One of nature’s original beads, quills have been being used in the creation of jewelry
for centuries. Once harvested, they need to be cleaned, de-barbed, and if desired, dyed.
De-Barb the Quills
To de-barb quills, clip both ends off with a small, sharp pair of scissors. Do not use dull scissors as they will compress, and possibly crack the quill instead of cleanly cutting through it. Quills that are to be used in beadwork designs where the needle must be run through them will need to be de-barbed. Designs where the quills are to be woven together, as in box coverings, may be left with their barbs intact, or de-barbed, depending on the artist’s preference. Be sure to complete any removal of barbed ends over a garbage receptacle, and not in any area where children or pets may be exposed to the loose barbs.
To clean quills, it is important to pick a soap or detergent that will fight the naturally greasy coating found on the quills. Dawn dish soap works well, and rinses away satisfactorily. Fill a large glass bowl or plastic dishpan (one that will not be reused for any food items) with hot soapy water. If quills are still barbed, be extremely cautious when involved in the cleaning. Place quills into hot soapy water and gently swish around. If quills are extremely dirty, an old cloth may be placed into the container and used to agitate the quills. Replace water if it becomes cool or extremely dirty before quills are sufficiently cleaned. Rinse well, and lay out in a single layer on paper toweling or cloths to dry. A sunny area works best.
Quills can be dyed with manufactured products such as Rit brand dye, but to achieve a range of colors that stay true to their natural quality, dye them with various items found around your yard. With any method chosen, keep in mind that the smooth exterior of the quills is not what takes the dye. The interior part of the quill actually absorbs the colorant chosen. Because of this, quills that have their ends snipped off will take the dye much quicker than those quills that still have their barbs and ends intact. Avoid rapidly boiling any of the dyes. Rather, try to achieve as hot a temperature as you can without actually having it boil as you dye the quills. Boiling too rapidly can cause the quills natural coating to break down, resulting in quills that become dried out and prone to cracking.
Three natural plants that work well when experimenting with dyeing the quills are blackberries, dandelion heads, and raspberries. Boil approximately one-cup of the chosen plant in four cups of water until a consistency of soup has been achieved. Add quills and simmer until quills have soaked up the natural dye.
Rinse well in cold water once you remove the quills. If they have not yet reached your desired color, place them back into the mixture and allow them to simmer a while longer. Rinse well and air dry.
Quills, both natural and dyed, should be stored in a cool, dry place. Plastic bead containers with flip tops work well, and clear ones will allow you to see the assortment of quills available without constantly handling them. Always keep out of the reach of children and pets. Even finished items, such as a pair of quill earrings or a necklace that has incorporated quills into its design, should be stored away from pets. Cats seem to enjoy their taste, and though as long as they are de-barbed they show no real threat to your pet, you will mourn the loss of all your hard work!