Want to add a little panache to your Valentine’s Day cards? Learn how to roll a few quilling shapes — hearts, teardrops and petals, for starters — to convey your love.
Quilling — an ancient craft also known as paper filigree — doesn’t require any special tools to get started. It’s essentially the rolling of narrow strips of paper to make simple shapes for use in artwork and handmade cards. Complementary techniques have developed over time, such as delicately cut and curled or fringed flowers.
A quilled card that she received several years ago fascinated Kari Cronbaugh-Auld of Olathe, Kan., so she got to experimenting — and then perfecting — her craft. Today, she sells handmade cards and other gifts at her online Etsy shop, Quillique. Wedding invitations framed by intricate, quilled details are a top seller for her.
“It looks easy, but it’s time-intensive,” says Cronbaugh-Auld, a social worker and grant writer who quills in her spare time.
A simple Valentine’s Day card — one heart or a few scrolls — is a good project for beginners.
Cronbaugh-Auld, who is self-taught, recommends picking up a quilling kit at a craft store and watching tutorials on YouTube. Quilling books include supply lists and basic techniques.
Quilling paper and equipment, such as a slotted tool — the slot at the tip helps start paper rolling — are sold at craft stores. Beginners also need fine-tipped tweezers and craft glue that dries clear and quickly. And that’s about it.
After all, none of these supplies were even available to the Renaissance monks and nuns who decorated holy pictures and relic vessels with the precious strips of gold-edged paper that resulted from bookmaking. Their paper filigree — created by wrapping thin paper strips around a feather quill — replicated ironwork patterns of the day.
During the Victorian era, well-heeled young ladies learned quilling in addition to needlework. The craft traveled to the Americas, where it was used to decorate cabinets, cribbage boards and picture frames, says Cronbaugh-Auld.
“Hundreds of years ago, quilling was done by people who wanted to make decorative things for their homes,” says Hannah Milman, a Martha Stewart Living contributing editor. “Paper was precious. I’m sure every scrap was kept.”
Decades before she wrote about quilling for Martha Stewart Living magazine, Milman quilled paper beads as a child. She strung them on elastic thread to make necklaces.
“I never knew it was quilling,” Milman recalls. “I just did this instinctively, and I’m sure a lot of people did this around the world.”
Milman fondly recalls using the glossy pages of her parents’ New Yorker magazines.
“It was such perfect paper and smooth. It rolled up really well,” she says.
A reuse-and-recycle advocate, Milman recommends cutting one’s own quilling strips — 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch widths are common — with scissors, paper cutter or shredder. Scrapbook and construction papers are too thick, but simple white craft paper works well, Milman says. Dye it, splatter it with paint — make it your own.
“It looks amazing, really elegant,” Milman says.
She recommends “going big.” Although quilling was traditionally a delicate craft for small projects, Milman now sees it used in home decor. For parties, decorate with giant coils instead of the ubiquitous tissue-paper pompoms, or quill a giant wall heart.
Think outside of traditional quilling colors, too, she says. For Valentine’s Day, insert some silver in among the pinks and reds, or accent a traditionally white-quilled card with a smattering of color.
When you get more involved in quilling, Cronbaugh-Auld says, there are more tools that might help, many that cross over from scrapbooking and other crafts.
The key ingredient? Patience.
“It’s like learning how to knit or crochet. When you start out, you have to be patient with yourself,” says Cronbaugh-Auld.