Quillers Make Their Paperwork Into Works Of Art, Strip By Strip The Paper Is Rolled Into Shapes. The Art Can Be Used To Make Holiday Ornaments.

Posted: December 13, 1992

They used to do it with a feather.

Now you can buy a special tool, or simply use a toothpick.

Any of these items will help you quill - the ancient art of creating two- or three-dimensional figures from narrow, rolled strips of paper.

On Tuesday, Arline Baldwin, 77, demonstrated the craft at a class sponsored by the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol Township. Baldwin, of Bensalem, has been quilling for about 15 years.

"I think it's a fascinating pastime, and I like tiny, intricate things," she said.

The craft, which dates to the 13th century, is thought to have been

invented by frugal French and Italian nuns who, unwilling to waste anything, salvaged strips of parchment trimmed from the margins of gilt-edged books. ''They used the hollow barrel of a feather to roll the paper - that's where the name quilling comes from," Baldwin said.

After the strips are rolled, Baldwin said, they can be fashioned into various shapes including hearts, raindrops, tendrils and spirals. The tiny pieces are then placed on a wax-paper covered pattern, attached to a cork board. Baldwin uses tweezers to deftly move the pieces into place, then glues them together. Once the pattern is complete, the wax paper is removed and the rolls are lightly dusted with an acrylic spray.

During the class, Baldwin told the students that they would attempt to re- create a duck with a Christmas wreath around its neck. She said that an experienced quiller would need about two hours to finish the duck, which was about 3 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide at its widest point.

For small figures, strips of paper about 2 1/2 inches long and one-eighth of an inch wide are used. Strips up to 24 inches long can be used for larger figures. Typing paper cut into strips with a paper cutter works well, Baldwin said. But construction paper would be difficult to roll, she said.

Using the appropriate paper and maintaining the proper tension on the strips is the key to successful rolling, Baldwin said. In that respect, it is similar to knitting and crocheting.

In recent years, Baldwin's Christmas trees have been dressed entirely in quilled ornaments, she said.

The figures were made over a 15-year span, but "every now and then I add a new one," Baldwin said.

One student, Jean Spicer, 66, of Levittown, became interested in quilling when she saw her son's quilled wedding invitation.

She is determined to become a proficient quiller so that she can teach it to her grandchildren when she visits them in Maine and New Hampshire.

Baldwin has found that the craft appeals to people of all ages, backgrounds and temperaments, and children as young as 4. "The boys won't do hearts and flowers, but they will do animals," Baldwin said.

Quilling is also a good choice for the frail or the impatient. "It's a good medium to work with because you don't have anything heavy to deal with. It's less bulky than an afghan, and you get faster results," Baldwin said.

Baldwin had one student who was wary of quilling because she had arthritic hands. But Baldwin has arthritis, and she insists that the dexterity required of the craft keeps her fingers nimble.

When Baldwin's grandchildren, who live in Sweden, recently took news of the craft to their high school, the teachers there invited Baldwin to lead several quilling classes. Baldwin's granddaughter even created an innovative quilling tool.

The tool was made by taking a sewing needle and jamming the sharp end into a wooden handle, then cutting the opposite end of the needle, opening up the needle's eye so that it resembled a tiny, two-pronged fork. The prongs make it easier to grasp and hang on to the paper strip while rolling it.

With Baldwin gently coaching, Spicer hunched over a table and labored over the wreathed duck that was tediously taking shape.

"I'll get it done for Christmas, but I'm not saying which Christmas," Spicer quipped.

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