Quilling is the art of rolling, bending, and creasing narrow strips of paper into coils and scrolls, then assembling these shapes into two- and three-dimensional decorative designs. The shapes are usually set on edge so the inner curls show to best advantage. These delicate openwork designs resemble metal filigree or lace. The name, quilling, comes from the fact that the paper strips were at one time rolled on bird quills. Quilling dates back at least to the fifteenth century, when European nuns used narrow strips of paper cut from the edges of illuminated manuscripts to create delicate ornamentation for religious articles. The craft was brought to America by the women who settled in the colonies; they decorated such mundane household items as candle sconces and tea caddies with paper filigree. (The quilling that American Indians did was of another ilk; they decorated leather with porcupine and bird quills.)
Only a few examples of early quillwork survive today, such as the candle sconce shown at right. This scarcity is due in part to the fragile nature of the material, but quillwork probably was not handled carefully because it was not recognized for what it was; quilling done with gilt-edge paper resembled metal filigree, and cream-colored imitation parchment could have been mistaken for ivory or wood carvings.
The shapes used in quilling are quite stylized; yet the patterns they make range from simple, modern designs to ones that are very elaborate and intricate. The ulti• mate effect depends on the width, length, and thickness of the paper strips, the size and tightness of the shapes, and the colors and shadings of the papers. Quilling can be made into standing or hanging ornaments, or it can be attached to surfaces of blown-out eggs, boxes, picture frames, dollhouse furniture, and many other objects both decorative and useful.
Learning to roll the coils, the basic step in quilling, is quite simple if you have time, patience, and a liking for meticulous work done on a miniature scale. The rolling takes practice, and the trick is to keep the tension even. The creative part comes in choosing colors and shapes to arrange into flat, layered, and three-dimensional designs of infinite variety.
Materials and Tools
To do quillwork, you need narrow paper strips and a cardboard box in which to hang them in an orderly fashion. You also need something to roll the strips on, such as a toothpick, and white liquid household glue. Other helpful aids are: manicure scissors; tweezers for picking up small shapes; straight pins; a cup of water or a damp sponge for moistening strips and cleaning fmgers; and an egg carton or muffin tin for sorting shapes. Your work surface should be a piece of beaver board or corrugated cardboard, about 9 by 18 inches, covered with a sheet of manila or other heavyweight paper with patterns drawn on it. Use waxed paper to cover the penciled patterns because neither paper lint nor glue sticks to its slick surface, but the patterns underneath it are clearly visible.
Precut quilling papers are offered in an assortment of colors at craft shops and in mail-order catalogs. Strips can be cut at home, but you need a good eye and a steady hand to cut them evenly. Quilling paper must be heavy enough to retain a shape, light enough to roll smoothly, resilient enough to spring open when uncoiled. You always cut the strips with the grain of the paper, so they can be rolled with the grain. To find the grain of a sheet of paper, roll it in both directions; it will roll more smoothly in one direction, which is with the grain.
The width of the paper strips is usually ‘1/4 inch, though it can be narrower, or it can be as wide as an inch fora loosely coiled shape. The bird of paradise on page 1682 is made entirely of 1116-inch-wide strips. (To cut a 1/4-inch strip in half length-wise, use manicure scissors, and cut very slowly and carefully.) If you plan to frame quilled pieces, such as the butterflies on page 1678, or to make designs for greeting cards that you will mail, take the thickness of the coils into consideration so they won’t be crushed. Occasionally commercially cut papers will vary slightly in width, and papers of various colors will vary in weight. These differences do not matter in most projects, but you should be aware of the possibilities.
Most quilling shapes are made with strips 2 to 8 inches long. Practice making different shapes to see how much paper each takes. Keep a record of the lengths used for each size, and when you make a design requiring two or more identical shapes, cut the strips equal length. (Draw lines, equaling the most used lengths, on your work surface; such a guide is quicker to use than a ruler.)
As the basic quilling tool, you can use anything from a round pencil or knitting needle to a feather quill or No. 3 insect pin, depending on the design you want. The thinner the quilling tool, the smaller the hole in the center of the coil will be. This smaller hole assures a more delicate look, while a larger hole is appropriate for a loose, open design. The most common quilling tools are a round wooden toothpick tapered at the ends, a corsage pin with a large bead head, or a special quilling tool made of metal.
The toothpick works fine for beginners; in fact, the texture of the wood helps hold the paper strip. With a toothpick, you make the coil by turning the toothpick, not the paper. Squeeze the end tightly around the toothpick, and roll the first few turns slowly. Roll the toothpick toward you with your right hand while you hold the paper lightly with your left hand to keep the coil from slipping. (If you are left-handed, roll with your left and hold with your right hand.) The tapered shape of the toothpick permits variations in the tightness of the center coil, depending upon where on the toothpick you roll the strip. If you use a corsage pin or other metal pin or needle, the tool acts only as an axis around which the strip is wound; the paper itself is turned while the pin remains stationary. A tool designed for quilling makes rolling easier by holding the beginning of the paper strip, but the crimp it puts in the paper may be undesirable in your design.
You can also roll coils without a tool, using only your fingers. This is the best way to achieve a very tight center, but it is somewhat difficult to avoid squeezing the coils out of shape.
If you have difficulty starting a coil, dampen the end of the paper strip, and moisten your fingertips slightly. (If your fingers are too wet or are sticky with glue, the paper will lose the crispness that is part of the beauty of quillwork.) For best results, maintain an even tension on the paper. Too little tension will let the center start unwinding before the coil is finished; too much tension will result in a coil that will not open evenly or as wide as you might like. The end that will be on the outside may be torn to make that edge less visible. The outer end can also be cut if it will be hidden by another shape.
Only a tiny drop of clear-drying white glue is needed to secure a shape when it has reached the size desired and to join the shapes wherever they touch. Always glue closed coils to size before pinching them into other shapes. Scrolls are generally not glued until they are put into a design. Lay the glue bottle on its side to keep the glue flowing smoothly, and squeeze a drop onto a toothpick applicator as you need it. Put another toothpick on the work surface to act as a rest for the glue applicator when it is not in use.
Assembling the Design
Patterns for the flat designs in the following projects are given full size; trace them onto heavy paper to slip under the waxed paper of your work surface. Roll the coils and scrolls the pattern calls for, pinning them in place over the pattern with straight pins, and glue them together wherever they touch. When a design is to have a background, you can work directly on that surface, gluing each shape in place as it is made. Or you can construct the entire unit first; then glue it to the background. When you work with a curved surface such as that of an egg, it is best to work directly on the egg. You can arrange shapes on your work surface without gluing them together until you find a pleasing arrangement; then transfer them one by one to the egg. When you are creating your own design, it helps to make pat-terns of concentric circles of various diameters and intersecting lines to serve as guides.