Magical designs in paper

Magical designs in paper

Till a mail arrived in the inbox, I wasn’t aware of quilling. I had seen its examples but would casually cast an eye over what I considered anonymous paper craft. I didn’t know quilling was a fading art (synonym specialist Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognise the term) with centuries-old origins speculated in either Egypt or China.

Quilling as an art form is fast fading. Photo by AuthorOr, that towards the end of the Middle Ages (1200-1500 AD) it was a widely practiced art in European churches and in the Stuart Period (1603 and 1714 AD) a leisure pursuit for genteel English women whose creations were mostly meant to impress prospective suitors.

Prerna Kapoor, a young Bangalore-based HR professional, for whom quilling is a passion, shed light on this art through her mails, intriguing me to explore the world of this craft. 

Quilling is the art of curling paper to create myriad miniature patterns. These can range from a small object, say a four-petal flower, to the most intricate of spreads. It looks incredibly simple when you observe an artist rolling paper on a screwdriver-like tool and niftily shaping it into a pretty design; nevertheless, try doing it yourself and you realise how painstaking the process is. But, as seen in the case of any art that catches the fancy of an artist, it can be very addictive.


The fundamental essential of quilling lies in making firm circles of paper. “More tense the curling of paper, the better its flexibility. Once it’s curled to the desired diameter, as per design demands, secure the end of the paper well with glue. Else, time and effort will go a waste if it comes apart! Patience is the key word in quilling,” says Mallika, a graduate of Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore. Once the paper roundel is ready, it is used to build designs. A gentle nudge or push at assorted points on the roundel get transformed into attractive objects. Quilling equipment is straightforward. Your best friends are fine-pointed tweezers, small sharp scissors, slotted tool and glue, with add-ons like circle template board, circle sizer, comb and grid-guide aiding in making intricate patterns.

An interesting piece of trivia I came across while researching on quilling was how it got its identity. During The Renaissance, specifically towards the later half of the 16th century, quilling had become a widespread art form.

This was also a period when clergy, particularly in France and Italy, began using frayed edges of holy bibles as inexpensive quilling material to imitate intricate moulded patterns in gold, wood or wrought iron, as seen in grand churches. The paper creations would be painted with gold or copper dust and look almost identical to the original. These were used to decorate altars and religious objects. Goose quills were used by the clergy as an implement to aid in curling the paper and so the name of the art quilling.

Akin to needlework or embroidery, quilling was a hobby women took up and they would create complex designs that were used as stand-alone decorations or as embellishments on furniture, photo-frames, vases, etc. Over the centuries, while other arts and craft flourished, quilling faded away. Maybe it was a time-consuming affair or with the Industrial Revolution in Europe quicker reproductions of similar tone replaced this art. Quilling reappeared on the art horizon a few decades back and over the past couple of years has made inroads almost around the world, though it still stays relatively unknown.

“People do not view paper as an expensive material. Nor do they see it as a medium of investment. Hence the effort taken to make one miniature never gets its true worth or recognition. The technique has become commercial; wherein quilling on cards, jewellery, etc., will sell but as a piece of art it hardly gets valued in the market,” says Kapoor, who recently showcased her quilling prowess at a group show in Renaissance Gallerie, Bangalore, and had earlier answered queries of curious spectators at Sunday Soul Sante, a monthly flea market held in the city. “I’ve realised how indifferent people are to paper as a material and to this art at large. I got requests to do wedding cards customisation but that is not what I want to do. I want people to recognise it as an art and not a surface embellishment,” she emphasises. Isn’t it time to infuse life into this once-popular Renaissance art?

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