The rolling, curling, looping and otherwise manipulation narrow strips of paper to make designs, also known as paper filigree.
|Historic area of significance
|UK; England mainly
|Area currently practised
|Origin in the UK
Paper rolling, paper scrolling, filigree, mosaic and quilling are all names which have been given to this art during its long history. Some sources suggest that many of the techniques used today were originally practised in Ancient Egypt.
The popularity of quilling has fluctuated. Work of high quality was achieved by French and Italian nuns in the 16th and 17th centuries, genteel ladies in the Stuart period, ladies of leisure in the Georgian and Regency periods – and it is currently enjoying a modern revival.
Nuns on the continent decorated reliquaries and holy pictures, adding gilding and much ornamentation. The ecclesiastical connection was maintained when the art spread to England with the development of paper, though vellum and parchment were also used. Poorer churches produced religious pictures with rolled decoration. When gilded or silvered, it was difficult to distinguish it from real gold or silver filigree work.
Quilling was never practised by ‘working-class’ women in the past. Indeed, it was a decorative art which ladies of leisure would use to work panels and coats-of-arms. Later it was extended to include covering tea-caddies, workboxes, screens, cabinets, frames etc. Backgrounds for these often included foil, mica or flaked shells. Beautiful boxes were made by cabinet makers, with recessed sides. These were advertised and sold, often to boarding schools for young ladies. ‘……it affords an amusement to the female mind capable of the most pleasing and extensive variety; and at the same time, it conduces to fill up a leisure hour with an innocent recreation…’ (The New Lady’s Magazine, 1786)
In 1875 an attempt was made to reintroduce the art of quilling by William Bemrose, who produced a kit called ‘Mosaicon’, together with a handbook. Another reference has been discovered in an Edwardian book of household management entitled ‘Floral Mosaicon’. In the article mention is made of pieces being purchased by Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra.
Enthusiasts include Elizabeth, daughter of George III, Joseph Bramah (the famous locksmith), Mrs Delany (pioneer of other paperwork and friend of Jonathan Swift), Jane Austen (who mentions it in her novel Sense and Sensibility) and the Bronte sisters.
Two major exhibitions of quilling have been held. One was in 1927 in London, when mention is made of two Charles I pictures. Another was in New York in 1988, at the Florian-Papp Gallery, when some superb examples were on exhibition and sale. Most of these were of European origin. In 1992 and 1997 the Quilling Guild staged International Festivals of Quilling, the first at Ragley Hall and the second at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire, when antique pieces and a great many items of modern quilling were on show. The third International Festival of Quilling was held in York, North Yorkshire, in 2002, the fourth in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, in 2007, and the ’30th Anniversary Celebration of Quilling’ was staged in Liverpool in 2013.
The Quilling Guild has a list of techniques that it has verified as seen in historical quilling (there are many variations of these techniques.):
- Closed loose coil
- Open coil
- Tight coil
- Ring coil
- Fringed flower
- Pom pom
- Alternate side looping or husking
- Pixie hood looping
Many contemporary artists use quilling techniques to produce paper sculptures and graphic art. There is often debate about what should and should not be classed as ‘quilling’.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- There is a lack of demand for products, or rather, most people would not pay enough to buy a piece of quilling work to sustain a business selling it. Most who are earning a significant income from quilling are doing so by selling design and instruction books and teaching. In those cases it will not be the person’s main income source. The demand for quilling teachers is sometimes not high enough because quilling is not a widely known craft and so people are less likely to be looking for a quilling teacher.
- It takes a lot of technical and design skills to make high quality, quilled pieces work and it is not always possible for the general public to recognise quality quilling work and therefore it affects the amount that a professional maker can charge for their skills. Because the general public don’t usually know much about quilling, it is hard for them to understand the amount of time and the skills needed to produce high quality quilling work. It is relatively easy to find leisure makers selling quilled work at low prices, maybe because they are pleased to have an outlet for their work rather than wish to make a real income and so this can make it difficult for makers who wish to sell their work at a price that reflects their skills, experience and time taken.
- In many areas of the UK there are no professional quilling tutors. This also means that if someone was keen to become a professional quiller themselves, they may not be able to access face to face teaching.
- Another problem is that quilling, as with other heritage crafts that have historically been prasticed by women, can be perceived of less importance and value than other artforms to the wider art world. This effects the demand and appreciation of high quality quilling work. Quilling is marketed widely as a leisure craft, which is good for attracting more people to try it, but can limit the general public’s understanding of how far the craft can be taken to make innovative and important artworks.
- There is a lack of information available about the importance of quality materials. Many people who quill would not know how good quality materials could improve their quilling and are also limited by their knowledge of where to buy quilling materials. Often the easiest way to access information is via the internet, as craft shops will have limited supplies to choose from and mail order businesses will advertise mainly via the internet.
- The problem with there being a lack of teachers and quilling groups across the country means that people are less likely to try quilling. The Quilling Guild often receives requests asking for information about local tutors and are unable to advise of any.
- The majority of quilled pieces being made are non-functional. Quilling work is often made as a card, which for some is seen as disposable or made into a picture. This can affect people’s interest in the craft, because of the current trend to make and buy functional craft items, as opposed to purely decorative items.
- More substantial quillings were often made on wooden items, such as boxes, frames, tea caddies, plaques, etc., which were relatively inexpensive and easily available. This is no longer the case, discouraging the making of major pieces.
- The Quilling Guild is a charity that does work to promote quilling via its website and social media. It has members who are ‘Local Contacts’ who take on voluntary work to promote quilling, such as providing demonstrations and basic teaching. It also has a limited amount of funding, available to support work and events that promote quilling. The Guild provides a basic and higher level accreditation scheme to its members. It also provides a ‘Celebration Weekend’ once a year, which is held at different locations in the UK
- North American Quilling Guild
Craftspeople currently known
UK Fellows of the Quilling Guild are:
- Audrey Matthews
- Josie Jenkins
- Diane Boden
- Jane Jenkins
- Margaret Haigh
- Paul Jenkins
- Philippa Reid
- Angela Herring
Other makers include:
- Jill Chapman
- Anne Straker
- Jill Lackford
- Christine Herring
- Yuko Martin
- Maria Boulos
- Derek Thorpe
It could be argued that many people are quilling and it continues to be a popular craft; however, the number of professional quillers who have the skills and knowledge needed to sustain the number of quillers who make work at a professional level is at risk of decreasing and is already at a significantly low level. There are only a certain number of people who have a good knowledge about the history of quilling and historical techniques. There are very few published documents about the history of quilling and especially not those that would go into detail about techniques and materials used.
Quilling isn’t usually something people aspire to do to support themselves financially, as it is difficult to make an income from selling, and there is limited demand for teaching. Many mix it with other crafts they do, but do not see themselves specifically as quillers.
- Information about quilling and The Quilling Guild, including a brief description of the history of quilling can be found on The Quilling Guild’s website.
- There are many quilling instruction and design books available including a selection by Quilling Guild Fellows Jane Jenkins and Diane Boden (previously Crane).
- Information about and examples of historical quilling is given in a chapter of Riley, Noel, The Accomplished Lady: A History of Genteel Pursuits C. 1660-1860 (ISBN 0957599293)
- There is a catalogue of the exhibition Turin, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli from
05 April – 02 September 2012, featuring a collection of work by cloistered nuns made between the 17th and 19th centuries. It can be purchased here.
- Quilling Guild fellow Brenda Rhodes has carried out research about the history of quilling which is recorded in an unpublished document. The Quilling Guild is able to provide information from this document upon request.