Porcupine Quill Decorating



The use of porcupine quills for embroidery decorative work on items is far older in the Native American cultures who lived in the woodlands where the porcupine could be found than is the use of beads. Clothing, weapons, baskets, personal items, tools, and sacred items have all been the recipients of this stunningly beautiful art form. Quills were dyed creating shades of the colors of black, white, red and yellow.

"A natural dye for red included the following ingredients: Choke cherry or wild plum, Tamarack bark, Spruce cones, Sumac berries, Alder and Hemlock inner bark, Poke berry, Bloodroot, Sassafras, Red Bed straw, Buffalo-berry (Lepargyrea), Currants, Red Osier Dogwood and Red cedar. The quills are added to a prepared dye in a large pot and simmered for 1/2 to 3 hours." http://www.turtletrack.org/Issues01/Co03102001/CO_03102001_Porky.htm

Take a look at this beautiful baby carrier on ebay for the next few days. It has close up view of quilling patterns.


"Cheyenne women's quilling societies undertook quillwork as a sacred task. A woman had to be sponsored and tutored for membership. The objective of these societies was technical perfection in the art. Sacred quillwork in many areas was undertaken to fulfill a vow as a form of prayer for someone. The process of making it was sacred, but the finished piece -- to be worn or used by someone -- was not considered sacred. The product was of secondary importance to the process of creation, according to John C. Ewers, of the Smithsonian Institution. The focus was on the vow, the thoughts and prayers and the work, not on the thing -- very different from Western society, which prizes only things and ignores the process of creation."  http://www.kstrom.net/isk/art/art_bead.html


"Defined, quillwork is the art of applying dyed porcupine quills to beautify a functional object with attractive colors. There are a variety of methods used to attach quills to such items.  While quillwork is practiced by few, some methods are more common than others. The most common methods include wrapping the quill on rawhide, stitching quills directly onto buckskin, and plaited quillwork, which is the braiding of quills into a cord which is then used to decorate an object.

Care of Quilled Items - Quills are actually porcupine hair and should not be exposed to moisture like swimming, rain, a bath or shower.  Sunlight will fade quills, and quills can wear out with constant use.  Be sure to store them safely in a dark, dry, safe place when not in use." http://www.lodgefire.com/AgoKweCreations.html

"Porcupine quills were used for decorative work on clothing until approximately 1850 when the trade and application of glass beads replaced quills as the decoration of choice. This transition was made easier because: (1) Tiny glass beads allowed use of the same designs used in quillwork; (2) More colors were available; (3) Quills no longer had to be acquired, washed, sorted, and dyed before work could begin. While quillwork is beautiful, unique and usually very well done, there were limitations to the colors and designs which could be applied."
http://www.crazycrow.com/crafts/quillwork.php (this website has many excellent references and how to do instructions)

An excerpt from Porcupine Quill Embroidery by Tara Prindle
"In general, quill-working flourished among Native Americans until the mid-1800's when glass beads became easily attainable through trade with Europeans. Later traditions of embroidery using glass beads were built upon techniques and designs in quill-working. Although considered a 'lost art' by many, Native Americans such as the Sioux, Cree and Ojibway and others still carry on the tradition of quill embroidery."

First, you get a porcupine ... http://www.nativetech.org/quill/porcupin.html

Then you prepare the hairs .... http://www.nativetech.org/quill/prepare.html

Dying using natural dyes comes next .... http://www.nativetech.org/quill/dyes.html

"Before commercial dyes were available, berries, flowers, plants, and lichen were used to create dyes. Quills were boiled in the dye mixture for about 1 hours until they took on the desired colour. Dock root was used to produce brighter and stronger colours. Adding currants or gooseberries helped prevent the colours from fading." http://www.iti.gov.nt.ca/iea/Traditional_Economy/quillwork.htm

Here is a virtual matching game of Natural Dyes and Porcupine Quills: http://nativetech.nativeweb.org/games/porcupinequill/index.php

Tools you will need are ....... http://www.nativetech.org/quill/tech.html

Here are some methods you can experiment with ...... http://www.nativetech.org/quill/quilintr.html
Good description of the methods: http://www.matoska.com/craft_porcupine_quillwork_hartless.htm
Examples of the different methods: http://www.matoska.com/quilwork.htm

Everything (well almost) you want to know about Quillwork tips, books etc, can be found at this superb website of NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art: http://www.nativetech.org/quill/index.php

A Cheyenne Legend - The Quillwork Girl and her seven brothers