this 1913 commercial Singer machine from a saddle maker who lived at the very end of The Santa Fe Trail (true story!) He was downsizing and had three commercial Singers just like this one. I already had 12 sewing machines at the time so I needed to make and sell a lot of these feed bags to justify the expenditure!

The machine was originally operated by a treadle but the saddle-maker attached a 1.5 HP motor to it and also added this (kind of ugly but very handy) formica top, complete with homemade scissor holder!

He showed me how to operate it when I bought it but it all dribbled out of my head before I actually got to use the machine.

 Luckily, the Smithsonian Institute has a library of operator manuals, so I was able to download a copy of the actual instruction manual

You don’t need to use a 1913 Singer to sew your bag, I sewed my first 50 bags on the first machine I bought for myself back in 1986, which is the cheapest Singer made.

Just make sure you buy a heavy needle adequate to the task and use heavy duty thread.

 

 

 

Okay! Here is what you’ve been waiting for, the finished bag! 

Voila! I hope you give this a try and upcycle a bag of your own. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions!

If you’d like to win the bag I’ve upcycled in this article please come and check out my upcoming Facebook Party on June 18, 2018, where I’m giving away not only a bag, but other goodies, too! NO purchase necessary. Link to Summer Reading List Launch Party!!

DIY: Building a New Home for my Shoes

Those of you who know a bit about us know we used to operate a bed and breakfast. The one thing you have lots of when you close your b&b is space. We went from living in ONE bedroom in a 9-bedroom house to having all those rooms to ourselves. All those rooms to fill with junk! Yes, it’s a hoarder’s paradise. . .

Anyhow, back when the house was converted into a b&b all but 4 closets were changed into bathrooms. The result is a bathroom-rich, closet-poor house. My shoes were spread through the entire house, crammed in various closets. They weren’t happy.

Last year I decided to take a room we’d been using as a sitting room–which had become more of a dust-gathering room–and convert it into a dressing room. Yes, a real-live dressing room. Just like in those historical romance novels I enjoy so much. . .

I have FINALLY finished everything and taken pictures. But first, here is a little about the torturous process.

Here are a couple before pictures of the sitting room, which has its own bathroom and wet bar (yeeeeessssss, that means my dressing room has its own wet bar!!):

IMG_0080

And here is another, taken from the other direction. That arched doorway leads to our bedroom. That cow scull on the wall is genuine, certified, organic longhorn. Seriously. Unfortunately I had no wall space to accommodate it in the new Shoe Palace.

CWI 077

Once I took everything out of it (almost–see how those boxes of shoes have already sneaked in to check out their new home?) it looked like this:

IMG_0651

I knew I didn’t want California Closets closets for two reasons: one, they wouldn’t fit the character of the adobe and viga construction and two, I couldn’t afford them. I decided I wanted something more rustic and rugged, so I settled on plumbing piping, which I’d seen used in a swanky too-cool clothing shop on my last visit to Toronto.

As usual, I’m kind of lousy with photographing every step. But the process is actually pretty straight forward. Decide on the size of unit you want and measure and then buy a whole pile of metal pipes, elbows, three-ways, and flanges for connecting the unit. The only tricky part (okay, so it turns out there is a SECOND tricky part, but I’ll get to that below) is accounting for the threads on each piece to make sure you end up with what you measured. That was a bit trial and error and many harsh words were spoken by me, to myself, because I had nobody else to blame.

Anyhow, I spray painted the pieces separately and then screwed them all together and spray painted them again. In the middle of all this it rained several times. Here is a picture I took after having to hustle everything back into the house when it rained, drag it back out afterward, and spray it again:

IMG_0649

So, that’s a pretty eyeball-boggling photo, but you get the gist.

The second thing I hadn’t counted on was the irregular surface on the adobe walls and ceiling, none of which are flush or straight (part of the joy of adobe). This meant that each and every segment was a bit different and I had only measured in one place for each unit. Whoops! The good news is that plumbing pipes come in so many pieces and sizes! Yes, I just purchased a few 1/2 and 1/4 sections, spray painted and screwed those puppies on, and everything worked out just fine. The large pieces–the 4 and 5 foot hanging sections–I had cut at the lumber yard.

Here are a few pictures of experiments with different segments. You’ll notice, in the final picture, that some of the sections didn’t make the final cut. I realized that putting built-ins on small sections of wall wasn’t very economical. (For example, the picture below.) Luckily, I just propped up the pipe and used some scrap lumber for shelving to check this out before I actually screwed anything down.

025.JPG

Here is the work in progress. See how tidy I am?

IMG_0653.JPG

And now for the fun pictures:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Yes! A sitting area to sip cocktails or tea!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

And, finally. . . the Wall of Shoes:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Ta-da!

 

Chicken art and more

Several months ago I promised a friend I would email her pictures of my (very few) paintings. Since I still haven’t gotten around to that, I decided to just post them here.

I decided to try my hand at painting when I wanted a mural around one of our fireplaces. I decided to start with the fireplace in our kitchen, a very small kiva fireplace we use often.

 

133-3334_IMG.JPG

I didn’t want to waste a good paintbrush on my experiment, so I used a .49 cent chip brush from the hardware store. It actually worked out pretty well, in my opinion. You can see a little of the flame details in this picture (you can see the Sharpie lines on the bottom right of the drawing, where I couldn’t get the outline of the flame quite right), I thought they ended up looking very smoke-blackened and I really like it.

After that, I thought I’d try my luck with some chicken portraits. . .

Here is the first one, which is a painting of Zsa Zsa, who is a somewhat crazy bird:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

I then painted Cordelia and Bernard on these two old Adirondack chair backs:

135-3507_IMG.JPG

Here’s a better photo of the Bernard chair:

bernard chair.JPG

Right now I’m working on a “barnyard” mural, but finding chickens in action are a lot more difficult to paint than my portraits…

 

Part II of This Old Adobe House…the Stairs…

Several months back I began a post about the floor we removed between our first and second floor. The floor was built over a circular staircase over twenty years ago when the house was converted into a bed and breakfast. When we decided to convert the Cottonwood Inn back into a house we removed the floor.

Removing the floor left a “hanging” door to a deck which was accessible only from the second floor. We needed a solution. I spoke to an architect and a master carpenter but neither could come up with a solution to the problem.

Enter: Mom.

Yes, my mother. She was a general contractor for several years and enjoys engaging in architectural projects for fun.

So, here is an image showing where we were at the point the floor was removed:

file-removal-17

And here is a photo of the stairs from the bottom…

The hidden staircase beneath the floor

This was closed off and used as a storage closet. The stairs are quite lovely and massive. 52 inches wide by 10×22 pie shaped wedges.

Here is a picture of the stairs after I  opened the doorway from 32 inches to 52 inches and then rebuilt the frame using lath and plaster (my first experience in working with lath).

Finished stairs.jpg

And, here we are constructing our new set of steps to the “hanging door.” That is Eva standing beside the project, keeping an eye on my work…

IMG_0678.JPG

Yes, those are magic markers laying on the step. We only use professional grade products on all our jobs.

IMG_0680.JPG

Mom supervising me to make sure everything goes together okay.

Here are the steps once I’ve made a heavy plywood platform for the top. I used scrap lumber for the sides–tongue and groove pieces left over from my pine flooring project.

IMG_0689.JPG

You can see that I have begun to attach metal lath to the sides in prep for the plastering. This is not fun stuff to work with and it really tears up even the heaviest gloves.

A closer picture picture:

IMG_0690.JPG

I wish I had taken pictures of the plastering process, but there was just mud and water everywhere. That was unfortunate because I had already stained and polished the steps with Minwax and had to do it all again after!

Anyhow, here it is as of now.

SAM_0347.JPG

And another from the bottom looking up:

SAM_0348.JPG

So, there it is.

On order are custom-made wrought iron railings for the platform.

Oh wait…one more picture: Here are Dottie and Lola (and Gloria’s butt) They hung out with me and held lumber while I cut. My hens have skills!

DSCF0127.JPG

Save