Quillwork, or the use of dyed, flattened porcupine quills as a means of decoration, is unique to the indigenous people of North America. The porcupine's habitat ranges from Maine to Alaska, and quillwork decoration emerged in most places his quills could be found. Dyed with aniline dyes or in "teas" made of natural materials, the quills are softened in the mouth and then wrapped around thread or sinew stitched to tanned leather. Designs can be simple or complex, and there are many ways of wrapping and plaiting the quills to achieve different patterns. Examples of Quillworking have been found that are at least 400 years old, and quillworking toolkits dating to the 6th century AD. The Wyoming State Museum presents examples of quillworking here and in "Unbroken Circle," our permanent exhibit of Native American history at our museum in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Bag with quillwork, unknown tribe.
Although quillwork declined in popularity after the introduction of glass beads, it has enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades and is still practiced today. This time and labor intensive art repays the patient artist with a a piece which is "totally and completely ours, the genuine article... found nowhere else in the world." -Norman Moyah, quillwork artist.
Organized by the Wyoming State Museum.
Cole, Christina and Heald, Susan. "The History and Analysis of Pre-Aniline Native American Quillwork Dyes." Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 14 (2010).
Halvorson, Mark J. Sacred Beauty: Quillwork of Plains Women North Dakota: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1998
Horse Capture, John D. et al. Beauty, Honor, and Tradition: The Legacy of Plains Indian Shirts. Washington DC: National Museum of the American Indian, 2001
Green, Pamela Sexsmith et al. "Quillworking: Traditional Artwork Is Being Resurrected." Saskatchewan Sage volume 2 issue 8 (1998).
Orchard, William C. The Technique of Porcupine-Quill Decoration Among The North American Indians. New York: The Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation, 1916.