How to Make Vellum?

By Lisa Parris

Vellum is animal skin or hide that has been dried and stretched to be used for printing, writing or painting. It is thin, durable and manufactured in a manner similar to leather. Animal skin is cleaned, soaked, placed on a frame, stretched, scraped and dried. Originally, vellum was made from calf-skin, though the hide from many other animals worked just as well. Most modern vellum is made of paper. If you want the real thing, follow the instructions below.

Obtain your animal skins (try the local butcher) and either begin processing immediately or place in a small garbage bag and store in the freezer.

To begin processing, place the skins in the garbage can and fill with water. Soak for 48 hours, changing the water every 12 hours. Remove skins from the water and wash carefully, removing any residual flesh with a fleshing knife, being careful not to cut through the skin. Wash until the rinse water runs clear.

Clean the trash can and refill with cold water. Add one cup of hydrated lime for every gallon of water used. Stir well with wooden pole.

Fold the skin in on the flesh sides and place into the water/lime mixture. Stir three times a day with wooden pole or stick. Do not use metal, as it will react with the lime. Leave the skins soaking in lime for 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the weather. In summer, 8 days will be sufficient, while in winter it will take the full 2 weeks.

Remove the skins from the lime bath and spray with a garden hose. Put on your gloves and pull the hair out of the hide. When the hair is removed, make a new lime bath for the skins and soak them again for 8 days, stirring three times a day.

Remove skins and wash well. Rinse thoroughly to remove all the lime. When you’re sure all the lime has been removed, place the skins in a tub of clear water and soak for 2 days.

Remove hide from the water and place it in the center of the frame. Affix it to the frame by piercing the edge of the hide with a knife. Thread sticks through the holes leaving one end visible through the hide. Tie a rope to either end and attach to the frame with tensioning pegs.

Scrape the surface of the hide with a sharp knife and leave on the frame, in the sun, for two days. After two days, sprinkle the hide with water. Then dust with pumice powder and wipe away debris. Tighten up the cords stretching the hide.

Wait 2 days and sprinkle hide with water again. Dust with talcum powder and wipe away excess. Tighten tension cords. Leave in the sun until completely dry.

Remove vellum parchment from frame.

Things Needed

  • Animal skins (deer, calf, sheep or goat)
  • Water
  • Plastic garbage can (20 gallons)
  • Fleshing knife
  • Long, heavy-duty wooden pole or stick
  • Hydrated Lime (available in garden centers)
  • Protective clothing (rubber apron, boots and gloves)
  • Frame to stretch hide on
  • Tension pegs equal to the number of holes in the frame
  • Natural fiber rope
  • 40 sticks
  • Knife
  • Powdered pumice
  • Talcum powder

Tip

If you don’t have freezer space and you can’t process your skins immediately, you can try preserving them by "salting" (see Resources).

Warning

Exercise caution when handling the lime solution as it can irritate skin and can be harmful if ingested.

About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.