How We Make Parchment

 

Parchment is untanned animal hide that has been dried under tension. It makes an excellent writing surface and has been used for writing since long before the advent of paper. Many well-known historical documents are written on parchment — and some of those are reproduced by Pergamena. Parchment is more durable and long-lasting than paper, and the intrinsic uniqueness of each skin makes it a fascinating material for many applications.

At Pergamena, our production methods are based on years of research, in addition to an inherent talent for working with skins, and our own creative ingenuity. We are continually developing new ideas to create the most useful, highest quality product.

 

How We Make Parchment

Step 1

The process of creating parchment often begins at the farm where the animal died, or at the butchery. Using a knife, the butcher removes the skin of the animal, cutting at the level of the hypodermis to separate the skin from the muscle. Care must be taken to avoid cutting or ripping the skin, while also leaving as little flesh on the skin as possible. After removal, the skin must be worked on immediately or preserved (by covering the flesh side generously with salt) until it is ready to be handled, or it will spoil.

Step 2

The first step we perform at Pergamena is removal of the hair from the outside of the skin, using a lime (calcium hydroxide) bath. Lime is the traditional solvent, but hair removal can be done with other chemicals in addition to or instead of lime. The bath takes place in a rotating drum that moves the skin continually to ensure the chemicals’ even distribution. When done correctly, the hair falls out or dissolves, and the skin swells noticeably.

Step 3

Next, the skin is fleshed, which involves removing the remaining flesh and fat from the inside (or flesh side) of the skin. This step was traditionally done by hand with large “fleshing” knives, but now the skin is run through a machine with a large cylindrical blade that removes the flesh quickly and easily. Afterwards, the skin is put back in the drum and re-limed. Repeating the process creates a better final product.

Step 4

After fleshing, the lime is washed out and the skin is neutralized. Enzymes are added to further remove impurities, clean the skin, and improve its feel. At this point the skin can be stretched immediately, or else dried and stored for later.

Step 5

If it has been dried, the skin is now rehydrated, simply by soaking in a tub of water. When it is hydrated and elastic once more, the skin is stretched. At Pergamena, we use stretching frames designed and built by Jesse, which use toggling clips to hold the skins. Stretched skins are de-fleshed once more by scraping with a lunarium or lunalarium (an ancient style of blade, shaped like a crescent moon), and left to dry, after which they are prepared to the desired thickness and finish by sanding and buffing. This is the point at which the characteristics of each skin become evident.

Step 6

The result of all this work is a naturally beautiful raw material, perfect for a wide variety of applications, including calligraphy, book binding, veneering, printing, letter press, percussion, lighting design, stationery, jewelry, fashion design — the possibilities are endless.