QUESTIONS ABOUT QUILLWORK ...
contributed by Nancy Fonicello
In the course of a year on
the internet, I have received frequent mailings of questions regarding
quillwork, its various techniques, and the materials required
to do fine work. I have put together a small collection of some
of the most commonly asked questions, and hope to add more as
time goes on. If you have a question that you would like to see
answered here, please feel free to email me and I will do my best
to answer it for you. ~ Nancy Fonicello
Someone just brought me a
road killed porcupine and plucking the quills is taking FOREVER!
Do you have a fast way to take the quills off?
Unfortunately, no. Plucking
porcupine quills is tedious at best, but is the only way to get
the materials you need, unless you can find a commercial source
for quills of the right size. If you are really short for time,
and it is midsummer and your porcupine is getting smelly, try
skinning it, rolling up the hide and putting it in the freezer
until you have time to deal with it. Alternatively you may freeze
the whole carcass, but this takes up quite a lot of room in the
I have tried skinning the
porcupine and then salting and drying the hide for future use.
I find that with this method I have a problem resoaking the hide
and extracting the quills without damaging them. Basically, one
has to soak the hide for such a long time that the quills get
too soft to pluck.
The best method I have found
so far when I am in a hurry is to pluck the quills, hair and all,
and put them in a flat pan or tray, all laying in the same direction.
Then I can go back at my leisure and separate the hair from the
quills without having to worry about a rotting carcass.
My quills won't accept the
dye I am using. They keep coming out faded and spotty. What
am I doing wrong?
Properly prepared quills usually
accept a commercial dye (like RIT) very well. You may have not
removed the waxy outer layer when you washed the quills. Try
soaking the quills in a very hot but not boiling solution of dish
soap and water (I find DAWN works best for me, but any will do).
Soak them with frequent stirring for anywhere from 10 minutes
to a half an hour. You may just have had an older porcupine with
very oilly quills, but this should do the trick.
Also make sure your dye bath
is very hot (but not boiling) when you are dying them. Some commercial
dyes take longer than others to give you the proper color. Reds,
for instance, take a long time to set. Blue and yellow seem to
set almost instantaneously.
Natural dyes are another story
entirely, and I am still in the process of researching this myself.
It can be very frustrating to get a beautiful dye color from
plant materials and then not have the quills accept the color,
but this seems to be common with any of the natural dyes. Additions
of mordants such as alum or even sugar may help. Leaving the quills
in a dye solution in a warm place for a few days has given me
good results too. Don't be afraid to experiment.
What part of the porcupine
to you pluck to get the best size quills?
Generally I take quills from
down both sides of the animal. This is the place to find the
longest, thinnest quills that will make you work look the best.
I almost never use the quills on the back of the animal, as they
are too big and stiff. The finer the quill, the better your
work - to a point. There are some very fine quills that look
like hair which I have found useful for single line work, but
using this size quill may be frustrating to someone who is just
Do you sort all your quills
ahead of time?
Actually no. Aside from the
basic sorting when I pluck a porcupine, I like to leave a little
size variation in my batches of quills. That way when I dye them
I have a number of different size quills to work with of the same
dye lot. This is especially useful when you are using a number
of different techniques on the same piece, like matching edging
on a knife sheath, or floral quillwork with single line embroidery
I also would much rather be
sewing down quills than sorting them!
How do you keep all the little
black quill ends from getting all over the place when I cut them
off. I have found a number of them the hard way when they have
gotten into my socks!
Take a scrap piece of leather and jab the quills into it before you snip them. All the little black ends will stay in the leather, and your feet will be much happier. (By the way, I take no credit for this idea, but was very grateful when a fellow quillworker shared it with me!
Return to NativeTech's Main Porcupine Quillwork Menu
Text and Graphics
© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.