In Line of Ascent, Jake wanders the tanners’ quarter looking for Katharina and enters the workshop of a parchment maker.
A life-thief stole my world-strength,
Ripped off flesh and left me skin,
Dipped me in water and drew me out.
Stretched me bare in the tight sun…
Translation from Old English by Craig Williamson, “A Feast of Creatures- Anglo Saxon Riddle Songs”, Scolar Press, 1983
This Anglo-Saxon riddle describes the making of a book. Vellum comes from the French for calf. The finest vellum was slunk vellum from stillborn calves.
Although there is scholarly debate about whether all slunk vellum was from fetuses, Nicholas Hilliard in A Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning (1598-1603) was pretty specific:
Knowe also that Parchment is the only good and best thinge to limme one, but it must be virgine Parchment, such as neuer bore haire, but younge things found in the dames bellye. Some calle it Vellym, some Abertive derived from the word Abhortive, for vntimely birthe. It must be most finly drest, as smothe as any sattine, and pasted with starch well strained one pastbourd well burnished, that it maye be pure without speckes or staynes, very smoothe and white.