Melissa Connely likes to stuff a bunch of porcupine quills in her mouth, business ends pointing out, and settle in for an evening of sewing and weaving them like Indians and pioneers did centuries ago, although she indulges in modern television watching.
“I’m like a little chipmunk; I’ll have six or seven of each color in each cheek and I’m ready to go for a while,” Connely told a dozen participants in a workshop on quilling at the Wyoming State Muzzle Loaders Association convention at the Parkway Plaza on Saturday. The convention, with seminars and vendors selling everything from clothing to powder horns, continues today from 8 a.m. to noon.
The saliva moistens and readies the quills for folding along strings or sinew, wrapping around rawhide, or sewing into leather, she said.
Connely has made earrings, decorated leather gloves and pipes, and clothing in the three decades she’s been quilling, she said.
Without hurting herself, much, she added.
“I’ve never swallowed them, but I got them stuck in my lip one time,” Connely said. “You’ve got to be a little careful with that.”
Indians decorated moccasins, pipe bags, pipe stems, clothing, blankets, medallions sewn on tipis, and buffalo robes, she said. Pioneers picked up the skills and added beads.
To start quilling, modern quillers need a supply of quills, she said.
“The best way to find them is on the road,” Connely said. “Roadkill is definitely a good supply.”
Failing that, quillers can hunt the porcupines, she said. The squeamish may buy them from outfitters, she added.
Either way, the next step is to salt the carcass, and skin the prickly little guys by scraping the fur and quills from the hide, Connely said.
Porcupines sport two types of quills and two types of fur, she said.
Their lower back carries the hard and heavy quills that give porcupines their somewhat unfriendly reputation, Connely said. “Those are not the quills you want.”
However, with the proper treatment they’re fine for hair brushes, she said.
Instead, quillers primarily want to use the quills found on the sides and shoulders.
They also need to remove the stiff fur known as guard hair and keep the good quills with the downy fur that performs well as a pin cushion, Connely said.
Use dish detergent to remove the oils — “porcupines are really greasy” — and dry the quills on newspaper, she said.
The early quillers would use extracts from plants to dye the quills, but Connely said she prefers modern dye with its more colorfast tones.
She used paper and yarn to show how to sew and plait the the moistened quills.
Some participants, such as Leah MacCarter, had never quilled and started learning the techniques with paper and yarn.
Longtime quiller Vickie Zimmer stuck a few quills in her mouth and learned some new tricks from Connely.
It’s not a quick hobby, but its rewarding, Connely said.
“Maybe this will teach me some patience,” MacCarter said.
“Oh, it will,” Zimmer said.