A gentleman with a baroque-style guitar wanted to add a parchment rose to it. These are decorative rosettes made of vellum (calfskin, goatskin), often several layers deep, kind of like inverted wedding cakes. Some can get immensely elaborate. This one is based on a 16th century Italian rosette, three tiers deep. In the original there were three layers of parchment per level, but I am only going to attempt two layers per tier. The project itself is mildly complicated by the fact that it is being added to the instrument after the instrument is completed, and the individual involved wanted it to be potentially removeable, meaning that it had to be structurally more sound than something that would be built integrally into the instrument. I'd never actually made a parchment rose before, so it became an interesting experiment, both in "materials science" and in technique.

The design as attempted. This is what you'd see looking straight down, though from a side view would consist of three tiers. The top is just the outer ring and its fringe. The second tier is the outer ring edge to the fringe around the six-pointed star. The bottom tier is the star itself. Each tier is about 1/2 inch deep. The entire rose is just under three and a half inches across.

Started by acquiring some calfskin and goatskin vellum from Stern Tanning Co., which took a little while but recieved some nice pieces. The calfskin was a little more appropriate than the goatskin, so decided on using that.

Began with a knife and cutting surface test on a small scrap of the vellum. I initially used a chunk of marble as a backing board (what I use as backing for my leather working), and tested several x-acto blades, a stanley knife, and some surgical knives to see which worked best on the vellum. The blades on the stanley and surgical knives were very sharp but were too thin for the required pressure to cut the thicker vellum - they kept warping or bending, making control more difficult. The thicker x-actos worked well, and one micro x-acto (size #3) worked well for the smaller detail spaces. The marble did not work well, as it was constantly cut into (being a soft stone), but was hard enough to dull the blades. So decided instead to use a small (and expendable) cutting board of hardwood that was sufficiently stable, but didn't destroy the blades. The test did show that I could work small enough - this piece is a little over an inch long.

I printed out the scaled design of each layer, and decided to start from the bottom and work upwards. The pattern was transferred onto the vellum piece by using a lightboard, and then the pencilled piece was taped to the cutting board to make sure it stayed clean and flat (vellum tends to curl). This is the bottom layer, having been cut out (still taped to the board). Slow and arduous, but worked.

Second layer of the bottom tier. The first time I cut this out, I cut it entirely out, including the thin outer edges. This is a picture of the second cut out, when I left the edges full width. Here I encountered the first problem with actual construction. My first thought had been to glue the two layers together, fold tabs from the bottom layer up to glue to the parchment upright that connected the first and second layers. In doing this I discovered several problems. The first was in the glue. I tried Elmers, which saturated the parchment and stained it, but didn't hold very well; tried hide glue, luthier glue, and even wood glue but none of those held the hairy surfaces together well. Eventually I had to resort to a variant of superglue, which finally did hold the thing together. By this point, however, the original two pieces had been rather destroyed and had to be recut. While I had them together though, I then attempted to attach the folded parchment vertical separator to them, using the tabs from the lower level. This proved nearly impossible - the parchment had too much tension on it, and the glue could not hold the pressure well. I think that the original ones must have used much thinner parchment than I was working with (I'd assumed thicker was better), so that it handled more like paper and less like wood. What I was able to cobble together was warped and structurally unsound. Handling it even a little bit caused it to fall apart. This solution might have worked using thinner parchment and having it permanently installed. But for this particular rose, it was too fragile and unstable. So I decided instead to construct a very light wood (in this case basswood and balsa) frame to attach everything to, and to add structural support so that the rosette could be handled more readily. So layers one and two were recut (this is the recut of layer two), and left with their edges full to 1) give more gluing surface, and 2) to have something to glue to the wood star.

The two bottom layers glued together. This proved more stable.

The next step was to construct the wood star. This was done by cutting twelve small pieces of basswood, angling the joints of each, and gluing together to create a frame. A strip of parchment was then cut to length, bent into the appropriate shape, and glued into the frame as a "liner" of sorts. The parchment and wood were then trimmed and cleaned up to have a crisp top and bottom edge. Proved to be more work than I was expecting, but it was pretty solid and seemed to work.

The bottom layers were then glued onto the bottom of the wood frame star, which held rather well.

And then trimmed off the excess parchment. This is the final bottom tier. It is actually pretty solid, so this seems to work and can be handled without fear of it falling apart as readily.

Since the technique seemed to work well for the bottom tier, I decided to use the same logic for the next tier. This is the bottom layer of the second tier being cut out.

The finished bottom layer of the second tier. One of the things that can be seen clearly here is that I'm drawing/cutting on the flesh side of the parchment, but the final view will be on the skin side, which is smoother. The small holes below the "W" shapes actually are drilled out using the finger drills.

The top layer of the second tier. This piece had a large imperfection in the central space, which is why it has such large edges. There is also some tearing in the flesh in the lower left corner, as you can see. But the region where the design is placed is clean.

The second tier design together, just before gluing. This will be placed on top of the the wooden frame star above. Where the wood is visible will either be cut away or darkened - haven't decided which yet.

The second tier design now in place on top of first tier. The wooden star frame top was blackened so that it doesn't really show up using black india ink (didn't react at all with the glue, which was the important factor there). This has been glued together now, and the edges roughly trimmed to shape awaiting the addition of the next tier frame.

The second tier frame. This is made from a strip of 1/2 inch balsa wood, which was steam bent into a circle. The overlap was glued together and clamped, and then the double-thick overlap was filed down to close to the same thickness as the single width, tapering the overlapping edges. A 1/2 inch strip of parchment was then cut, and is here shown being glued into the inner edge of the bent frame. An experiment to try to cut a design into this side wall proved to create too thin a structure to withstand handling (the balsa snapped the first time I tried putting any pressure on it - might have to do with changes to the wood in the steam bending, don't know), so this frame, like the one below it, will remain solid.

The second tier frame in place (though not attached yet - I'm holding off final assembly until I work out the top structure - see below). But it does give some idea of what the layers will look like in place. This has been leveled with files and very sharp x-acto's so that it is flush top and bottom.

Cutting the lower layer of the third tier. This gives some idea of the scale with my hand and the miniature X-acto knife. Taking a picture with my off-hand proved actually more difficult than I expected, actually.

This is the finished lower layer of the third tier. I think it's 48 interior holes, and 36 "crowns" on the inner edge. This one got a little tedious.

Testing the spacing/fit on the third tier. Might have been tedious, but it looks very nice in place. Starting to look like it's supposed to.

The upper layer of the third tier, matched with the lower layer, for the complete third tier. The shadowed pencil line shows where the edge of the rose will end up, though it hasn't been cut it.

The parchment bits of the rose are now done, and awaiting final assembly. The problem now is to figure out how to create the top edge so that it 1) is structurally sound enough to be handled; 2) can be wedged into and out of the instrument without damaging either the instrument or itself; 3) doesn't overlay the front of the instrument soundhole too much, or rise too far above the surface of the soundboard (to avoid having the pick raking across the strings snag it). The idea is to have a narrow wooden ring that sits above the soundhole connected to a more vertical wooden ring that sits in the soundhole, edged in cork to allow it to be wedged into place with light pressure, but not so much pressure as to strain the structure of the rose. The upper ring will create enough of a lip to grab hold of to lift off the rose, but shouldn't be too high off the soundboard to create a problem with strumming or picking. I'll also probably round off the edge of that piece so the joint with the soundboard doesn't look too weird (see illustration above). I'll be making a small "mock" soundboard with hole out of some scrapwood to test out the fit and structure.

I selected the end of a cedar guitar soundboard piece that I had which was too chewed up to be of much actual use (note the hard scarring on the right side), and carefully measured and cut out a soundhole at the precise measurement to act as a "mock" soundboard. I'll be using this to mold and test the upper support ring.

The first piece I started with was the uppermost ring (labelled "Top Darkwood Ring" above). My intention initially was to cut this from a piece of ebony. This proved problematic on two counts. First and foremost, I didn't have a piece of ebony large enough to cut it in one piece, and didn't think an assembled piece would be strong enough. Secondly, the only piece of ebony I could find that was large enough was also an inch thick, and large amount of wastewood and effort that it would take to reduce it to a narrow thin ring seemed ridiculous and a waste of good wood. Instead, I selected a clean piece of basswood, the same chunk I had cut the six-point star pieces, and carved out this ring as a single piece. Lesson learned here. Carve out the center first. I made the mistake of cutting out the edges on the first try, and in cutting out the center (leaving the edge only about 4 mm thick), split the piece. Attempt number two was more successful, and is shown here.

The cut ring was then sanded down, and the outer top edge rounded off so that it would meet more smoothly with the soundboard ultimately. This was then died black using black leather dye and a layer of waterproof black ink. Once assembled with the vertical ring, it will be oiled and then lacquered.

Next worked on the vertical support ring that would be glued underneath the ring above, and would have as it's outer wall a piece of cork. Started off with an edge-binding strip of ebony I had leftover from Citole #1.

That was soaked in warm water and slightly steambent into the mock soundhole. It wrapped about 2.5 times. I let it dry so the wood took on the shape, and then tightened the loop just a hair to glue it together.

Using the luthier glue, I glued together the loop of ebony, holding it together with clothespins as clamps. The loop at this point could slide through the hole in the soundboard entirely. Once the glue was dry, I filed and sanded down the edges so that it make a smooth circle, now about only two layers thick.

Next, I cut a thin strip of cork from a chunk of corkwood I had (and no, I don't remember where or even why I acquired a chunk of cork). That was then filed even thinner until it was about 2mm thick. That was then very carefully bent and glued to the outer edge of the ebony ring (clamped like the assemblage of the ring itself) using the super-glue I used on the parchment, as the cork was too porous to use the luthier glue on (I had tried that previously on some renaissance woodwind instruments I made). The overhanging edges of the cork were trimmed with an X-acto blade, and the cork filed smooth, which you see here. By this point, the cork was only about one to one and a half millimeters thick.

The vertical support ring was then carefully fitted into the mock soundhole. This involved gently tapering the lower edge of the cork so that it could be easily wedged into the soundhole and fit snugly, but not with any stress on the ring itself. Took a little bit of work with the files, but eventually got the ring to fit more or less perfectly.

The vertical ring, as it was only about 2.5 mm thick, had some flex to it. To avoid it distorting when I attached the upper ring to, I glued the upper ring to it while it was held in shape by the soundboard hole. Once this was dry, a little sanding cleaned up the inner edge, and the whole inner and top faces were oiled and lacquered. The ring construction was complete. Now all that had to be done was the final assemblage of the third parchment tier, and stacking it all together.

The third tier parchment pieces were roughly trimmed down, and matched up to the top ring.

The third tier complete, with the parchment carved down to be a fraction of a millimeter thinner than the cork edge. The thickness of the vertical ring of the wood was quite narrow, so only a couple of millimeters holds the parchment to the wood. However it is the largest circle, so the total glued surface area is fairly large, and proved stong enough to easily hold the weight of the rest of the rose.

Stacking it all together. This was actually the toughest gluing job, as the inner contact point of the top parchment ring is just at the edge, so it had to be extremely carefully placed (the first time!), as once the glue made contact there would be damage if it had to be reglued. Also because the top of the ring was outside of the ring where the contact between the 2nd and 3rd tiers occurred, I couldn't weight clamp it without stressing or distorting the parchment. So it had to be "clamped" inside the 3rd tier vertical ring at the point of contact, which took a little doing. Once together though, it held very well. Here you can also see the vertical structure of the final piece pretty well.

And ta-da! 'Tis finished. The final rose in an angled view.

And from straight down. Came out pretty close to the design you see at the top of the page.

And what it might look like in its final position on the soundboard.

The owner of the instrument to which it was to be fitted has received it now, and it turned out a perfect fit! This baroque guitar was made by Chris Steinert as a custom job.

Closer view of the rosette in position. It compliments the inlaid rosette of the guitar pretty well I think.

Overall it was a fun project. If I make another one (and I probably will - I liked the way it looked and will want one for myself now), I will probably use three layers of thinner parchment rather than two layers of thicker. It means a lot more work, but would allow for greater precision in cutting, as one of the problems I encountered here was that the thicker parchment was difficult to get very fine details in. In some cases the holes were smaller across than they were deep. Also using the thinner parchment I might be able to glue the lower layers to the upper ones first before cutting, allowing for much more precise cutting in general and not having the problem of trying to get them to line up perfectly after the fact. Don't know - but worth experimenting with.

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