The Inventory Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in the Netherlands contains ICH of which the communities, groups or individuals involved have written a safeguarding plan. Those plans are reviewed by an independent review committee. Every three years an evaluation of the safeguarding takes place.


Parchment-making is a craft in which animal skins are prepared in such a way, that they are writable. Parchment from calfskin has the best quality. The skin is selected on the basis of homogeneity of the surface, thickness and density. The flexibility, the natural character and the resistance of the skin are important in this stage. The skin is prepared according to a medieval method. First of all the skin is soaked in water, to get soft and clean. The ends are cut off to create an even piece, and fat, meat and blood residues are removed with a special knife. Subsequently the skin is soaked in lime water during eight days, the hairs are scraped off and the flesh side of the skin is further cleaned. After another eight days lasting lime water bath, all remaining skin materials are removed, to make the skin smooth and non-cracking. Then the skin is stretched evenly and dried on a big frame with pegs. After drying, the skin is sanded with pumice and lime to the required thickness. Parchment is primarily known as writing material for manuscripts. Parchment is a sustainable material, if stored under dry conditions. It can be used for drumheads, in church organs and in lighting objects, by conservators, for Jewish Torah scrolls and by calligraphy practitioners.



In the Netherlands the number of parchmenters who can deliver top quality, has even shrunk to an individual. Dick Timmerman, parchmenter in Wierden, gives demonstrations and workshops on a regular basis. The municipality and the Historical Circle of Wierden cooperate to raise awareness of this intangible cultural heritage and to pass on the technique. Museum scriptoria, the Hand Bookbinding Foundation, the faculties Middle Dutch and medieval English of universities, the study bookbinding and conservation of graphic academies, slaughterhouses and calligraphers are all part of the community of this ancient material.



The oldest piece of parchment dates back to 2700 BC and was found in Egypt. Parchment appeared to be better and stronger than papyrus, though more expensive too. By an export ban on papyrus from Egypt another kind of writing material was required. In Pergamum (the current Bergama in Turkey) the process of making parchment was improved. In the Middle Ages parchment was often used to write on in Europe, particularly through the introduction of Christianity. As the usual papyrus appeared to be sensitive to moisture and had a short shell life in the humid European climate, preference was given to the more expensive parchment. Over time the process of parchment-making has not been changed much. The use, however, did change. In earlier days parchment was primarily used for writing manuscripts but in the course of the sixteenth century has become in vogue with the nobility for certificates. Another change was a technical one, because of the use in church organs. In the course of the seventeenth century people started to use more and more hand-made paper, but for a long time parchment kept being used for book covers and spines. As of 1950 chemicals means were increasingly used to make parchment.



Dick Timmerman