FOR QUILLWORK ON BARK
- the outer bark of the birch tree is traditionally gathered in
june from live trees by making a horizontal slice in the trunk
and pealing away the thick sheet of layers all the way down to
the darker inner bark of the tree (which of course harms the tree)-
birch bark from fallen trees or trees slated for harvest is best
to use. Fresh bark can be easily bent and sewn, but older bark
which has been pressed flat for storage must be heated with warm
water for a few minutes to make it flexible enough for bending
without splitting. (Soaking the bark is not necessary for the
step of inserting the quills through the bark or for sewing flat
- porcupine quills can always be bought from craft supply companies
but there are more creative ways of obtaining a supply of quills.
Porcupines are often hit by cars in the northeast but at least
use can be made of their quills. A clever woods-person can get
a good supply of quills without harm to the 'porky' - a generous
amount of quills will stick to a blanket, sweater or other ready
article of clothing strategically tossed over the slow-moving
critter. Quills must be soaked in warm water to make them soft
and flexible - ideally kept warm and moist in the quill-workers
mouth - I prefer to alternate my quills between a small container
of warm water and a moist sponge to rest them on so they don't
- or a bone marker to etch onto the dark stiff (inner bark) side
the design to be quilled (or a pencil to draw the design on).
The pairs perforations are placed along these line placed
- preferably two pair: a heavy duty pair for cutting the bark
and one for snipping quills and lighter work.
- Traditionally sharpened bone awls are used for making the perforations
in birch bark. One such awl is made from the naturally tapering
arm (ulna) bone of a deer or similar mammal. An awl with a triangular
point works best and doesn't split the bark as a round needle
tends to. But in a pinch a large leather needle or other pin
can be used to make the perforations in the bark.
or pliers - Though quills can be grasped easily enough by pinching
fingers if the hole is large and the quill is inserted far enough,
tweezers can really help to grab that teeny-weenie pointy tip
when you go to pull it through the hole. Just be careful not to
snap the point of the quill off if you're using metal tools to
grab the quill.
cotton thread , or imitation sinew (waxed nylon) string - The
piece of decorated bark must have a separate bark backing or liner
sewn on with lashing or thread to protect the short bent-over
ends of the quills and to keep quills from slipping out. Spruce
root, split down to the same width as the quills, is traditionally
used to lash the rims of decorated bark containers and is ingeniously
incorporated into designs. Use an awl to make holes for stiff
spruce root or a for a standard needle and thread. A glovers
needle (having a triangular point) can also be used. Whip stitch-on
a backing the same size and shape of birch bark.
Sweetgrass, cattail or other botanical improvisation - The evidence of backings, linings and layers of bark can be hidden with added trim by whip stitching around a skinny bundle of plant material, traditionally sweetgrass. Even bundles of porcupine quills with their tips cut off have been used to wrap and finish of the rims of bark boxes.
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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.