Porcupine Quillwork

Quilled Flower BraceletNever heard of porcupine quillwork? Most people haven’t. It’s often considered one of the few arts that originated in America, so we should know about it, shouldn’t we?

Quillwork employs porcupine quills (not to be confused with quilling, which involves paper). The porcupine quills are softened so they can be manipulated into shapes that are sewed to leather. Native American Indians created this art more than 500 years ago and used porcupine quills to embellish war shirts, moccasins, pipe bags…basically anything they could sew or wrap with quills.

Sounds a little time-consuming, maybe downright crazy, but back then (this is pre-1500s, before Europeans arrived in American) native peoples embellished garb with whatever natural materials they could find, including shells, bones, and porcupine quills.

Indian woman cleaned some of the 30,000 quills from porcupine pelts, then dyed them using blueberries, plum tree bark, bloodroot, and a variety of other wild plants. Each tiny spike was moistened and flattened as the Indian woman slid it between her teeth. Next the quill was meticulously stitched onto a dress, war shirt, ceremonial pouch, pipe, or moccasin astride hundreds of other quills.

Brown Porcupine

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