This is post no. 22 of #BlogchatterA2Z.

This includes blogging every day in April for 26 days, except on Sundays. What’s special about it is that every day’s post will be corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. 

My theme for 2021 is Bookish TriviaIf you liked this post, don’t forget to “roll” me on Blogchatter’s website!

All my #BlogchatterA2Z posts 2021 can be found here.

Modern-day vellum is a plant-based, translucent paper that looks like frosted glass. It is variously known as tracing paper or see-through paper.

Heavier vellum paper (i.e. with greater GSM) is less transparent, whereas lighter vellum paper is more see-through.

Our school tracing paper is a low-quality, thin vellum paper.

Manufacturers make many types of vellum–different colors, weights, and textures. It finds uses in stationery, crafts, blueprint drawing, and packaging. The type of vellum paper differs based on its intended use. e.g. paper used for children’s crafts will not be the same as paper used for wedding invitations.

The best-quality vellum paper is called Japanese vellum or vegetable vellum. It is made from 100% cotton fibers that gives the paper a smooth and polished surface.

Vellum paper is made from cotton and wood pulp that is beaten and processed until no more air remains between the cellulose fibers. The result is a dense and moisture-rich sheet of paper that becomes see-through.

Vellum paper has a smooth surface and despite being delicate, it is suitable for writing, printing, sticking, or scoring. It feels like plastic but does not contain any plastic.

Specifically, vellum paper may be used to make envelopes, party favors, overlays for wedding invitations, flyers, and similar items.

How was vellum historically made?

Historically, the term “parchment” includes all animal skin that has been prepared for writing or printing. The animals were usually sheep, goat, or calf.

Thus, all vellum is parchment but all parchment is not vellum.

Originally, vellum meant a prepared calf skin that was used for writing, printing, or bookbinding.

Vellum manuscript

The term vellum originates from the Latin word “vitulus,” meaning “calf.”

Making vellum was a tedious process. The skin was removed from the animal and all the hair and flesh were cleaned away. Then it was stretched on a wooden frame and a curved knife was used to scrape the surface of the skin.

To create tension in the skin, the parchminer or parchment maker alternated the scraping with wetting and drying the skin.

Thus, the skin was scraped, wetted, and dried over and over again until the correct tautness and thickness were achieved.

If required, a final finish was given to the skin by rubbing with a pumice stone and then with chalk powder. Now the skin was ready for printing.

Who used vellum to write or print on?

During the Middle Ages, calfskin and split sheepskin were used in England and France to make parchment. In Italy, goatskin was preferred.

Interestingly, skins from other animals such as horse, squirrel, and rabbit were also used to make parchment.

Vellum scroll

Going further back in history, the Egyptian Fourth Dynasty used vellum and other parchment to write on.

The Assyrians and Babylonians also used vellum and parchment from the 6th century onwards, in addition to clay tablets.

Herodotus talked about writing on skins in the 5th century BC.

How was vellum used in bookbinding?

Vellum was either used as a cover for the cardboard or wooden boards on the text block or just as an independent cover.

Since vellum was used to cover common books or less-expensive books, the bindings were often plain and undecorated.

Vellum book binding

However, there were different ways in which decoration was done:

  1. Impressing a design into wet vellum with a hot punch or roller (blind stamping) – most commonly used
  2. Gilding
  3. Painting on the underside of very thin and transparent vellum – Halifax binding

Since vellum was expensive to make, old manuscripts were re-used to make bindings. Historians have recovered important manuscripts from the bindings of old books.

Limp binding is a flexible binding of cloth, paper, leather, or vellum.

When the sides of the book are made of vellum, it is called limp vellum. Please click on the link to read in detail about limp binding, about which I have spoken in detail in a previous post.



3 responses to “Vellum”

  1. Very interesting, you have given such a detailed account and history of the paper. Loved reading about it.

  2. My first time here… this is a lovely series.. I’ve missed a lot of posts on a theme I think I’d love to read… will be back

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.