Framing Vellum or Animal Skin

Vellum, also known in general circles as parchment, is animal skin that has been used for years for writing or printing due to its durability and longevity. Vellum in Latin, is vitulinum meaning “made from calf”, hence calfskin. Manufacturing and preparing vellum is a lengthy tedious process which involves splitting from the animal, washing and drying with lime or other solvents. Vellum is not considered leather, as leather involves a tanning process as it is used for different purposes. Depending on the condition of the skin and the animal, one can see a certain membrane running through the vellum. Almost like a fingerprint, it is a distinct look and not always the same.

For many centuries, Vellum has been used as land indentures, official documents and for other important purposes. The author has framed vellum documents lasting for many centuries. Since vellum is a skin, it does breathe in a way that it expands and contracts and can vary depending on several factors, mainly being humidity fluctuations. Vellum is very sensitive to moisture and can create problems if too much exposure occurs. Too little humidity can cause a brittleness and too much can cause fungus or mold to grow. At this point a professional conservator needs to be contacted to take care of these issues. All too often, I have seen framers try to “fix” a problem, only to make it worse, and in some cases, unsalvageable.

Though vellum is not used much in the present time, it was very popular for older diplomas and documents, as well as collectible documents as mentioned above.

For framing, though I have seen strong mounting or mesh fabric, we prefer a method that involves little contact or obstruction with the vellum, especially since collectors want little contact with their material.

We would first examine the condition. If it is in excellent condition and lightweight, we would used archival mounting corners or strips, Mylar or 2 ply rag. When applying, leave enough space in the application to allow the necessary expansion and contraction without the vellum slipping out of the mount. Depending on size, I would recommend at least 1/8? to 1/4? (1/3 cm. to 2/3 cm.) . Maybe more for larger pieces. If you place a cotton rag mat over the vellum edges, this will give it more support. I would also recommend a double 4 ply rag mat or single 8 ply rag mat to give it depth from the glazing (glass or acrylic). And, on this subject, I would use acrylic as it is less of a conductor of condensation. Another preferred way is encapsulation in Mylar. This is where the vellum is placed between 2 sheets of polyester (Mylar) and sealed at the edges. NOT LAMINATED! There is a difference. Sealing is done where the outer edges of the Mylar, beyond the document, is sealed, but accessibility to the document is reversible and can be removed without any problem. Lamination is heat melding the plastic into the vellum, a complete disaster and will cause permanent damage to the vellum.

For vellum in poorer condition. This can include vellum with mold, fungus, certain amount of buckling or other condition problems, I would recommend seeing a conservator to remedy any issues. You do not want to frame or mount vellum containing problems in the frame as it would “trap” it and allow the problem to grow overtime. Same is true with buckling. This can be the result of improper storage or a certain amount of accumulated moisture over time. Again, seek a trained expert in restoration to examine what can be done about this.

Vellum may be different form other forms of known paper or writing tablets, but it does not have to be difficult for framing.

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