NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art
Quill Decorated Boxes and Other Bark Objects

Only a few Native Americans today produce elaborately quilled items from birch bark. And on this rare occasion these creations are quite dear to their maker, owing to the amount of time and patience invested in each piece. On a bark box only a few inches across there can be over 1,000 individual quills!

CIRCULAR BARK BOX <br>BEFORE BEING QUILLED Round boxes were made by cutting two disks (the top and bottom of the box), each attached to a long rectangular piece forming the sides of the box. The lid is made with a slightly larger diameter to slip over the bottom half. Decorating with quills on the flat lids is done just before the pieces are stitched together, and more decoration could then be added to the sides of the cylinder. Afterwards, a backings of another layer of bark is inserted inside the box - the liners - one disk shaped to protect the quills of the lid and another rectangular piece is inserted against the inside of the side of the box to hold the lid-liner in place. Sometimes liners are additionally secured using a single long quill and the 'lattice stitch' in a large 'X' much like in a pattern much like sewing on a button. With the lattice stitch, the quills go through both the decorated piece and the backing layers of bark.
BEING QUILLED - [Schneider 1972]

BARK CIGAR CASE - FRENCH-CANADIAN AREA Oval, rectangular and other shaped boxes were produced in various sizes for items such as needles, gloves, cigars and cigarettes to appease the European market which developed in the late 1800's and early 1900's. [Schneider 1972, Miles 1963]. Some boxes were even shaped like the trunks of fur traders, or like European women's pocketbooks (Orchard 1984). Some of the most impressively decorated rectangular boxes are nearly a foot across and these fully-quilled boxes (like the ones made today by Ralph 'Porcupine' Bishop of Troy, Maine) have well over 10,000 quills! [Ripley, date unknown].

DETAIL OF MEAT DISH - BEOTHUK North American Natives also decorated more formal food containers, and occasionally personal items such as headbands and pendants with porcupine quills. A 'meat dish for deer's flesh' that had once been smeared with red ochre was exhumed in 1827 from the burial of Beothuk chief in Newfoundland. Secured just below the spruce-root wrapped rim is a layer of bark decorated with quills in a chevron pattern [Reynolds 1978].
BEOTHUK NATION[Reynolds 1978]

HEADBAND - Native Canadian A headband made in the 1700's probably by a Canadian Native, uses a combination of hide and birch bark strips wrapped with quills. Although the quills are wrapped around and not inserted through the bark, this headband attests to the antiquity of using quills and birch bark together [American Indian Art Magazine Summer 1993].
HEADBAND - Natvie Canadian
[Amer. Ind. Art 1993]

CASE - Manitoba A 4" case worn as a pendant made in the early 1800's by a Native of the Red River area of Manitoba uses quills stitched through the bark for surface decoration as well as to lash the edges together [American Indian Art Magazine Spring 1996].
CASE - Manitoba
[Amer. Ind. Art 1996]

NAPKIN RING - GREAT LAKES REGION Today smaller quilled products are common, like this miniature bark canoe which I found at a powwow in Franklin, Massachusetts - it has only four quills on each side. Other 'souvenir' items, more quickly made with just a few quills - even napkin rings - are made for todays (somewhat unappreciative) commercial market.
LAKES REGION [Hothem 1990]

Materials & Tools for Decorating Bark with Quills
Designs used in Quilling on Birch Bark
Techniques and Patterns to Attach Quills to Birch Bark
Instructions for Making a Quilled Birch Bark Pendant

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Porcupine Quillwork Bibliography and Books to Buy On-Line

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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.