Have you ever looked at a handmade creation and thought, “Wow, I wish I could make that?” I think that very thought often in my life. In fact, most of what I make in this blog is inspired by something that I’ve seen and have made into my own creation.
Today I’d like to show you my hand made quill box. Quill boxes and baskets have been around for hundreds of years. Originally, quill boxes are of a Native American origin. They are made from the bark of a Birch tree and finely decorated with porcupine quills.
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’d know my love for natural items. This falls in there perfectly! I recently came across some pictures of quill boxes in some museums and had to add it to my art collection. I desperately wanted to learn how to make one and teach it. Now, I want you to understand that I have not had a teacher, or looked into any books on how to make this. I looked at a picture and thought, “hmm, I think if I do it this way it’ll work,” and matched the picture as much as possible. I had A LOT of trial and error. My favorite. I used things that they didn’t have many years ago, like glue. So it’s only similar in looks. But hey, I’m okay with that.
This was made to honor my amazing Mother-in -Law for her birthday. Love you mom!
I hope you enjoy this tutorial and don’t think too badly of my trial and errors.
I ordered some Birch Bark that I found on Etsy.com. It was fairly cheap and continues to be fun to work with with all types of creations.
Upon playing around with it, I found that Birch bark is very flexible and can easily be “flaked” into different layers. If you want a smooth surface you can CAREFULLY take a sharp knife and run the edge flat against the bark to thin out the areas you don’t want. Just like the picture on the left. Under the rough knots of the bark, there is a very nice smooth layer that is slightly red in color.
In the picture to the the right I took my knife and poked the middle of edge of the bark and carefully and slowly, wiggled it till the bark started splitting in half very nicely and evenly. This was surprisingly not that hard to do. Once you have it started, you can continue to separate the bark very easily going slow, especially around the knotty areas.
Once I had a nice even piece, I cut it to the size I wanted my “box” to be. The bark cut very easily.
I rolled up the bark and overlapped the edges by about 1/2 an inch, then took artificial sinew and stitched the edge closed.
Next, I cut a round piece of prepared birch bark to decorate for a lid. I took some clean porcupine quills and place them in water so that they are easily bendable without breaking. I found out that they definitely need to soak in water for at least 30 seconds, because they do break if you don’t. I took a sharp needle and poked the bark where I wanted to place the ends of the quills. Do not cut the sharp ends off the quills. They act as a needle and make it easy for you to grab and pull through.
It helps to draw a pattern on first so that you can follow it with your quills. You will need a:
- Tweezers or pliers. Although I found that tweezers are a lot easier to use and get in the tight spaces that you will eventually have.
This was my finished design. The colored parts are also porcupine quills. Just dyed with Rit dye.
You do have to be careful because of the sharp ends of the quills. I cut them as I went a long. Plus the more quills you have poked in, the more you have to trim them so that you can see your new quills that you are poking through. You will want to leave about 1/4″ of an end on so that your quill does not come out. Remember soaking the quills? When they dry out they will stay in the hole very well. So no glue is needed while you’re working.
I cut all the quills back till I had at least 1/8″ sticking out. I had another piece of bark prepared that was the same size as my “quilled” one. I spread E6000 glue onto all my quills and bark so that I can glue the two bark pieces together and “hide” the back of my quill work.
I took some clips to clamp my two bark pieces together while the glue dried. I let it set for 24 hours.
While my glue was drying, I decorated my round “box” with quills in the same manner. Again, be very careful with the ends of the quills. I left most of the ends on for the purpose of this picture, but please cut the ends off as you go so that you do not poke and scratch your hand. My hands are tiny, so I was able to do this nicely. Yay for small hands! (This is how I protect my candy stash from my husband)
Again, have a second piece of bark prepare so that you can glue it to the back of the work. Or in this case, to the inside of the “box”.
After my glue set, I cut a piece of bark that I had not “split”, so that it was thicker and still had the rough white color and knots. Then I stitched it to the bottom of my “box”. Even when the birch bark is not split, a strong needle still goes through nicely with the help of a pair of pliers.
With the quills between the two pieces of bark, it leaves a good ugly gap between the two. So I hid it with a decorative Pine needle edging. Traditionally this is done with sweet grass or some other type. But I love my pine needles and it’s what I had on hand.
For a tutorial on pine needle weaving, look at my post How to work Pine Needles around a Base.
I also worked pine needles on the lid till I had it to the size that I wanted.
I cut a small strip of thick Birch bark for the edge of the lid and sewed it onto my pine needle edging. I thought it was a nice contrast in color. Then, to help preserve and to add a little more sturdiness, I painted a thin coat of shellac over all of it. Although, it didn’t need much more sturdiness, it was pretty strong on it’s own. I just like to go overboard with making sure things last as long as possible.
There you have it! Hope you enjoyed this creation and have fun with your own! Good luck and don’t get poked too much!