So you want to recreate an olde English manuscript from the 1700s.

During the course of my last full semester of my undergrad career, I took a course on John Milton. During that course, our professor eagerly announced to our class that amongst the discussion of the works of English author and poet, John Milton we would not only be reading the infamous Paradise Lost, of course, but that we would also be recreating the manuscripts of the aforementioned works.

By hand.


Oh yes.

And I am assuming that you do, too! Or maybe you just have a genuine interest in the recreation of manuscripts and book binding of some sort. Whatever the case may be, I hope that this little tutorial on how to construct a manuscript proves to be helpful of some sort. In hindsight, none of the manuscripts that we had to replicate were difficult to construct, just took a little trial and error. The manuscript that I am about to show you today how to recreate for today is for John Milton’s A Mask play. Out of all of the ones that we put together, this one was probably the easiest to replicate.


Alrighty, so you are going to need a few things.

  • 6 sheets of fake-laid paper (also referred to as Ingress paper, the brand Canson carries this). Craft stores are generally a little more hit or miss for this but smaller art supplies stores usually keep this about 90% of the time. I personally bought mine from Plaza Art in Richmond, VA.
  • scissors
  • ruler
  • Awl (most craft stores will carry this, but usually you can get one for about $5 off Amazon)
  • (not pictured) thread/cord/string/yarn for binding
  • (optional) pen/pencil


First things first, fold your first paper in half.


Second, fold it in half again. It should look similar to the above image.


Next, grab your ruler and your pen/pencil (if you desire. Personally I need crop marks and lines for everything and even then half the time it looks like I had a seizure midway through cutting. My argument is the disorientation gives it *~character~* and *~ambiance~*. Cut your pages out to be about 7.5″ by 6″. Pro Tip: It is going to make your life so much easier if you cut closer to the open end of the fold so that way all for leaves that you have will open freely. However, if you don’t, no worries. Just trim the top fold open so that way the open free.


Once your leaves are cut out, they should look something like the top two images when they are closed and when they are open. Repeat this process for the next five sheets of paper.


Start laying your leaves on top of each other so that way the folds are on top of each other similar to the above image. Despite the top image only having two (simply for reference purposes), you should have about 12 folded leaves at this point stacked on top of each other.


Next, grab your awl and start stabbing away. Make sure to stab down the fold (similar to the above image), and not through the interior fold.


Grab your binding of choice (in my example I used red yarn because that was sturdier for me, and also what I had readily available at the time. And again, *~ambiance~*) and start interweaving it through the holes you created with your awl, and close the binding.


Once you have your binding closed off, you are finally ready to start filling in your manuscript per your instructor’s directions for your course.


And once that is done, it is all about the writing. As you can see, mine has the lines for Comus and the Lady from Milton’s A Mask. The manuscript construction process really is fairly easy once you have the handle of it. The above manuscript in one sitting took me roughly about 30-45 minutes.

I do hope this tutorial was helpful in some way. I genuinely enjoyed doing these projects once I knew what I was doing, and recreating them personally helped me absorb the material better for discussion. So, I decided to make a little ditty that is this tutorial in hopes that maybe this will make someone doing a similar project more clear, especially since I know I’m definitely more of a visual learner.

Now carry on, manuscripters of the world! Go do the thing!


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