Quill This

Quilling? That’s for school kids and sweet old ladies trying to keep busy and stave off the onset of arthritis and rheumatism, isn’t it? Well, in years gone by, this rather unenthusiastic view of paper filigree – quilling’s other, posher, name – was certainly the norm but thanks to a couple of artsy pioneers, rolling bits of paper between your fingers and sticking them on stuff has become the new cool craft on the block.

While the art form has been around for centuries – some hardcore enthusiasts believe it can be traced back to ancient Egypt, while ladies of leisure from the 16th century onwards certainly loved a bit of quilling action – its popularity has fluctuated a little, but visionary artists like Sarah Yakawonis, who produces quilled anatomy and pieces with a political message, among others, and South African graphic designer Lavanya Naidoo have helped to propel the practice firmly into the 21st century, neglecting the quilled cards and invitations of yore in favour of some amazing works of modern art.

Naidoo first picked up her quilling tool when she was ten years old, learning some of the more traditional techniques and shapes, although she quickly abandoned the interest after growing increasingly frustrated in her attempts to ensure that all paper strips remained “neat and tidy”. This she sees as one of the biggest obstacles newcomers to the craft will have to overcome, noting that “control freaks” concerned with utter perfection will likely struggle. “You can’t plan every detail in a piece because the best part of it is not knowing how it’s going to look at the end. It feels more organic if you just sketch out the basics and freestyle the rest. Quilling also requires precise fingers and patience,” she advises.

For Naidoo’s part, even though she didn’t get on with quilling as a child, in the last two years she has discovered a real paper-rolling talent and has come up with rather amazing work in that time, including Can I Stay? and her Buy Art, Not Drugs collection – sure to inspire anyone who believes they’ll never get to grips with the medium. “I love creating work that is three-dimensional and makes you want to touch it and can be viewed from different angles. I find quilling very engaging especially if it has a message attached,” the 24-year-old says, adding that the art is no longer simply about making “something pretty”.

The three-dimensional aspect of the craft is partly what Jane Jenkins, vice-chairman of the UK’s Quilling Guild, believes is behind quilling’s rise in popularity among a younger set of DIY enthusiasts, together with the use of computers to create more interesting pieces. “Once we realised that cone shapes could be made, [people began crafting] nativity scenes, chess sets and smaller things. Then they started using wider strips and making more 3D pieces. It’s more challenging,” she explains.

Part of quilling’s increasing popularity may also be down to the fact that men are becoming more interested in the craft, with Naidoo saying that a lot of her projects are attracting attention from a more masculine audience, evidence that what is being produced these days is appealing to a much broader market.

So if you’re looking for a new hobby to take up this year, make it quilling – it’s the new black, don’t you know.

Getting started

The Quilling Guild’s Jane Jenkins has come up with some quilling words of wisdom to help you on your way to paper-rolling greatness.

– Start doing it just using your fingers and avoid quilling tools to begin with. This will get you used to manipulating paper.

– Begin by using wider strips and then make them narrower as you get better with practice.

– Go and see some of the quilled pieces that are out there. The biggest and best one to be found in the UK – an entire cabinet covered in quilling – is at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight.

Further inspiration

Here are some pictures by amateur quiller Pritesh Dagur who’s only been doing it for eight months, just to show you that it can be done and you can teach yourself to quill with relative ease.

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