A History of Quilling

What is Quilling?

Quilling is a beautiful, unique art form which dates back hundreds of years.  It has also been known by many other names such as paper rolling, paper scrolling, filigree, and paper mosaic. It involves rolling, shaping and gluing strips of paper to create decorative designs.

The name “quilling” was derived from early quillers who used feathers, or quills, to roll the paper. The art dates back centuries to Europe; there are stories of Italian nuns who “re-purposed” old manuscripts gilded in gold, by cutting and shaping strips of the gilded paper to decorate religious relics and holy pictures. During the Victorian era, affluent young ladies were taught paper filigree just as they were taught needlework. Quilling was brought to the US by the colonists in the 1700’s.   Due to the fragile nature of paper, only a few very old pieces survived, but many museums in the US, especially in the New England area, have a few examples from the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), Essey Institute and Museum of Fine Art (MA) and the Wadsworth Athenaeum (CT) all have Quilling displays.

After the early 19th century, quilling all but disappeared. Margaret Carlson, of Kansas City Missouri, is credited with starting the “modern” revival of this art in the mid 1950’s. She became interested in the art form herself and taught many people to quill. In the mid 1960’s, Gini Antonie of Independence, Missouri, pioneered a lacy form of paper filigree and began the custom of naming the different coils and shapes. In 1974, Betty Christy’s book “Quilling, Paper Art for Everyone” listed 29 companies that specialized in Quilling….at that time, Quilling papers and kits could be found in every “mom and pop” craft store. Unfortunately, once the big craft store chains started taking over, most of the small stores went out of business. One fledgling company NOT listed in Betty Christy’s book was Lake City Crafts, started by Malinda Johnston, a Missouri quiller, in 1974. Lake City Crafts went on to become the largest manufacturer of quilling supplies, books, and kits in the country and still exists today.

While Quilling struggled to survive here in the US, it was alive and well in England. In 1983, English quillers formed The Quilling Guild. The mission of the Guild is to promote and spread the art of quilling and enable quillers to meet and exchange ideas. In 1993, a small group of American quillers attended the International Festival of Quilling in England. These American quillers then formed the North American Quilling Guild which included quillers in America and Canada. In 2000, “Quill America” became its official newsletter. The Quilling guilds of England and USA have played a large part in the revival of this beautiful art.

Another very important factor in the current revival has been the internet where there are numerous blogs and websites devoted to Quilling.  Martha Stewart featured Quilling in a February 2002 article in “Martha Stewart Living”, and the New York Times commissioned the North American Quilling Guild to produce their “T” logo, which was featured prominently in their 2012 “Design and Living” issue.  Even companies such as Home Depot, Ford and Google have used Quilling in their advertising!!

Quilling is extremely diverse, and can be used not only in scrapbooking and cardmaking, but also as decorative borders for poetry and antique photographs, candleholders, paperweights, baby and wedding announcements and gift tags. Dimensional figurines and jewelry can also be “sculpted”. It is my goal to introduce as many people as possible to this beautiful art form so they, too, can enjoy creating works of art and precious family heirlooms.

(With thanks to Sherry Rodehaver and Pat Caputo of the North American Quilling Guild for historical information).