NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art


Strung & Threaded Quill Jewelry

[William Orchard in The Technique of Porcupine Quill Decoration Among the Indians of North America. published by Eagles View Publishing: Liberty, Utah in 1984. ISBN: 0-943604-00-1]

Porcupines are members of the rodent family and are covered with special hairs called quills. Quills are hard on the outside and spongy on the inside, making them useful for many kinds of craftwork. The sharp needle-like tips of the quills are covered in hundreds of tiny barbs which can imbed themselves easily in the unwary handler. Quills can be left their natural white color, or can be dyed in various colors. Quills are used in traditional forms of decoration by Native Americans who have access to these quills in the colder-northerly natural range of the porcupine. Sometimes the quills are wrapped onto fringe and rawhide strips, or sewed onto leather for embroidered clothing and accessories, or stapled through birchbark to decorate boxes or ornaments.

A young Paiute man, a student at the Carlisle School, was questioned as to his knowledge of porcupine-quill work among his people. His request for materials being complied with, he fashioned an ornament as illustrated… This is made of sections of quills cut in equal lengths and threaded as one would string beads, with a piece of leather between the sections of quills. According to his statement, it is an old form of decoration among his people, was sometimes made several feet in length, and was used as part of a woman's headdress.

Quills are also used in elegant jewelry, and many of the techniques for stringing quills into necklaces, bracelets & chokers and earrings are easy to learn. It is not necessary to soak and soften quills before using them for threaded jewelry (as you do for other types of quill-embroidery). It is, however, necessary to cut off both sharp, tapered ends of the porcupine quill - when making threaded quill jewelry, take care in discarding the dangerous tips of the quills.

For sturdy, long lasting strung quill jewelry, it is best cut your quills to ¾ of an inch or shorter. The thickest quills, the ones with the fattest diameter, are great for strung quill jewelry. Quills can be combined with tiny beads such as glass 'seed' beads, or other beads made from metal, wood or shell. The only restraint on the size of the beads used is that holes in these beads should not be so large that the threaded quills slip inside them. Some types of quill jewelry combine several strands of quills and beads, held in parallel rows and kept separate with leather 'spacers'.

One-strand necklaces are probably the simplest threaded jewelry to make. To make a necklace, cut the quills to equal lengths, and string them on, separating the quills from each other by string on small glass, metal, wood or shell beads. Such necklaces are quite beautiful when several strands are worn at once.

How to Make a Porcupine Quill Bracelet

Porcupine Quill Chokers and Bracelets are made in the same way
1. Choose the color quills and beads to use for the bracelet below

2. For a three-row bracelet, cut 9 quills to about ¾ of an inch.

[you can either cut all of the sharp dark tip off the quill, or incorporate part of these dark ends into the pattern of your design.]

3. Cut four little ½ x 1/8 inch strips of leather to use for spacers between & at the ends of the three sets of quills and beads.

4. Use 2 yards of string threaded onto a needle, doubled over and knotted at the end.

5. Pass the needle and thread through the first leather spacer, through 3 beads, through a quill, through 3 more beads, through another spacer. Continue threading beads and quills until you have stitched through the last spacer. You finished the first row.

6. Pass the needle back through the same spacer in the opposite direction. Thread the beads, quills and spacers in the same order till you reach the same spacer you started with to complete the second row.

7. Thread the third row the same as you did the first and second rows - at the end of the third row, knot the string on the outside of the last spacer.

8. To fasten the bracelet to your wrist, use two separate cords, and attach each cord to either end of the bracelet, around the leather spacers, using clove-hitch knots as shown.


How to Make Porcupine Quill Earrings

There are an infinite number of styles of earrings that combine porcupine quills and glass beads. Some are simple to make, while others combine hand-held woven beadwork that are more complicated and time-consuming to make.

Four simple kinds of threaded quill earrings are shown below: the first two styles use only a needle and thread with the quills and beads. While the second two styles use leather spacers for the quills and beads to dangle from. Loops are made at the tops of the earring styles to later suspend it from a earring wire.


The Noc Bay Trading Company provides a wide range of reasonably priced instructional materials and kits, including porky quill earrings, as part of their Learning Circle Program. Write for their $3 catalog: Noc Bay Trading Company, P.O. Box 295, 1133 Washington Ave., Escanaba, MI 49829 (1-800-652-7192).

Porcupine Quillwork Bibliography and Books to Buy On-Line

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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
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