Learn the Art of Basic Paper Quilling Shapes

Learn antique paper quilling shapes and curls to create your own flowers, snowflakes, butterflies, birds, and abstract artwork.
By Lana J. Bates
November/December 1986
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Loose Coil: Roll from one end tightly. Hold until glued then loosen tension and release from tool. Glue on one end, pulling edges to one side.
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Lana J. Bates explains the history and art associated with traditional paper quilling. 

The Art of Traditional Paper Quilling Shapes

Quilling, first known as paper filigree, is the art of rolling thin strips of paper, bending and molding these curls into shapes, then putting the shapes together to form designs.

In the 4th and 5th centuries, extremely intricate, lacelike filigree work of fine gold and silver wire was found on ancient pillars, vases, and tombs in various parts of Europe. Around the 13th century, similar ornamental work became popular in Spain, Italy, and France, but by now the artists used strips of paper, rolled loosely, placed on edge, and gilded to resemble precious metal. It supposedly fooled even experts at first glance. During this period, paper filigree was almost exclusively the work of nuns and monks, who decorated religious articles with it.

Paper filigree did not win recognition as a major art form until the late 17th century, when it began to appear as other than purely religious ornamentation. Seventeenth and 18th century tea caddies, coats of arms, and picture frames containing paper filigree are now in various museums and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. By the Victorian era, fashionable ladies began to learn paper filigree along with embroidery and needlepoint.

The term quilling, as we call the craft today, is probably American. Some say the paper was originally curled around a feather quill. Others claim that once the strips of paper are curled and released, they resemble a row of barbs on a feather, or quill. Most surviving early American quilled pieces are sconces and coats of arms, many of them from the Boston area. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, other museums, and private collections have quillworks dating back to the 1600s.

After the early 19th century, no notable works of quilling appeared, and by 1950 the craft seemed a nearly lost art. Since then, as handicrafts have gained in popularity, quilling, too, has had a small revival. I think it's here to stay.

Basic Paper Quilling Shapes

See the image gallery for pictures of these paper quilling shapes.

Tight Coil: Roll from one end tightly. Hold until glued. Release from tool, and glue the end.
Loose Coil: Roll from one end tightly, then loosen tension and release from tool. Glue one end, pulling edges to one side.
V-Shape: Fold the paper in half. Roll each end outward, away from the fold. If desired, secure the V's point with glue.
Beehive: After rolling and gluing a tight coil, push the inside up from the center with a pencil or other blunt object to contour its shape. This adds dimension. Glue inside.
Teardrop: Make a loose coil. Pinch one end to a point.
Petal: Bend the tip of a teardrop slightly to one side.
Diamond: Start with a loose coil and pinch the opposite ends. Shape with the fingers so that the center remains in the middle.
Leaf: Bend one or more ends of a diamond.
Heart: Fold the strip of paper in half. Roll the ends inward toward the center of the fold. Glue the adjoining edges.

Lana Bates, who considers herself a self-taught craftsperson, has also taken art courses at the Universities of Connecticut and Hartford, as well as the Wadsworth Atheneum. She has experimented with sculpting, painting, collage, pastels, drawing, and, during the past decade, quilling. 


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