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Quillwork - A type of decoration used by many Indian tribes on various articles of dress, bags and pouches, pipes, and horse gear.  Quillwork, which later was replaced almost entirely by beadwork, was done with the quills of porcupines and those of bird feathers.

The Cree, Dakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho were the principal quillworking tribes, although in earlier days porcupine quills had been employed in decorative embroidery from Maine to Virginia and west to the Rocky Mountains north of the Arkansas River.

The work was done chiefly on dressed skin, but some of the Woodland tribes decorated birch bark with quillwork.  The split quills of feathers were used by the Eskimo; other tribes, mainly Algonquian, employed the hair of the porcupine as well as the quills.

The same designs and same color schemes were used in beadwok as had been used in the older craft.

It was the duty of the man to kill the porcupine and pluck the quills as soon as possible after the animal's death.  The women sorted them according to length, since they varied from one to four inches.  As the quill of the porcupine is a round hollow tube which ends in a barbed point, it was necessary to flatten it before using.  A woman would moisten the quill in her mouth, and then draw it between her fingernails or teeth.  Sometimes a bone quill flattener was used.

The quill itself was white and was dyed in various ways before being applied to the buckskin or other material.  The red dye was made from the buffalo berry, yellow from the petals of wild sunflowers, and black from the wild grape.  Quills were plaited if they were to be wrapped around a pipe stem, and  if they were sewed on buckskin they were wound around or folded over the sinew after it had been run through the buckskin.

Related Information within this Site
[ Bags and Pouches ][ Beads ][ Calumet ][ Costume ][ Knife Sheath ]
[ Moccasin ][ Papoose ][ Porcupine ][ Quiver ][ Sinew ][ Women ]