Feather Quills = Nostalgia

Day 17 – “Q” Quills

I was a Jo March groupie when I was younger. “Little Women” was the first classic I read as a child, and I absolutely fell in love with Josephine. Her tomboyish ways, her love for reading, her dedication to scribbling away at her stories; every single aspect of her young personality resonated with me. I have far surpassed her in age, but I still love rereading that book, typically at Christmas; like many favored books, I get something new out of this novel every time I read it.

My mother knew how much I admired Jo and, as an accomplished seamstress, put together a pinafore and mob cap (much like the one Jo wore when she wrote late into the night) to wear when I was writing some of my short stories, attempting to channel my inner Jo. Looking back, I laugh at how silly this was, but it is a memory that I will forever cherish, one that was a first in my career as a young writer. 

Being true to the time period I was trying to emulate, my ensemble was not complete without a fountain pen or feather quill. Also a favorite of mine, were the “Felicity” books in the “American Girls” series. I begged my parents to get me a craft book that accompanied this series, complete with instructions on how to create items and partake in crafts mentioned throughout the books. Penmanship practice was one of the things the main character worked on; as such, one of the crafts was “how to make and use your own feather quill.” And make and use I did!

There was something about utilizing this “ancient” method of writing that gave me such a rush as a kid. We had a number of writers in our family history, and I felt that by writing poems and stories for my own family, employing the same method as they used, I was in some way connecting with my ancestors. A childish fantasy, but one that I still treasure.

It saddens me that the fine art of penmanship is gradually becoming lost. I still enjoy handwriting letters to friends and family versus writing an email, and hope that I never lose the desire to do that. It’s heartbreaking that schools are increasingly not teaching cursive, a form of handwriting that may be foreign to our future generations.

Do you have any memories of using a quill or fountain pen? Do you partake in calligraphy? What are your thoughts on the all too real concept of penmanship dying out?

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29 thoughts on “Feather Quills = Nostalgia

  1. My penmanship is horrible but I often used a fountain pen and I was very interested in calligraphy when I was younger. I think I liked the thought of moving ink from a bottle to the page / The fountain pen also slowed me down enough to help me write better. I think the loss of writing by hand is sad. There is so much more you can communicate when writing that you just can’t express with typed text. Nice post!

  2. Well, I don’t use a fountain pen, but I love gel pens. I write in my journal about 5 days a week all by hand. I just like the way it feels and looks. Some days my handwriting is neat and precise and other days I barely recognize the chicken scratches. Cool post!

    1. Oh gosh I hear you. Depending on how I hold my pen, between which fingers, makes a huge difference in how my writing looks. And some days I want/need to write with X pen or I feel like my handwriting just looks like crap. Always have to have variety!

  3. I do remember fountain pens, although by the time I got one, it had an ink cartridge.
    I’ve always loved writing and still do … I always have a stack of coloured pens – preferably gel –
    and at least one notebook going with scribbles and lists. Sometimes I just find it easier for my thoughts to flow when I’m writing freehand.
    … and if I’m going to be honest, I’m rather proud of my penmenship. I think it’s a shame that it’s now considered as archaic.

    1. My children WILL learn cursive. Even if I have to teach it to them on my own.

      I don’t use a fountain pen or quill any more (though I have a friend who writes beautiful haikus and poetry using a fountain pen and posts the images to her blog/Instagram account). Like you I have a stack of pens to select from.

      U will be Utensils so I will go into detail about my ridiculous collection of pens 😉

  4. I’m old enough to have been taught cursive handwriting at school in the 50s. We spent hours forming each letter of the alphabet before we were allowed to join them up. Then we moved on to pen and ink – dip-in pens with ink pots on each desk. Fountain pens came a few years later. I was also taught italic script when I was twelve, using special straight-ended nibs. I still use italics today when I want to write something special, like invitation cards. Thank you for taking me on a little trip down Memory Lane, Christina, I enjoyed reading your post.

    1. Oh shush. Seasoned. Not old. 😉

      You’re in the UK, correct? I’m curious if schools in the UK still teach penmanship this way. The schools in our area of the US have done away with penmanship all together (fountain pen, pencil, pen, none of it). “Wasted resources.” Really??? *shakes head*

      1. My sister loves calligraphy. I’ll get letters from her that are absolutely gorgeous. She will write them out on stunning parchment, wax seal and all, which puts my letters to shame!

  5. We had “pioneer day” at my elementary school where we learned how to write with quill pens and such. I mostly type at this point, but I do 10 minute freewrites in the morning that are handwritten. Typing would break my flow–I feel like I’m more self-critical when the words are on the screen and there’s something about the ink of the pen carrying it from letter to letter that help me release thoughts without thinking much (the exact point of a freewrite!).

    1. Ahhh yes! We had those events as well. Always a blast! 🙂

      Thanks for checking out my blog! I’m looking at yours now and am enjoying your writing! So happy to meet another writer and A-Z participant! 🙂

  6. My tastes in books ranged more to Robin Hood and Treasure Island. Not silly at all wearing the cap and good for your mom and her encouragement. As for a quill pen, nope. Penmanship a double nope. I could never keep my letters in the lines. I did have a family inspiration, however. My grandfather’s brother had a writing career that spanned from the 20s up to the 50s. Seven of his books were turned into movies. He wrote the type of swashbuckling historical fiction I loved. –Curt

      1. Always kicked myself for not getting into historical fiction. What a wonderful excuse for delving into history. Edison also used his books to travel to where ever he was writing about. Good life. –Curt

  7. Lovely post that brings back many personal memories.
    I was a clumsy little girl, and although I read at an early age I wasn’t able to write well. In the early 70s we still used ink and this porte-plume French kind of thing that I squeezed so tightly I kept a scar between my index and middle finger for years. However, years later, when I had mastered the tought penmanship thing I loved to choose colorful inks that amazingly my teachers supported. I wrote in light green or dark purple orange/pumpkin and navy blue.
    I don’t use ink anymore but I still love to visit shops that sell all items related to penmanship.
    My kids on the other hand use plain pens when they write, but they mostly type for emails and texts. For school they do write but less and less. I don’t know how to feel about it. I suppose that they will at some point be like us, adults with a bit of nostalgia…
    And I love Little Women!

    1. What a great story!! Aside from nostalgia and invitations and such, calligraphy and fine penmanship seems to be a thing of the past. 😦

      Isn’t it a fantastic book?! It is the one book I can read again and again and never tire of 🙂

  8. We had a pen with detachable nib, and an inkwell sunk into the desk (60s UK). Followed by fountain pens that you sucked up the ink, then cartridge pens then biros. Now I can barely write legibly at all!

  9. Congratulations on making it to Q! We are almost there. What in the world will we write about next month?

  10. Absolutely mourning the loss of penmanship. I’ve purposely taken to writing my notes for a book in a spiral notebook because I sit at a computer all day and noticed my handwriting was getting worse. I bought a steel nip feather quill and also made one for my niece and I out of a duck feather. It wrote surprising well. I think I’m going to get a real pen knife and start using an inkwell more often.

    I also did a 3-month stint of student teaching in an elementary school. They told me they couldn’t read what I wrote on the board because it was cursive. My response? “You’d better learn or you won’t be able to read half of all the cool documents created before you were born.”

      1. A few years ago, that’s how I did all of my Christmas cards. It was fun. I take it out occasionally just to write stuff, but it’s difficult because the cats try to attack the feather. Need to get one that just the nib and a handle.

  11. I love that your mother supported your writing in that way and the idea that using the old quill or pen connected you to your writing ancestors. I still love the hand write and it is a shame that it’s almost completely been replaced by email.

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