12: Paper Filagree

12: Paper Filagree

Sometimes I wonder how on earth I discovered certain things, but I distinctly remember learning how to do paper filagree(aka quilling) when I was in seventh grade. We were living in Los Alamos, NM (my father was a physicist, doing research there part of each year; we lived in Bryan, Texas the rest of the time). I must have found a book about quilling (I discovered calligraphy that same year) and found the paper strips somewhere. It is all a blur now, but it was fun to learn the different ways you could roll and pinch paper.
Most quillwork in museums dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks who are said to have made artistic use of the gilded edges of worn out bibles, and later by 18th century ladies who made artistic use of lots of free time.
Here are the basics of quilling, if you happen to have some thin strips of paper laying around (you roll the paper strips around a quilling needle tool, which looks something like a potters needle or awl):

And here’s a kit you can purchase if you are so inclined:

When I was finishing up my book, Playing With Paper, I happened to be in North Adams, MA visiting Storey Books, the publisher of my other books. Someone at Storey told me about Lisa Nilsson, who lives in North Adams. She happened to be out of town, but thankfully returned my e-mail and agreed to have her artwork featured in the gallery section of the book.

A detail of Profile, by Lisa Nilsson, showing the sinuses, front teeth and tongue.

Lisa creates these incredibly detailed anatomical cross sections in quilling. Watch her discuss this work at the 2012 TedMED conference.

Lisa’s work is also featured in another book, High Touch, Tactile Design and Visual Explorations.
I’ve heard from many of you who are following this blog, but only from one quiller: Sandra White. Her technique uses the quill work as a background and details to cut-outs of wildlife. The quill work simulates the feathers in the duck and birds, the scales on the fish, the veins in the wildflowers, and the fur on the moose.

Heron, by Sandra White

There is another woman I’ve discovered on the internet, Yulia Brodskaya, who has her own style of quill work which she uses in her artwork and illustration.

Cutting Down the Tree of Life, by Yulia Brodskaya


Noel, by Yulia Brodskaya

And I’ll end with a quilled snowflake by Forever Filagree.

Icy Elegance, by Tanya llnicki

Let it snow!
Do you practice an obscure paper technique? If so, please share it with me by emailing or leaving me a comment below.
About the 25 Days of Paper: I’m going to be a crazy blogger in December, featuring cool paper products, projects, blogs, books, or papers each day. Join in the fun by reading along! I’ll also post links on my FaceBook page. Enjoy the season!


  1. Sandra White says:

    What a wonderful piece on quilling. Thanks so much for including my work in your post. I am honored to be included with the other quillers. We all have our own unique twist on quilling, and it is all beautiful work. Happy Holidays.

  2. Linda says:

    I was just looking at quill kits yesterday at Hobby Lobby. Thanks for posting the basics. The snowflake and Noel are beautiful!

  3. I really enjoy reading your blog. I design artist’s books and pop ups, and thought you might be interested in seeing my work on my website.
    Best wishes & thanks

  4. rehana says:

    i realy enjoyed the lesson paper qulling methed thank you…….

  5. lorna Sue says:

    quilling is an amazing technique…

  6. maini says:

    i love art craft…mainly paperquling…i make so many things for your nice post…it help me…