We had got on to learning how to write. As I mentioned before, when one begins learning to write, one starts off without ink! One starts off without a kulmus (quill)! In fact, one starts off with a pencil and paper. Not just one pencil – but two.
Place the two pencils side by side. Join them with elastic. Make sure one of them is slightly higher than the other. Now – you have simulated the kulmus which looks just like this! Only of course that there is no flow of ink.
I would go home after each lesson and spend a few hours during the week until the next lesson learning to write this way. One can see in the picture above what the letters looked like as I was writing them.
At each lesson, my teacher would work through the letters making various comments and marks showing me which letters he liked best. With all this, the only thing lacking in his teaching was showing me what exactly I had done wrong with each letter that was not correct, how it should have been improved, and quite frankly, whether the letter as it stood was actually passul (invalid) or if it was just not ideal (kasher lechathchilah). We will encounter these terms later as I would learn to write better with my next teacher – and in fact to see and understand that the world of letters is far beyond the simple copy book image that makes them right or wrong.
Following on after I had written pages upon pages of pencil letters, it was time to learn how to write with ink. This episode becomes a lot more lengthy since writing with a pencil is quite straightforward. One does not need to worry about the ink flowing out too fast, too slow, blotching, smearing or just going all over the show! It becomes a whole science to itself.
In today’s times, one can go about using various instruments to write with. See pictures below:
Above, one can see the traditional type of Kulmus – made from turkey feathers (click images for larger pictures). Next to this is the very modern stainless steel kulmus (known in Hebrew as kulmus nirosta). Next to this is the plastic kulmus. All three will work fine, but each has its disadvantages. Naturally each of them have their own advantages too!
Making a feather kulmus takes a lot of skill and practice. It can take months to get it just right and working through dozens of feathers until one is finally happy with the results! We’ll learn a lot more about this later! Of course one can design it to be the exact size any time one wants to! Feathers are cheap to purchase at just about one shekel each – so they are definitely the most economical of the three!
I am told that the stain steel kulmus is great – but that it is not healthy for one’s hand. I don’t know anything more about it, and simply indicate this for the interest of those who wish to give it a try. It is designed to a specific size only (which means you can’t cut it down to make a smaller writing should you need to – as must be done at certain times. One cannot of course make it any bigger either for those letters which are larger! So, when it comes time to write a larger letter (and one is accustomed to now using a large kulmus for it) one will need to purchase a larger kulmus. This can of course become expensive. One will need one type of kulmus for tefillin, another for a 10″ mezuzah, another for a 12″ mezuzah, another for a 15″ mezuzah etc. etc. Using feathers does make life easier and one can simply produce the kulmus on-demand!
The plastic kulmus has its own unique issues. While it is relatively cheap – just a few shekels each, though more expensive than the feathers, it does not produce as sharp a letter as does the feather kulmus. One can purchase them in a host of sizes. If one feels that this is the best solution for one – then by all means go with it. There is no particular law that is opposed to the type of kulmus being used. It is only what one feels is the best for oneself! Try them all out and you’ll see what I mean!
The traditional method of writing today is still considered best with the turkey feather. One must learn how to cut it – but once one does so, the quill is sharp and accurate. It is the best to use!
Back to my story! We were now ready to start writing with proper ink. My teacher got me to write immediately with the plastic kulmus and I found myself torn between, on the one hand, getting the sharpness out of the letters as being important against the other side of the story – having to deal with making a turkey feather kulmus! This was not going to be easy to decide. We were going to spend some time learning and this was going to be another absolute failure on my part and my then coming back to using the plastic kulmus.
We started practising with the plastic kulmus (see next post in this series) and I found the writing quite frustrating at times – even though the letters came out relatively decent. The sharpness of the letters and producing the crowns on the letters became a little difficult and I found there to be too much thickness with it. I wanted to progress, but I couldn’t seem to get it right!
Thanks for tuning in to my story. I’ll be moving ahead with the next episode of writing with ink and understanding how to hold the kulmus correctly in the next lesson. Once my writing seemed okay – my teacher was to send me to write the main test with the Vaas Mishmeret Stam. This became a great challenge for me and not realising it at the time, could have ended up costing me any further opportunity to continue my writing – but I’ll save this story for another post!
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See you soon!