Archive | February, 2010


25 Feb

An Art Form to be Revived

In conjunction with this week’s Quill Workshop we would like to share some information on the traditional art of quillwork. There are many different forms of quillwork. This week’s workshop is constructed around the art of embroidered porcupine quillwork, the Zigzag method. 

Quillwork is perhaps the oldest form of embroidery used by American Indians. Porcupine quillwork is an art form completely unique to North America. The use of Quills were folded, twisted, wrapped, and sewn using a wide range of techniques to decorate articles of clothing, bags, knife sheaths, birch bark baskets, wooden handles, and pipe stems. Porcupine quills were used for decorative work on clothing until approximately 1850 when the European trade introduced the application of glass beads.

The four most common quillwork techniques are appliqué, embroidery, wrapping, and loom weaving.

Appliquéd quills are stitched into hide in a manner that covers the stitches. Quills can be appliquéd singly to form curvilinear patterns. This technique lends itself to floral designs which are apparent on many American Indian garments.  

Embroidery is the handicraft of decorating fabric or hide with quills by thread. The thread used in embroidery was made from animal sinew which comes from the fibrous tendons along the spines of deer, moose, elk, or buffalo. Sinew thread does not require the use of a needle. Before its use, a length of sinew fiber is split away from soaked tendons and the tip is rolled between the fingers, creating a point. Quill embroidery is usually stitched onto the surface of brain-tanned hide, however, other quillworking techniques may use a base of rawhide or birchbark.   

In wrapping, a single quill may be wrapped upon itself or two quills may be intertwined.

Different sized quills are used for different quillwork techniques. There are four sizes of quills found on a porcupine. The large coarse quills from the tail are best for filling in large areas, wrapping handles, pipe stems, or fringes. Quills from the porcupine’s back are good for loom work. They range in length from 2-4 inches. The fine quills from the neck are ideal for embroidery. The thinnest quills found near the belly are used for very fine quillwork such as the delicate line stitch.

Porcupine quills suitable for embellishment are 2-3 inches long and may be dyed before use. In their natural state, the quills are pale-yellow to white with black tips. The tips are usually snipped off before use. Quills readily take dye and the Anishinabek were resourceful in making dyes by using local plants to create colors like black, yellow, red, and blue. To name a few examples, berries created the red and blue hues, wild onions produced a yellowish hue, and walnut shells created the darker tones. By the 19th century, aniline dyes were available through trade. Today, American Indians can go to local stores to buy fabric dyes to dye their quills, but many still use traditional practices of dyeing through local plant materials.

The tradition of quillwork flourished among American Indians until the mid-1800’s when glass beads became easily attainable through European trade. Later traditions of embroidery using glass beads were built upon techniques and designs in quillworking. Although considered a “lost art” by many, American Indians such as the Sioux, Cree, Ojibway and others still carry on the tradition of quill embroidery. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan takes pride in their culture and promotes the importance of learning their ancestral traditions. The Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways hosts workshops and other events to carry on the tradition and share with the community this beautiful and unique art form; quillwork.

Zigzag Method Quillwork

Collection Showing: Miniatures

9 Feb


The Ziibiwing Center presents the “Miniatures Collection Showing,” on Sat., Feb 20.  William Johnson, Ziibiwing Center Curator will be moderating the show on Sat. only from 10am-3pm. The Miniatures Collection Show will also be on display in the lobby Feb. 22-27. All show dates are free & open to the public.

 The Ziibiwing Center gives home to an awe inspiring collection of miniature artwork. These miniscule objects attest to the patience, steady hand, and creativity of the artist. Horsehair baskets by the Antone, Juan, and Miguel families of the Tohono O’odham; black ash baskets by the Crampton and Red Arrow families of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan; and dental pictographs by Kelly Church of the Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians will be on display. Witness the delicate beauty of these remarkeable pieces of art.                                                                     


1 Feb

The ZCKids Blog ( will no longer be updated. At the end of this week, the ZCKids Blog will merge with this Ziibiwing Blog. Along with our adult information, this blog will also have fun pages with children’s activities like games, chatting, and interesting Anishinabe facts. Stay Tuned!