Most of the resources trace the beginning of this art to the European monasteries of the 15th century, while some sources say it started as early as the 13th or 14th century. It is believed to have first been practiced by French and Italian Nuns and Monks using the quill of a feather as a tool to roll the strips of paper, thus giving the technique its name. Filigree work was used to decorate religious objects and to simulate more costly handwork such as carved ivory or wrought iron. Eventually this decorative artwork spread into the homes of the wealthy in France and England during the 1700s. By the late 1700s, quilling had become the pastime of refined young ladies of leisure and patterns resembling embroidery motifs were even published in the women’s magazines of the day. Ultimately, the art of quilling crossed the sea and arrived in the colonies where it was used to decorate practical items such as candle sconces.
During the 1800s, quilling became all but forgotten. Only after the turn of the century did this delicate art start to make a comeback, enjoying a rise in popularity in the 1970s that brought several instruction books (which are now considered vintage), pre-cut papers, and specialty quilling tools to local craft stores. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, paper was more widespread and much less costly. Its use in decorative crafts burgeoned, especially in England. There, quilling was considered to be an appropriate hobby for the fashionable ladies of the time. As a result, many women of the upper and middle classes became expert quillers.
Many quilled art works can be found on cabinets and stands, cribbage boards, ladies' purses, a wide range of both pictures and frames, work baskets, tea caddies, coats of arms and wine coasters. Storage boxes, larger than most jewelry boxes with drawers and/or tops that opened, quilled lock boxes, and much more. Some items were specially designed for quilling with recessed surfaces. Quilling was also combined or married with other techniques such as embroidery and painting.
Envelopes with quilled flower design (Image taken from bridalsurvival.com.au)
Earrings with quilled design (Image taken from lifessweetdelights.wordpress.com)
The craft has gone through many transformations and changes through the ages using new techniques, styles and materials. Dimensional quilling creates 3D items.
Today, quilling is seeing a resurgence in popularity with quillers (people who practice the art of quilling) on every continent and in every walk of life. No longer confined to the "upper classes", this is a peoples art form and the beauty of the art is always expanding. The craft has become increasingly popular due to the low cost of the material. It is used to decorate wedding invitations, birth announcements, greeting cards, scrapbook pages, and boxes. Quilling can be found in art galleries in Europe and in the United States and is an art that is practiced around the world.
The above information is taken or adapted from:
1. Charlotte Canup, Quilling with confidence, http://theartofquilling.com
2. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quilling