Native American Quillworking in the Great Lakes Region

Huron_moccasins_with_quillwork_and_moose_hair_1780-1830_-_Bata_Shoe_Museum_-_DSC00647 What did the local Native populations do during the long, historic winters in northern Michigan? Winter was a fantastic time for the women and children of Native families to make things. Today, most things we wear have some sort of decoration on them. There were many different ways for Native people to decorate their clothing and accessories, but porcupine quillwork was perhaps the most unique decorative art developed by the Native groups of the Great Lakes region.

20170301_151518Quillworking was and remains a long process that requires a great deal of practice and patience. First, the quills must be carefully plucked from the porcupine and sorted according to size. Porcupine quills are naturally white and black, so dying is essential to achieve vibrant colors. The barbed end must also be clipped off for safety. There are many different ways to manipulate the quills to get different designs, including flattening, soaking, or trimming. Once prepared, the quills can be woven through leather, birchbark, reeds, and other fabrics to decorate moccasins, bags, shirts, baskets, birchbark containers, and a variety of other things. It can take days or even weeks to complete a single item depending on the complexity of the quillwork. Designs vary based on the material being worked with, the culture, and the time period.

Quill_knife_sheath Quillwork survives as an art form within many Native communities, but the number of practitioners has greatly declined over the years. Many people think of beadwork as a Native art form, and indeed it is, but it became more prevalent with the introduction of glass beads as a trade item, while quillwork predates contact with European traders. Both art forms will be on display this summer at Colonial Michilimackinac, where interpreters will be demonstrating these age-old techniques on a daily basis.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Comments (required)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>