Ancient Voices

A Museum to honor the least known people in North America, the Original Tribal Women

Bead work & Quill work

The quill work almost died out when the easy to work beads came into the women's lives, but thankfully more people today are learning the fine art of using quills

Quill work
a form of embroidery)

Quills were used to decorate clothing, mocassins, bags, and baskets.

  • Only certain women were trained to collect and decorate with quills.
  • They got the quills by throwing a blanket over a porcupine and could then pick the quills out of the blanket.
  • Different sizes of quills were used for different types of embroidery.
  • The quills were dyed different colors using natural dyes from plants and earth.
  • After the quills were flattened they could be sewn to make designs.
  • Quills were soaked in the mouth to soften. 
    (An interesting fact about quills is that they contain an antibiotic, so when the women were using them and flattening them in their mouths they were in fact taking in medicine which kept them well. Once the beads came in this practice ended and sickness came upon them. This was found out in the past few years when a University study was done.) 
  • Birchbark baskets were decorated with quills. An awl was used to poke holes in the bark. Quills were placed in the holes to make designs.

First Nations in Canada

Women prayed before they worked with quills. In all First Nations, quillers were highly respected for their talents.

Each First Nation has its own set of designs and colours which people used to decorate clothing, tipis, containers, and utensils. Through these works of art, people express who they are as individuals and as a community.

Photo from Native Tech website
This is an example of what kind of work is possible using the single-quill line technique. This is a small motif done in the Huron floral style. The quills are dyed with all natural dyes and the background material is brain tanned leather dyed with walnut hulls.

To learn to do porcupine quillwork please look at this website:


Please click on the links below to see the designs.

A great quill work site is located here. It has photos of various tribal quill work.

Transport home link
Thanks ©Sparrow for this wonderful feather

Please click on any of the links below to journey around the museum. If you need to get back to the main page at any time just click on Sparrow's feather on any page and you will be transported home.

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Museum Research & Curator Gloria Hazell
Site created by Dragonfly Dezignz
©August, 2006