Quilled dress, Photo courtesy of Ravenshead Tiwahe
Quilled moccasins, Photo courtesy of Ravenshead Tiwahe
Quilled vest, Photo courtesy of Ravenshead Tiwahe
Quillwork is perhaps the oldest form of embroidery used by Native Americans. Quills were folded, twisted, wrapped, plaited and sewn using a wide range of techniques to decorate articles of clothing, bags, knife sheaths, baskets, wooden handles and pipe stems. Quillwork has been, and continues to be used to decorate the basketry of various Native American tribes.
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.
Regardless of the type quillwork project you have in mind, we have tried to assemble all the available online links and resources to help with the task. As additional information is found or created, we will add it in order to keep this reference current. In addition to the Web resources, we also highlight related products offered by Crazy Crow to make your porcupine quillwork craft project easier and the results more assured. We are particularly grateful to assistance and pictures from Ravenshead Tiwahe and Nancy Fonicello of Ancient Artways Studio.
Frequently Asked Questions About Porcupine Quillwork - Nancy Fonicello
Common questions regarding removal and preparation of porcupine quills.
Canku-Ota - Craft Series - The Art of Quillwork - Part One
Part one of this craft series discusses the history, description of quills, how to obtain them, how to remove them, calcification of quills, preparing quill and dying quills.
Canku-Ota - Craft Series - The Art of Quillwork - Part Two
This article provides different techniques, designs, quillwork on birch bark and on leather. Also includes a listing of books and websites on this subject.
About Porcupines - Native Tech
Fact and myth about our prickly friends. Includes map showing areas where porcupines range and areas where quillwork was popular.
Tools and Materials for Embroidery Techniques - Nancy Fonicello
Type leather, threads, quill flatteners and other tools used in porcupine quillwork.
Introduction to Techniques & Methods of Porcupine Quillwork - Nancy Fonicello
Presents in simple terms, some of the techniques used in the art of porcupine quill emboidery.
Porcupine Quill Embroidery - Native Tech
Introduction to this popular decorative technique used to embellish articles of clothing, bags, knife sheaths, baskets, wooden handles and pipe stems.
The Zig-Zag Technique - Nancy Fonicello
Probably the simplest quillwork style to learn, and is yet very versatile.
The Parallel or Band Technique - Nancy Fonicello
Similar to the zig-zag technique except that the quills on the top row are folded away rather than toward you. The foundation for more advanced quillwork stitches.
The Single-Quill Line Technique - Nancy Fonicello
Executed the same way as the parallel band technique, except you use one thread instead of two, and the quill is left whole and not trimmed until the work is completed.
Multiquill Plaiting Techniques - Nancy Fonicello
Multiquill plaiting is the term commonly used to describe a type of quillwork which has the appearance of being "woven" with many quills at once.
Preparation of Porcupine Quills - Native Tech
Description of the quills, how to pluck and prepare them for use.
Quill Looming Techniques - Nancy Fonicello
Photo close-ups showing loomwork, line quilling and edging techniques.
Quill Wrapping on Rawhide - Nancy Fonicello
Diagram of quill wrapping technique.
Porcupine Quill Decoration on Birchbark - Native Tech
Introduction to a series of articles explaining: Materials & Tools for Decorating Bark with Quills, Quill Decorated Boxes and Other Bark Objects, Designs used in Quilling on Birch Bark, Techniques and Patterns to Attach Quills to Birch Bark Instructions for Making a Quilled Birch Bark Pendant.
Ancient Artways Studio - Nancy Fonicello's website
Website of numerous articles on the subject of quillwork. Photo gallery shows examples of work.
Northern Plains Quillwork - Ravenshead Tiwahe's website
Well-known quillwork artist's website. His work is represented at the top of this page. Photo galleries depict other works online.
Quillwork Images - Humbolt State University
Professor Ron Johnson's image quillwork image links. Pictures include Woodlands boxes and Sioux pipe stems, knife sheaths, moccasins and other articles.
Quillwork in the Northwest Territories
Description and pictures of various types of quillwork: woven quillwork, sewn quillwork, quillwork on birchbark, and a brief discussion of other types of quillwork.
Porcupine Characteristics - Natureworks
Describes: characteristics, Range, Habitat, Food, Reproduction and behavior of porcupines. Great Pictures for kids.
Quill Boxes by Lorraine Besito (Ojibwa - Saugeen Reserve, Ontario)
Nice quilled box examples.
Tribal Expressions Gallery
Nice examples of quilled birchbark boxes and sweetgrass and split ash baskets, decorated with quillwork.
19th Century Mi'kmaq Quilled Box
This is a fine example of a Mi'kmaq birch-bark box decorated with porcupine quills collected in Newfoundland in the early 19th century.
Our Native Crafts
Brief article on quillwork.
Quillwork: Native American Traditional Arts
Examples of the work of Michael Galban as shown on the Oneida Nation website.
Hudson's Bay Digital Collection
Quillwork items from the Hudson's Bay collection.
Why Porcupine has Quills - Chippewa Legend
Also includes facts about our prickly friend, as well as a short article on quillwork.