Paper Quilling

Crafts From the Past | Episode
May 24, 2022 | 8 min

Iowa artist Hannah Gebhart introduces us to the art of paper quilling. Follow along the Crafts From the Past episode above where she demonstrates how to create a simple piece of paper quilled art with a heart design, a project that she says can take two to three hours to finish. (Some of her more advanced designs can take 20 to 40 hours a piece!) Our quilling tutorial and extra information below comes from our interview with Hannah, with additional historical information about quilling from Quilling Arts.

Quilling Basics 

Paper quilling is the art of taking strips of paper and rolling them into different shapes to create detailed designs.

Paper Quilling History

Like many other historic forms of crafting, there isn’t clear documentation on how quilling began. Regardless of the craft’s initial origins, it was in the 15th century that French and Italian nuns used paper quilling to decorate religious objects affordably. 

It was in England during the 18th century that paper quilling became a phenomenon, considered an appropriate pastime for young women that was taught in school and practiced by ladies of leisure. The craft declined in popularity by the 19th century, but is seeing many more individuals jumping into the artform with the availability of tools and kits for beginners.  

Tools and Supplies

What tools do you need to get started with paper quilling?

  • Paper (for strips and the design’s canvas)
  • Craft knife (if needing to cut paper strips from sheets)
  • Ruler (if needing to cut paper strips from sheets)
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Slotted needle tool, awl or skewer
  • Lid or plate
  • A design

For your paper, you can purchase pre-cut strips for quilling or you can make your own strips by cutting sheets up with the craft knife. 

Your needle tool, or awl, can be used for a number of things, including curling your paper or applying glue to your paper strips. 

For glue, you might consider using a needle tip glue bottle for precise work, or you can pour glue onto a lid or plate and dab your paper strips into it.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Establish what your creation will look like and lay out your supplies. Optional: Prepare paper strips for the project using sheets of paper, a ruler and a craft knife; otherwise you can use pre-cut strips specifically for quilling.  
  2. Set out the sheet of paper you’ll be using as the canvas for your creation. You can have the entire sheet blank and freestyle your design, or you can print or draw the design (or part of the design, like the outline) onto the sheet of paper.
  3. If you are starting with your design’s border, take your first paper strip and use your awl tool to break the fibers to make the paper more malleable. This is accomplished by running the awl tool along the paper strip, similar to how you would use scissors to curl ribbon. 
  4. If you are starting with another part of the design that may need to be curled tightly or otherwise shaped, after breaking up the fibers, use your fingers or slotted needle tool to initially curl or bend your strip and then adjust its shape by hand depending on how loose or tight you want it to be, cutting the strip to the appropriate length.
  5. Apply a small amount of glue to one of the paper strip edges, ensuring it’s evenly distributed along the edge you’re trying to glue down. You can dab your strip into the glue or apply the glue to the strip using your slotted needle tool or a needle tip glue bottle. 
  6. Arrange your strip where you want it to be on your sheet of paper that’s acting as the design’s base, holding it in place while it dries. If you are working on the design’s border or an otherwise large piece, glue sections of it down one at a time.
  7. Repeat steps three through seven as needed until your design is complete.
  8. When your project is completely dry, you can finish it off by framing the piece - a shadow box works well as a frame for quilling projects. 

Tips and Tricks

  • Choose the right paper: Hannah recommends purchasing paper that is acid free and has the right weight to it so it’s not too flimsy but still curls well. You can also test out different kinds of paper to see what you like - some will crinkle more, some will bleed color more when the glue is applied.
  • Less glue is more: It doesn’t take a lot of glue along the paper strip edge to get it to stay in place on the project’s canvas, and adding too much glue can create a mess and take a long time to dry. If you get too much glue on your strip, your needle tool can be used to gently wipe off the excess. 
  • Start with the outline: For many quilling projects, starting with the border is beneficial, particularly for a design that is fully contained within a neat border.

Artist Spotlight

Hannah Gebhart founded Dinocat Studio in 2017 and specializes in hand-crafted, fine art woodcut printmaking and paper art. She works from her basement studio with the help of her two feline contributors, Jocko and Thumper. Gebhart received her BFA in Graphic Design with a focus on Printmaking from Drake University in 2009.