Genuine parchment is a material made from the skin of sheep or goats, scraped and processed to create a smooth, durable writing surface. Modern parchment paper for writing is made by partly dissolving, then drying, vegetable-fibre-based paper. Parchment paper for baking shares the multi-hued ivory, gently textured surface of both hide and vegetable fibre parchment, but is softly translucent as well. Many undyed, natural fabrics look like parchment paper.
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Felt is an unwoven fabric, made of a pressed mass of fibres. Felt is usually made from animal fibre such as wool. As anyone who has inadvertently put a prized wool sweater into the washing machine has learnt, the scales on wool fibres lock together and shrink into a dense fabric in the presence of water and agitation. Wool felt varies in stiffness and opacity depending on the thickness of the felted piece and the staple length and softness of the original fibres. A thin sheet of fine-textured natural-coloured wool felt closely resembles the texture of hide parchment paper.
Crepe and Chiffon
Crepe is a fabric with a crinkled surface caused by tightly twisting the fibres prior to weaving, according to Scott Robinson, chair of the theatre department at Central Washington University. Lightweight wool crepe was a standard dress fabric for women in the early 20th century. The surface finish of ivory wool crepe resembles that of hide parchment paper, although the fabric is much more fluid than the writing material. Chiffon is a lightweight plain-weave fabric. Undyed silk chiffon closely approximates the translucence and colour of parchment baking paper, though it too is quite fluid. Starch can stiffen either of these fabrics to better resemble parchment.
Since the original parchment was thinly scraped animal hide, a fine-textured suede is a close approximation suitable for clothing or costume use. Sueded deer hide, or the original goat or sheep skin, can be used as fabric for many applications. Synthetic suede fabrics in suitable shades of tan or ivory also look like parchment. These durable fabrics are often used for upholstery, but cannot be stiffened to obtain the crisp hand of parchment paper.
Cotton and Linen
Unbleached cotton or linen muslin has an obvious plain weave that differs from the texture of both original and modern parchment papers. However, the natural colour of these fabrics is close to that of genuine parchment. Both cotton and linen take natural dyes easily, and can be dyed with tea or coffee in an intentionally haphazard manner to create the mottled look that imparts an antiqued visual reference to parchment paper. Both fabrics can be stiffened with starch or by bleach-drying in the sun to better imitate parchment's heft.
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- University of Toronto Dynamic Graphics Project; Felt Based Rendering; Peter O'Donovan et al.
- Sewanee University; Natural Dyes and Mordants; Doriana Basamakova et al.; 1998
- Central Washington University; Common Costuming Fabrics; Scott Robinson; 2002
- Library Preservation and Conservation: Parchment
- Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: Vegetable Parchment Paper