Quillwork is probably the
oldest form of embroidery used by the Native Americans of the Plains.
They used birdfeather quills and porcupine quills to decorate their items. Later,
after the Europeans brought glass beads, quillwork was not done as
much because the beads came in more colors and were easier to
What did the
Native Americans decorate with quillwork?
their everyday articles, such as clothing, bags, knife
sheaths, tool holders, baskets, wooden handles, pipestems,
How did they get the
To collect the quills,
women would sneak up on a porcupine and throw a blanket over it. As a defense
the porcupine would raise its quills into the blanket. The quills
would get caught on the blanket, and the women could pull them off of
the porcupine. The women would then remove the blanket and pick the
Were there different kinds
There were four sizes of
quills found on a porcupine. The large, coarse quills from the tail
are best for filling in large areas, wrapping handles, pipe stems, or
fringes. Quills from the porcupine's back are good for loom work. The
fine quills from the neck are ideal for embroidery. The thinnest
quills found near the belly are used for delicate lines.
How were the quills
The quillworker flattened
the quills by drawing them between her teeth or with a quill
flattener. Quills were dyed with plant dyes. They often were dyed in
bright colors, but reflecting the tones of the earth. In some
cultures only some women who have undergone special ceremonies were
allowed to do quillwork.
How were the
quills applied to the articles?
The quills were
sewn, using their own points, into a buckskin in various
designs. Wrapping, braiding, and weaving were other
techniques. The bow loom was used for weaving.
To see samples of different quillwork techniques, click