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Porcupine quills were used with beads and in place of them, throughout time. In many areas, they are an abundant natural resource. Also available for purchase through many bead suppliers, they are accessible to anyone that would like to try to work with them. Packaged in there natural state, they will need cutting and cleaning. Dyeing them is another option that you may choose to try. We will discuss all three steps and some organic dye solutions for the person that wants to go totally natural.

Materials for cutting:

Sharp scissors
Work area away from children and pets

Cutting quills is a simple process. Some basic guidelines are necessary though. Make sure you have an area away from children and pets to work. Cats especially love to eat quills, so it is extremely important to keep them away. They appear to think of them as a delicacy. Also, remember that while the quills may come out of the porcupine quite easily, that is not the case with fingers and hands. Until they are de-barbed, take care in all handling of them. Placing of newspaper under your entire work area will save you time and effort when your chores done and it is time to clean up. Using sharp scissors, to make a clean cut without cracking the quills, cut off the barbed end and dispose of it. Next, cut off the other end just far enough up that the end of the quill is approximately the same width as the center of the quill. With both ends cut, the quill should resemble a tube shaped, or bugle bead.

Materials for cleaning:

A grease fighting dish soap
Old dish pan
Wooden spoon
Paper toweling
Colander, fine mesh works best
Containers with lids for storing of clean, dried quills

Filling dishpan with hot soapy water, the hotter the better, add two or three teaspoons of dish soap. Stir the quills with the wooden spoon, taking care not to smash any. Agitation in this manner will loosen the natural grease and dirt. Cleanings main purpose is to rid the quills of any remaining animal fat. Let them soak approximately ten to fifteen minutes and repeat. Repeat these two steps at least three times. Dump quills into colander and rinse with cool water until all soapy residues removed. Lay the quills out on paper toweling to air dry. Look through the quills and discard any that are clearly not usable. Once completely dry, quills should be stored in sealed containers. Plastic zip bags work nice for storage, too. Airtight containers will preserve your quills for years to come.

Materials for dye:

Old pans
Paper toweling

Quills are easy to dye and commercial dyes work great. Organic dyes are a fun way to experiment. Below is one recipe for those that would like to go the natural route. For commercial dyes, follow package instructions for mixing dye. Quills absorb dye in a short time, and trial and error is the best way to achieve the colors you desire. Lay dyed quills out to dry. Rolling them in paper towel will remove excess dye that adheres to outside of quill.

Organic dye recipe:

One cup blackberries
Two cups water to start (add more as needed)
One teaspoon lemon
Two teaspoons vinegar

Combine ingredients, bring to boil, add quills to solution, and boil for approximately one half hour over low heat. Do not let boil dry, add water to keep at a level equal to the original two cups. Remove from heat; rinse quills well in cold water. Dry and store as before. This makes a beautiful light rose-colored quill.

Vinegar is needed to help set the color and the lemon juice works as a natural softener. Some other wild ingredients to try for other color variations include wild plum bark, blueberries, and dandelion greens.

If you choose to mix your quills with beads, they work well with seed beads in a wide range of sizes, from a tiny size 15 to a larger size 5. Once you have your quills all ready to go, get out your beading and bead away!