At last month’s Tecumseh Lodge meeting in Indy, Larry Kincer taught a class in quill work. I’ve wanted to give quill work a try, so I was glad to have the opportunity. Embroidery with porcupine quills is an old (17th century) method of native american clothing decoration. Dyed quills are wrapped or woven in patterns.
We used pre-dyed quills Larry brought and worked on wrapping them in simple rows on strips cut from a plastic container. Thin strips of rawhide would be the preferred material once you get the hang of wrapping, but the plastic strips worked OK for practice. After clipping off the barb from the quill, the quill is softened either by soaking in water or holding it in your mouth. Next, the quill is flattened either by running it between your teeth or using the back of spoon or knife blade. The flattened quills are wrapped around the strip, once or twice depending on length. The end of each quill is bend over beginning of the next quill and the wrapping covers the ends so that they hold each other in place as you can see in the picture below.
Handling the quills requires some care and a tolerance for occasionally being pricked by the sharp barbs. The barbs are shaped so that your own muscle motion pulls the barb deeper into your skin. Larry had a porcupine hide with him with the guard hair and quills still on. The hide is covered with quills! You can readily see why you would not want to go grabbing one of these animals bare handed!