North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) mom with young, close-up, Canada
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The quill of a porcupine is a particularly versatile item with a rich history of varied uses. Although abundant, they can be dangerous to handle. Porcupines are native to colder climates in the north and have played an important role in Native American cultures of those areas. Their use has extended into other cultures as well.


Bracelets, beads, and other forms of jewelry are the most common items fashioned from porcupine quills. The practice stems from Native American culture, in which the quill enjoyed many functions as a decorative item, both on and off the body. The process of creating elaborate jewelry with porcupine quills is straightforward. But the pointed edges on both ends of the quill must be carefully cut off and discarded. Cutting the quills down to short segments allows them to be easily joined with beads to string together a quill necklace or bracelet. Leather spacers can be interjected into the chain to strengthen any design. By creating multiple parallel rows of these quill lines, elegant accessories limited only by creativity can be fashioned. Earrings, for instance, can be made using this quill-and-bead method. Introducing feathers and other objects into a chain helps create the eye-catching fashion many Native American tribes are known for.


Quills have enjoyed a special place in history, as much of ancient literature was written with them. The use of a quill as an ink pen dates back at least to medieval times, and the common image of a scribe is rarely disassociated from these simple, elegant tools. Quills from birds and porcupines are effectively cut into an ink pen using a simple knife. The tubular structure of the quill is then tempered using a sand mixture. Despite the primitive process of transforming a quill into a pen, the result is a durable tool that satisfied writers for hundreds of years.


Although pens fashioned from the quills of many animals have enjoyed popularity throughout society for hundreds of years, the particular use of the porcupine quill as a writing instrument is primarily attributed to the practice of witchcraft. In particular, the religion of Wicca involves active use of a text known as the Book of Shadows. Most aspects of witchcraft are contained in this book, including spells and philosophy. When a witch writes in her Book of Shadows, it is widely considered to be a task only accomplished by a pen made from a porcupine quill.


Prior to the invention of beads, the use of porcupine quills as decorations on any item was accomplished by joining them together using other methods. Weapons, furniture, clothing, tools, and other objects were crafted into elaborate artwork. No item was exempt from consideration for quill decoration. A frequent technique to accomplish this artwork uses rawhide or buckskin. The quills are stitched through the surface of the animal skin to create patterns. Braiding is a more elaborate technique. The delicate quills are combined into a larger cord using traditional braiding, and then these cords are used to decorate objects in combination with other braided cords or quill patchwork.