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Vellum & Parchment Conservation & History

Due to their sensitive nature, vellum and parchment manuscripts must be handled with great care. Vellum has a tendency to warp and cockle when exposed to fluctuations in humidity. Pictured above you can see a previously rolled vellum manuscript ready for treatment in my studio. The client wishes to have it flattened in preparation for framing.

To understand the way we approach the conservation treatment of vellum and parchment, it is helpful to have more insight into the methods that were used to manufacture these delicate materials. Vellum is made by soaking the skins of young animals in a lime solution. The lime softens and removes the hair from the skin. The skins typically have two sides that appear fairly different from one another. The inner side of the skin is smooth and fair, making it ideal for writing on. The outer side can contain fragments of hair and hair follicles. Scars may be evident that the animal acquired during life. If you look closely, you can often see the patterns of veins as well on the outer side of the vellum.

Once the vellum or parchment has been soaked in lime, it is then carefully stretched over a frame to dry. As it dries, it contracts and becomes smooth & taut like a drumskin.

The process of re-stretching and flattening vellum in many ways mimics its manufacture. It is humidified carefully and then dried under restraint to reflatten it. It is often necessary to repeat this process several times in order to flatten the parchment successfully.

Do you have a vellum or parchment based document that requires repair? Feel free to submit an inquiry via the contact form on my website:

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