Quilling, the coiling and shaping of narrow paper strips to create a design, has been around for years — hundreds, in fact. During the Renaissance, nuns and monks would roll gold-gilded paper remnants trimmed during the bookmaking process, and use them to decorate religious objects as an alternative to costly gold filigree. Quilling later became a pastime of 18th and 19th century young ladies in England, who would decorate tea caddies and pieces of furniture with paper filigree. The practice crossed the Atlantic with colonists, who added quilling to candle sconces and trays as home decorations.
In all of that time, the process has remained very much the same, but quilling designs and specialty supplies have definitely caught up to the 21st century. Today some aficionados focus on making incredibly detailed 3-D figures, while others favor wall-sized museum installations. Perhaps quilling is best known, though, as a way of bringing personality to handmade cards.
The short list of necessities includes strips of lightweight paper, glue, and a tool with which to roll the paper — that’s it! Even better, there’s probably no need to shop for supplies before you try quilling, as a bamboo skewer, round toothpick, or even a cake tester from your kitchen drawer can serve as a substitute tool. Cut your own practice strips from a sheet of ordinary computer paper, using a paper cutter.
Many arts and crafts stores sell basic tools and packages of multicolor paper strips. Beautiful papers and other quilling supplies are available from online suppliers. Oh, and lastly, one requirement that’s not available for purchase, but will also be needed, is a fair amount of patience. With a little practice, however, I can almost predict you’ll find quilling to be creatively satisfying and fun.
The Basics of Quilling
The projects in this article feature the teardrop coil, but there are many other intriguing shapes to try — marquises, arrowheads, holly leaves, and all sorts of beautiful scrolls, just to name a few.
Quilling paper: 1/8″, standard width
Quilling tool needle tool or slotted tool
Glue clear-drying, suitable for paper
Plastic lid to use as a glue palette
T-pin, paper piercing tool, or round toothpick
Glass-head straight pins
Non-stick work board, cork, or styrofoam something into which you can stick pins
Damp cloth to keep fingers free of glue
When purchasing a tool there are 2 basic types: a slotted tool and needle tool. The slotted tool is easiest to use; its only disadvantage is that the slot leaves a tiny crimp in the center of the coil. If this is bothersome, purchase an ultra-fine slotted tool or try a needle tool. The needle tool is a bit more difficult to master, but the reward will be a coil with a perfectly round center.
To roll a coil with a slotted tool: Slide the very end of a strip into the slot, and turn the tool with one hand while evenly guiding the strip with the other.
To roll a coil with a needle tool: Dampen fingers and curve one end of a strip across the needle. Roll the strip around the needle with the thumb and index finger of whichever hand feels most comfortable, applying even, firm pressure, while holding the handle of the tool with the other hand. Be sure to roll the paper, not the tool.
Whether using a slotted tool or needle tool, when the strip is fully rolled, allow the coil to relax, slide it off the tool, and glue the end. Use only a very small amount of glue, applying it with the tip of a T-pin, paper piercing tool, or toothpick. Hold the end in place for a few moments while the glue dries. This is called a loose coil, and it’s the basic shape from which many other shapes are made.
Candy Jar Project
Grosgrain ribbon – red, 3/8″
Quilling paper, red, 1/8″
Adhesive foam dots
Step 1: Make 4 teardrop. Roll a 12″ loose coil. Press the coil slightly between your fingers, and, if necessary, use a pin to arrange the inner coils so they are evenly spaced.
Pinch sharply at the tip to make a point. Glue the end and trim the excess paper.
Step 2: Make 2 hearts. Place 2 teardrops side by side on the work board to create a heart shape, positioning them in opposite directions so the inner coils appear to meet. Apply glue at the join spot.
Hold the teardrops in place with pins while the glue dries.
Step 3: Fill a jar with your favorite treat and tie a ribbon around it.
Step 4: Cut 2 white, 1″ cardstock squares and glue a heart on each.
Tip: When gluing a quilled object on a background, spread a shallow puddle of glue on a plastic container lid or a sheet of waxed paper. Hold the quilling with tweezers and dip its underside gently in glue. Place directly on the background.
Step 5: Attach 1 square to each ribbon tail with a glue dot.
Cardstock, red The type I used has mica bits for a nice sparkle.
Watercolor digital paper Free digital paper pack
Printer quilling paper, red, 1/8″
Twill tape, white, 1/2″
Paper clip, red
Jewelry pliers, 2 flat-nose
Jump rings, 2 silver
Clear message sticker
Step 1: Score and fold a 7½”x5½” piece of red cardstock to make a 3¾”x5½” card.
Step 2: Print out the digital watercolor background and cut it to measure 3¼”x5″. Use a glue stick to adhere the rectangle to the center of the card.
Step 3: Outline the patterned paper with quilling strips. Overlap the strips squarely at the corners or miter at a slant as shown, following my tutorial.
Step 4: Make a heart (2 teardrops). Each teardrop requires a full-length strip, 24″. Position the teardrops so that the inner coils face in the same direction. (This is opposite of the way the candy jar teardrops were positioned.) Facing the coils in the same direction will give a nice look when shaping the curve. Glue the teardrops side by side, pinning them in place on the work board until dry.
Step 5: Grasp the tip of the heart and curve it gently.
Step 6: Roll a 2½” strip around the shaft of a paper piercing tool or round toothpick to make a bead. Glue the torn end.
Tip: A torn end blends better than a blunt cut.
Step 7: Pinch the bead to form an oval ring coil.
Glue the bead between the heart curves.
Step 8: Use pliers to open 2 jump rings and attach them to the ring coil.
Step 9: Slip the jump ring onto the paper clip.
Step 10: Cut a ¾”-wide strip of cardstock to fit the width of the card between the bordered edges, and glue it in place, covering the lettering on the printed digital paper.
Step11: Cut twill tape to the same length as the cardstock strip. Slide the paper clip/heart onto the twill tape. Center and glue the twill tape onto the cardstock strip.
Step 12: Press on a clear sticker message. I used “Celebrate”; the inside message could read “our love” or “with the one you love.” And of course, Happy Valentine’s Day!
As a variation, add a chain and wear the quilled heart as a necklace pendant. If desired, spray the heart with a satin finish acrylic varnish to give it water resistance and extra durability.
Books: If you’d like to learn more about paper quilling, a few of my favorite books for beginners are Paper Quilling for the First Time and 50 Nifty Quilled Cards, both by Alli Bartkowski, and a book from the Klutz series, Twirled Paper, by Jacqueline Lee.
More Ideas: On my blog, all things paper, you’ll find many more quilling patterns and tutorials in the right sidebar.