Quillwork is an art form that utilizes porcupine quills as a form of textile embellishment. It is practiced almost exclusively by Native American tribes, particularly the United States. The quills made are placed on garments such as moccasins, shirts, or dresses. They are sometimes dyed before being used to make items.
The first step in quillwork is to obtain porcupine quills. This is done by plucking them from a recently deceased animal. The quills are individually plucked by hand, which can be very time-consuming.
After plucking the quills, the crafter must remove all the porcupine hair from them, then clean and sort the quills. They are normally sorted by length and thickness. The tips of the quills are usually snipped off at this time because they are generally very sharp and unsightly.
A worker can then dye these objects if she chooses. Natural dyes made from plant-based materials are generally preferred over commercial dyes. Some of the more common colors desired for quillwork are bright shades of red, blue, or yellow.
Quillwork can be performed by a variety of methods. These include embroidery or appliqué, which involves stitching the quill onto a piece of fabric by hand. Quills can also be woven on a loom. They may also be wrapped around themselves in order to create designs.
Animal hide and leather are often used in quillwork. These materials provide a stiff surface for quills to be attached to. For this reason, this art form is often used in making Native American attire, such as robes or moccasins. Leather is often used to make a hair drop, which is an ornamental device worn by men.
This tradition is passed down from older women in a tribe to the younger ones. Men typically do not participate in this craft. In some tribes it is considered an honor to be taught the art of quillwork. Beginning crafters normally begin by making moccasins and rosettes, then cradleboards, which are a device used to hold an infant.
Many North American tribes perform quillwork both as a traditional art form as well as for profit. Workers may sell their goods at roadside stands or via the Internet. Due to the fact that many tribes create a large number of goods, quills are sometimes gathered and sold in large lots. This can streamline the process and make it more profitable for those who depend on this craft in order to make a living.