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!

Craft Your Turkey: Bone Whistle

A turkey bone whistle

A turkey bone whistle

You’re rolling around on the floor, stuffed full of turkey and cranberry sauce and you can’t help but wonder: What do I do with that turkey carcass? (If your dog didn’t devour it while you were distracted by football. My dog ate an entire rotisserie chicken last week. He was just practicing for Thanksgiving.)

Sure there’s the usual: Snap the wishbone and hope your dreams come true or make soup stock.

If you want something more lasting, make a turkey wing bone whistle. That’s right, get all the relatives back at the table and make whistles.

All cultures around the world have made whistles and flutes from bird bones. Native American Indians played eagle bone whistles to signify bravery, and early Americans called in turkeys while hunting. You can find out more about bird whistles these sites.

Alaska Native Knowledge Network

Lewis & Clark: Gifts of the Mandan

History of Whistles

To get started on your turkey bone whistle, you need:

  • turkey wing(s)
  • saw or sharp scissors
  • pipecleaner or other wire
  • sand paper
  • Elmer’s glue

Warning: This project does not work with Thanksgiving Tofurkey.

1. Harvest the wing(s) from the turkey carcass. One wing makes one whistle. Do not wrestle dog for the wings, as you may get hurt. Boil the wing bones to loosen meat. You should find you have 2 bones (1 large, 1 medium-size) that are connected by ligaments and 2 smaller bones that are fused into a single bone. Keep the large and medium bones and dispose of the rest.

2. Scrape off as much meat as possible with a knife.

A pipe cleaner works well removing the marrow.

A pipe cleaner works well removing the marrow.

3. Using a saw or sharp scissors, cut the ends off of the bones, to expose the pith and marrow inside. Using the pipecleaner, knife or other sharp object, clean out as much marrow and boney webbing inside as possible.

My dog, trying to "help."

My dog, trying to "help."

4. Boil again. Scrape the outside of the bones again and run the pipecleaner through the bones to remove the last bits of marrow. The bones will be somewhat transparent when they are wet, and you can see where the marrow still remains.

The flat end of the small bone goes into the large bone.

The flat end of the small bone goes into the large bone.

5. The smaller of the two bones will have a very rounded end and an almost flat end. Insert the flat end of the small bone into the smallest end of large bone. If the bone doesn’t slide in, sand until the small bone fits inside the big bone. Don’t take off too much.

6. Put glue into the joint of the two bones and let dry.

7. Embellish the whistle with permanent marker.

8. You’re ready to call turkeys! Place the smallest end of the whistle between your lips, sightly off center. Purse your lips around the bone and suck in, like you’re kissing. You sound like a turkey! Even more than usual.

One year as a gift, I made a turkey bone whistle from a wild turkey my father harvested for our Thanksgiving. I drew the turkey tracks on the whistle with permanent marker and added copper ring and leather carrying strap.

I made a 3-part turkey bone whistle for my dad.

I made a 3-part turkey bone whistle for my dad.

Happy Thanksgiving!