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Get To The Point: Basics of Quilling (With Real Porcupine Quills)

Author: Norische

Filed in: how-to, needle play, beginners



The art of Quilling is something that has been around for ages, unfortunately however it seems to be a lost art. This article will explain the safety issues, basic information on and use of porcupine quills.

The quills I am speaking of do indeed come from a porcupine. The majority of porcupines used are born and raised in captivity, the quills are harvested by throwing a towel over the porcupine, when the towel is removed any quills that stick to the towel are harvested for a wide variety of used. This procedure does no harm to the porcupine, in fact by removing the loose quills it encourages the growth of strong new quills.

There are two kinds of quills, the common American porcupine quill and the large African porcupine quill. The type that I will be referring to in this article will be the American porcupine quills. This type of quill ranges in size from 1 to 3 inches although they may be found slightly larger. They are normally white with a brown tip, although they can be dyed a wide variety of colors. The brown tip is barbed and allows the quill to stay secure once the barb has penetrated skin; it is also these barbs that will work the quill deeper into the skin once in place. Quills can be purchased from a wide variety of retailers, leather shops and craft shops may carry quills or they may know where they can get them. I have also purchased them on line and on Ebay but buyer beware. When you purchase quills sight unseen you may get a package of unsorted, unclean and even unusable quills. I have gotten a package of quills that were almost completely unusable, although the add stated they had been cleaned and sorted, the quills were filthy, there were guard hairs, grass, and lint in the bag with the quills, and most of the quills were to delicate to risk using.

Safety Tips
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Quills naturally have an oily irritant on them that is present before they are properly cleaned, so use caution. Do not rub your face, eyes, or other sensitive area while handling the unprepared quills.

Although it is rare, some people can be allergic to the oil on the quills. Even after a proper cleaning some oil may still be present, so make sure you do a test set of two or three quills on someone’s arm before doing a full spread of quills.

Quills are very sharp so handle them with they same care you would handle needles. Using tweezers, clamps or other tools may be best until you get used to handling the quills.

Always assume that the quills have not been cleaned when you get them, and do not use them until they have been properly cleaned.

Quills do pierce the skin, therefore be sure to take all precautions and play safe, some blood may be present.

Do not use the same quill twice, even if you are using it on the same person. Quills are hollow; blood, sweat, and other contaminants may remain within the quill even if you have cleaned it.

Once the quill is in place do not tap the end, even tapping it by mistake may cause extreme pain when not intended.

Make sure to sterilize the skin surface prior to using quills, also clean the skin once again after you have removed the quills, personally I use alcohol to clean the area.

Make sure to secure the recipient of the quills prior to starting to play. He or she may move quickly or without meaning to cause unnecessary harm to themselves while the quills are in place.

It is best to place the recipient on a flat surface or facing the back of a chair, the first time you experiment with quills, at least until you are familiar with the individual’s tolerance. If the recipient should zone out or pass out while the quills are in place they may fall and injure themselves.

Sorting Quills
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The first thing I do when I get a pack of quills is sort them. Some packages I have purchased have had guard hairs, grass, and other dirt in with the quills, this is not uncommon, although I wish it were more so. Please use good judgment when handling any quills, they are extremely sharp and can be very painful. You will want to sort out the broken or weak quills before you clean the quills; this way you are not wasting all your time and the effort to clean useless quills. You should be able to judge the desired thickness just by looking at the quills. Those that are too thin or look almost fragile should be discarded, as they will probably end up breaking if you try to use them. Also as to length I divide them into 3 or 4 sizes.

Mini…1 – 1 ½ inches

Standard…1 ½ - 2 ½ inches

Large…2 ½ inches – 4 inches

Fats…these are normally 2 ½ - 3 inches in length but are thicker than average

Cleaning Quills
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After you have sorted though the quills and pick those that you consider useable, you must clean them. This is honestly an easy process, but again be careful. You truly don’t want to get one of these things stuck under your fingernail while moving them around a dish of alcohol, it is not a pleasant surprise and if you do get one stuck in your finger just remember you still have to pull it out.

First you need a bottle of alcohol and two or three pans, they pans should be at least 1 inch deep and 6-8 inches in diameter, I have found that aluminum pie pans work great. Poor about ½ to ¾ inch of alcohol into one pan, in another pan place several paper towels laid flat, if you use a third…leave it empty. You may want to have a spoon or tongs available. Take the quills and poor them into the alcohol, remember that the quills are porous and make soak it up a little bit. Make sure to submerge the quills completely, this is where the tongs come in handy, I have made the mistake of using my hands before…don’t try it, it isn’t a pretty sight. As the alcohol soaks into the quills it will make them very flexible so handle them with extra care. Every now and then use the tongs or spoon to stir them around a little. Allow them to soak about 5 minutes, if they get to where you can see through them or appear to be getting too soft go ahead and take them out. Now place the quills in the pan with the paper towels, and allow to air dry. Once they have dried out place the clean quills in the final pan. Repeat the process until all quills have been prepared.

Using the Quills
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Quills can be used almost any where on the human body. I do not recommend use of quills above the shoulders or below the wrists, or ankles. When you use them on the back please make sure that you do not use quills within two inches of the spine. I have used quills on the breast and yes even on the nipple itself…although that is not something that I would recommend for beginners. Although I have hot used them on the genitalia I have seen it done before, I will simply say it was very interesting and I never want to see it done again.

Clean the surface of the body that you wish to use with alcohol first. Then use an abrasive to bring the blood to the surface; a scrub brush or horse brush works great. The reason you want the skin pink or warm to the touch is because it will heighten the reaction to the quills. Normally I do a spread of 50 to 60 quills. Place the quills approximately one inch apart; you should leave a space about the size of a quarter around each quill. Simple grasp the quill down close to the brown tip between your thumb and forefinger, then gently but quickly poke the brown tip into the skin. The most accurate gage I can give you of how much pressure is needed to properly imbed the quills, is if you are familiar with the lancets that are used to get a drop of blood when checking blood sugar, the amount of pressure needed to use the lancets is approximately the same amount of pressure that you need to exert with the quills. You do not need to penetrate the skin very far to get the desired effects. It takes a few tries before you get the hang of how much force to use; I personally practice on my own arm whenever I haven’t done a quilling for a while, just to get the feeling for it again. If the will stay in the skin, even if it isn’t standing strait up, it is fine. If you make a mistake and it doesn’t go in deep enough, don’t try the exact same place again, move over just a little bit if not you run the risk of making the skin to sensitive.

Most people describe an itchy, tingly feeling from the quills but very few would actually describe them as painful.

Ideas of Play With Quills
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Once the quills are in place you are free to continue on with the fun, that’s right you can do all sorts of fun things with the quills in place, as long as you be careful. Since the skin is itchy and sensitive now is a great time to have a little sadistic fun.

Just some ideas

Run an ice cube up and down the rows of quills, and blow on the water trail left behind.

Use paraffin or waxes around the area where the quills are…hint…don’t put wax directly on the quills it makes them harder to remove.

Brush you hand gently up and down the protruding quills, be careful not to lay the quills flat against the skin, it may cause the tip to break.

Use a knife to draw designs within the quilled area.

Use a large African quill to play connect the quills.

Use a cane or baton to randomly tap at the quills.

Use a feather, fur or horsetail to trace in between the quills, tickling the very sensitive skin.

Use your favorite paddle, strap, cane or even your hand to entertain yourself with other body parts, while every now and then running your hand over the quills.

The possibilities are endless. So have fun and enjoy the squirming.

Taking the Quills Out
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Normally I suggest that you leave the quills in for no more than 20 minutes, less time if you are doing it for the first time, but as the body becomes accustomed to the quills you can leave them in longer. When you are ready to remove the quills you need to have a couple of things ready, a container to place the used quills in, a bottle of alcohol or alcohol wipes, and some paper towels or cotton balls. There are three ways to remove the quills. First the nice way, place your a finger a the base of the quill and grasp the quill between your thumb and forefinger and gently pull the quill from the skin. Second the naughty way, simply grab the quill between your thumb and forefinger and pull. Third the sadistic way, first place your thumb and forefinger firmly on the quill about mid way up the shaft, now twist the quill back and forth, then pull the quill out quickly. I honestly would not recommend the third manner simply because when you turn the quill it tends to break off the barbs on the tip of the quill while it is still embedded in the skin, but frankly I love to see the way people cringe when I tell them that method. After the quill has been removed simply discard of it, because of it’s porous nature I do not suggest cleaning and reusing the quills.

When you remove the quills then may be small pink spots on the skin where the quills were, normally they will look similar to a mosquito bite. They may be the size of a dime and have a small bump, and yes they will itch for a while. With most people the bumps go away in minutes although sometimes they may be present for a while, it all depends on how long the quills were left in and how sensitive the individual’s skin is. You will need to clean the surface of the skin with alcohol once again this serves several purposes. The alcohol will clean and disinfect the area, it will also help get rid of the irritating oils that was on the quills and lastly it adds a little sadistic fun to the whole thing. I like to use a soothing lotion like a lavender or light mint on the skin afterwards but again if you want to be a little sadistic you can use lemon or lime juice, or Vick’s vapor rub, although I wouldn’t recommend it anywhere the skin was broken

If you have any questions or would like to contact me feel free, Norisch1@mchsi.com.

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