What is Quilling? The Elegance of Paper Scrolls

Discover the intricate art of quilling, where paper strips transform into elegant designs. So, what is quilling in practice?

6 June 2024

It’s an artform that relies on little more than simple strips of paper and glue to create intricate, three-dimensional designs in a riot of vibrant colours. Around since at least the 15th century, it’s been called filigree, paper-rolling, and paper-scrolling. Nowadays it’s best known as paper quilling or simply quilling. And it’s as popular as it’s ever been.

So, what is quilling exactly, and how does this elegant paper craft continue to captivate people around the world? Read on as we unravel all the details.

What is Quilling?

Patterns using the quilling technique (Credit: Sergii Vasylchenko via Getty Images)

At its core, quilling is the art of rolling narrow strips of paper into coils or scrolls, and then arranging them to form images or patterns. These can be used to decorate a variety of objects, be they picture frames, greeting cards, or even furniture. Historically, quilling was used to mimic the appearance of ironwork, filigree, or carved wood. Today, it spans a wide range of applications from greeting cards to wall art. One of the earliest, and possibly the first, application of the art of quilling dates back to the 15th century, when nuns and monks used it to decorate book covers and religious items. Quilling paper craft can also be art in its own right, made into jewellery or sculptures. Let’s look at the practical side and how it works.

The Art of Quilling

Quilling equipment and decorative flowers (Credit: Oksana_S via Getty Images)

We’ve mentioned that paper quilling involves rolling narrow strips of coloured paper then shaping and glueing those rolls into designs. However, within this description are a myriad of steps, options, and results. For instance, while most crafters use pre-cut paper, some begin by cutting their own paper strips. When it comes to rolling coils, these vary in terms of tightness and tension as well as size. And the end result might be decorating an existing object like, say, a photo frame, or it might be an item in its own right, like an earring. But, for the sake of completeness, a very basic quilling project would involve the following steps:

  1. Planning: The design can be as simple or as complex as desired. It can be drawn onto paper or a canvas or marked using pins. There are also pre-made designs and templates.
  2. Rolling: Creating coils of paper by rolling strips, usually using a quilling tool. These are usually sealed with glue.
  3. Shaping: The coils can remain rounded or can be manipulated into a myriad of shapes, like teardrops, tulips, marquises, squares, or diamonds.
  4. Glueing: The shaped coils are glued onto a surface to create intricate designs.

So, what’s required to get started in the art of quilling? We’ll look at some useful tools, but not before exploring, what is a quilling paper?

What is a Quilling Paper?

Quilling paper (Credit: Maryna Terletska via Getty Images)

Paper is at the heart of the art of quilling, which is why it’s so important to understand what type of paper is used. In theory, any narrow strips of paper will do. But quilling paper is specially designed to be rolled and shaped easily. What’s more, the quality and type of paper will almost certainly influence the final appearance of a quilling project.

Specialist quilling paper varies in width, length, colour, and texture, offering endless creative possibilities. Widths typically range from 1mm to 10mm, allowing for fine details or bold statements. Lengths can vary, with some artists preferring shorter strips for precision work and others using longer strips for flowing designs. Colour choices are vast, including solid colours, gradients, metallics, and even patterned strips. Textures can also differ, from smooth to crimped or embossed, adding extra dimension and interest. These variations enable artists to experiment with different effects, making each quilled piece unique and visually captivating.

Tools for Quilling Paper Craft

Quilling supplies (Credit: Green_Leaf via Getty Images)

Whilst it’s possible to use very few, if any, tools in quilling, the following ones allow for more precise and intricate designs:

  • Slotted Quilling Tool: This is the most fundamental tool used to roll paper strips into coils. The slot in the tool holds the end of the paper strip, making it easier to roll tightly.
  • Needle Tool: Used for more delicate work, the needle tool helps in making smaller, finer coils and shapes.
  • Tweezers: Essential for handling small and delicate pieces of quilling paper, tweezers help in positioning and adjusting coils accurately.
  • Quilling Comb: This tool is used to create uniform loops and intricate designs by wrapping paper around the comb’s teeth.
  • Circle Sizer Ruler: This helps in creating coils of consistent size by allowing quillers to measure and shape their coils accurately.
  • Adhesives: Technically a material rather than a tool, various forms of glue are used to ensure the coils and shapes stay in place. Commonly used adhesives include white glue, tacky glue, and glue sticks.
  • Scissors: Sharp, fine-pointed scissors are necessary for cutting paper strips to the desired length and for making precise cuts in intricate designs.
  • Quilling Board: A board with a grid and pins to hold the paper in place, useful for creating consistent shapes and designs.

Techniques in Quilling Paper Craft

Quilling hand-crafted paper pineapples (Credit: Sanja Baljkas via Getty Images)

The techniques in quilling paper craft range from basic to advanced, each contributing to the creation of intricate and beautiful designs. Here are some fundamental and advanced techniques in quilling:

How To Make A Basic Quilling Roll

To create a basic quilling roll, a strip of quilling paper is needed. The end of the paper strip is inserted into the slot of the quilling tool. The paper is then rolled tightly around the tool until the entire strip is wound up. Carefully, the coil is removed from the tool, allowing it to loosen slightly to the desired tightness. A small amount of glue is applied to the end of the strip to secure the coil. Finally, the coil can be shaped into different forms such as a teardrop or marquise if desired.

More Paper Quilling Shapes

There are several possible shapes aside from the basic quilling roll, such as:

  • Teardrop: A teardrop shape is formed by pinching one side of a loose coil.
  • Marquise (Eye): An eye shape is created by pinching both sides of a loose coil.
  • Square: A square is made by creating a marquise shape, then pressing down the two remaining sides.
  • Scrolls: Instead of securing the end with glue, the coil is allowed to unfurl slightly, creating an open, loose scroll.
  • Husking: Larger, intricate designs are formed by looping the paper around pins on a corkboard.
  • Combing: Uniform loops are created by wrapping paper strips around the teeth of a quilling comb, which can be shaped into flowers or other patterns.

Quilling All Rolled Up

Quilling Easter eggs (Credit: Jasenka Arbanas via Getty Images)

Quilling, with its elegant and intricate designs, continues to enchant artists and hobbyists alike. By understanding what is paper quilling and exploring the diverse techniques and applications, one can appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship involved in this ancient yet timeless craft.


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