Have you heard of quilling? No, not quilting. Quilling is a paper-based artform that is quickly gaining prominence in the both the art and the crafting worlds. Even if you’ve never heard of quilling, you’ve probably seen it used in advertisements and in packaging.
The appeal of quilling is easy to see. Crafters are attracted to the ease of access: the materials and the tools needed to create stunning works are both cheap and readily available. Artists, meanwhile, are drawn to the intricate, striking designs of the master quillers.
So, you know what quilling looks like, but what is it? And can anyone really do it? Below, we look at what quilling is, how to do it and how to get inspiration, so you’ll know everything you need to start making gorgeous designs of your own.
What is quilling?
Quilling is a delicate and precise craft that, in a sense, combines paper folding and mosaic work to create graceful, entrancing artworks.
The history of quilling can be traced back at least to the Renaissance, when European monks would use gold and silver gilded parchment, left over from when they handcrafted Bibles, to decorate other religiously significant objects. In the 18th and 19th centuries, wealthy young women in England would pass the time by using swirls of paper to decorate furniture and decorative items. It eventually spread to the Americas with English colonialism, and today the technique of quilling is used in everything from wall-sized museum pieces and sculptures to handmade greetings cards and jewellery.
What tools and materials do you need?
Unlike, say, painting or pottery, quilling can take almost no investment in materials. If you have paper, a small rod and some glue, you can start quilling. Of course, more serious artists and crafters do tend to use specialised tools and paper.
Quilling strips (aka Paper):
Quilling is nothing without paper. If you search online or in well-stocked arts and crafts shops, you can find specialised quilling paper in a range of colours.
Many people prefer to make their own quilling paper, however. Master quillers often like to have more control over the materials and colours they use, while beginners prefer to use cheaper materials as they perfect their techniques and designs.
Quilling paper needs to be around 100 -120 gsm, this is slightly thicker than normal printer paper. Lighter paper can tear easily and won’t give you the same effect.
In fact, making your own quilling paper couldn’t be easier.
As the tutorial above explained, you can create your own strips using a ruler, a pencil and a craft knife or just a paper shredder that cuts strips around 1/8 in or 3 mm wide. In fact, you can use the ordinary printer paper.
By creating your own quilling strips, you can save money on paper and even run the paper through a printer to create exciting designs and patterns within your quilled artwork, you can even use professionally printed paper from your local print shop like Print Express.
As with quilling paper, you can make as much of an investment in the needle as you like. Some people start with any small, round rod they have laying around, like a barbecue skewer, a toothpick or a cake tester.
Some prefer to use dedicated quilling tools. These have small metal tips and larger handles that can be used to shape the paper, and they come in two basic kinds. The slotted tool has a small slot in the metal end that the paper is eased into. This holds the paper in place as it is rolled up. The benefit of this tool is that it is easier to roll the paper up, but the tool can leave a small indentation in the centre of the roll, which can put professionals and perfectionists off. The needle tool doesn’t have the slot, which makes it harder to use. It does avoid the indentation problem, however, and more advanced quillers can make quick work of their designs with this tool, too.
This is the very easiest of the materials needed. You simply want a glue that holds fairly quickly, but doesn’t set immediately. That way, your spirals and shapes can be held in place straight away, but you do have time to ensure everything lines up perfectly. Everyday PVA glue works wonderfully for this.
Other optional tools
Some quillers like to use other tools, including:
- Circle sizer ruler, which is basically a plastic disc with a wide variety of circle sizes on it. This helps you get precisely the size coil you need,
- Tweezers to help with small coils and delicate manoeuvring,
- Crimper tool which crimps the paper so you can create different patterns,
- Curling coach to help beginners, young quillers and people working with miniature designs to create curls and coils faster and easier.
How do you do it?
This lovely tutorial runs through all the basic shapes that come from the spiral technique.
Basically, the way you fold and bend the paper determines what shape you get.
To create the simplest quilling designs, you roll the paper carefully around your quilling needle, ensuring the edges line up and the right (or smoothest) side of the paper stays on the outside. Once you’ve curled the paper and glued the end into place, you can pinch and adjust the edges of the paper to create a vast array of shapes.
More advanced shapes and textures can be created by twisting, looping, folding and otherwise shaping the paper. Then you just arrange the shapes to create a larger design.
What inspires peoples’ designs?
As with all art, inspiration comes from all over. By looking at some of the world’s preeminent quillers, we can see just how wide a range that inspiration can be.
Arguably the most famous quiller is Yulia Brodskaya. For her, quilling is simply an extension of her training as an illustrator and graphic designer, saying “Paper always held a special fascination for me. I’ve tried many different methods and techniques of working with it, until I found the way that has turned out to be ‘the one’ for me: now I draw with paper instead of on it.” This passion is reflected in the range of projects she creates. She makes portraits, detailed “drawings” of flowers, abstract graphic designs, creative advertisements and even packaging designs, all with paper instead of pen.
In the United Arab Emirates is Farooha Al Fardh. Her style of quilling couldn’t be more different from Yulia’s. Yulia’s arabesque designs tend to remain flat, where Farooha creates whimsical, deceptively simple 3D sculptures from her quilled paper. Still, she too is inspired by the nature of the paper she works with: “Painters can see their paintings & musicians can hear their music, but quillers can actually hold the shape of their thoughts in their hands.”
Finally, Sarah Yakawonis is the perfect example of how mastery and geekery can combine to create real beauty. Her quilled artwork is inspired by natural shapes, so her work often involves strikingly accurate anatomical designs, scientific illustrations, flowers and leaves. She also regularly references pop culture in her designs. But what makes her more than just a pop culture and science nerd is her drive to make every piece absolutely perfect. She says, “As with any art, when everything is perfect, it can transcend into a place where magic resides – and that is my goal.”
So, go on, pull out some paper and start quilling. Who knows? It might take you somewhere exciting and unexpected. At the very least, as Farooha puts it, you’ll be able to hold your ideas in your hands, and that’s pretty exciting on its own.