Porcupine Quillwork Classes in June

Porcupine Quillwork Part 1: Colors of the Past
June 7, 2009 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Porcupine Quillwork Part 2: Stories in the Quills
June 7, 2009 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Pre-register for the classes by June 3, 2009

Download this pdf for more information and the registration form.

Plaiting porcupine quills. All the prickly ends get sniped off when the braiding is done.

Plaiting porcupine quills. All the prickly ends get sniped off when the braiding is done.

The Museum of Indian Culture will be hosting me on June 7, 2009, to teach two Porcupine Quillwork classes. You can join me for one class, although you get a 15% discount if you attend both classes, plus an additional discount if you’re a Museum member. You can become a member of the Museum of Indian Culture when you sign up for the classes. The pdf contains more information about pricing and how to sign up. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through e-mail or at 610-905-8399.

A feather quilled on a leather pouch using the stitches taught in the Porcupine Quillwork Part 2 Class.

A feather quilled on a leather pouch using the zigzag stitch. This stitch is taught in the Porcupine Quillwork Part 2 Class.

It’s been a while since I taught a quillwork class, but I just demonstrated at the Museum’s latest powwow. I meet a surprising number of people at the powwow who have an appreciation for porcupine quillwork, since this art is often overlooked in favor of beadwork.

Porcupine quillwork pre-dates the beadwork we often associate with Native American Indians. Using available resources, Native Peoples developed a technique for embroidering porcupine quills onto leather or wrapping quills around rawhide and sinew to make intricate patterns.

This was the pre-1500s, when steel needles, cotton thread and glass beads weren’t yet developed in the Americas. Native women harvested the quills from porcupines, clean them and dyed them using local plants such as blueberries, sassafras and sunflowers. The women placed the quills (very carefully!) in their mouths to soften them to a pliable state, then pulled the quills through their teeth to flatten them. Flattened quills were embroidered onto brain-tanned leather using sinew (that’s tendon from deer, elk or buffalo). The quills were also wrapped around rawhide.  Natives adept at this art could embellish nearly anything: war shirts and moccasins, pipes and tobacco bags, feathers and hair pieces.

(Don’t worry: in our classes we use dishes of water and spoons to flatten quills and artificial sinew to sew the quills).

The porcupine quill plait, taught in Porcupine Quillwork Part 1, is wrapped around this feather.

The porcupine quill plait, taught in Porcupine Quillwork Part 1, is wrapped around this feather.

Not every tribe practiced this art. The Plains Indians are best know for their exquisite quillwork, but quillwork is also common among the Athabaskan and Metis peoples. Debate still goes on over whether eastern woodland peoples, like the Lenape, practiced quillwork since our humid eastern conditions would not allowed samples of this work to survive at archaeological sites.

The Micmac people practice quillwork on birchbark, which is a different type of quillwork that is equally intricate, but a different set of skills than embroidery. (I don’t teach quillwork on birch bark).

Come out and join us for a day of delving deep into history as you learn the dying art of Porcupine Quillwork. When you sign up for the class, you’ll also gain entry into the museum during our breaks. The Museum of Indian Culture just unveiled its beautiful new Plains Indian exhibit. Bring your lunch and make a day of the two classes.

Hope to see you there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *