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.

| November/December 1986

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.

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