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How they rolled: Paper quilling in Jane Austen's day

“I am glad,” said Lady Middleton to Lucy, “you are not going to finish poor little Annamaria’s basket this evening; for I am sure it must hurt your eyes to work filigree by candlelight. And we will make the dear little love some amends for her disappointment to-morrow, and then I hope she will not much mind it.”

This hint was enough, Lucy recollected herself instantly and replied, “Indeed you are very much mistaken, Lady Middleton; I am only waiting to know whether you can make your party without me, or I should have been at my filigree already."

-- "Sense and Sensibility"

You might be wondering what exactly is filigree. Today the craft is known as paper quilling and involves the rolling of thin paper strips to form beautiful designs. Filigree work using silver or other metals employs similar techniques, but paper is easier to use and cheaper. It's also similar to soutache embroidery, in which trimmings are rolled into shapes decorating military uniforms. Paper quilling was used to decorate household objects such as boxes.

In the scene from "Sense and Sensibility" above, Lucy Steele is making a basket with quilling for Annamaria. The project is ambitious and offers Lucy and Elinor an opportunity to talk while Elinor helps cut strips of paper for Lucy. You can also spot quilling in the 1995 BBC production of "Pride and Prejudice," when the Bennet ladies have several rolled strips of paper strewn about.

During the Regency Era, artists and crafters would roll the paper with a quill, the likely origin of the term “quilling” but today, you can use a special paper quilling tool.

If you've ever wanted to learn to quill, now's the time.

Here is what you will need:

  • Paper strips: If you plan to make your own, use a thin paper like newspaper. You can also buy colorful quilling strips.

  • A quilling tool.

  • Glue.

To make your first roll, start the tool at one end of your strip and twirl. You can choose the size and tightness of your roll. Looser rolls tend to be easier to pinch into other shapes.

Here are some of the basic roll shapes: round, tear drop, paisley, marquis and square. Once you have made your roll to your liking, add a tiny bit of glue to the end to hold it in place.

Now that you have some rolls, you can combine them to make larger and more complicated designs.

We hope you enjoyed this look at paper quilling. If you make any designs that you share on social media, be sure to tag us so we can see your beautiful art!


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