Anne here, talking about the gentle art of decoration,with a small nod to Christmas decoration. Crafting one's own decorations has a long history and I can't possibly do justice to it in one post. So today, I'll just concentrate on one kind of craft — paper filigree work or paper scrolling, or as it's called in the US, quilling — and explore a little of its history.
I first came across paper filigree as part of the research I was doing for a book. As happens with so much research, I never ended up using it. For those of you who have read my Merridew sisters books, the original idea was that each sister would have a handcraft of their own. I can't recall now which sister turned magazines into paper filigree items of great beauty and uselessness, but I do remember that little Grace, who had a macabre streak, was going to be involved with hairwork — items made from plaited, twirled and woven human hair. But I shall spare you that today, and concentrate on paper filigree, which also can be used to make beautiful and useful Christmas decorations.
What is quilling or paper filigree?
It's the rolling up of long thin strips of paper around a quill, needle or specially made tool, and the arrangement of the resultant little scrolls in a decorative pattern. Sounds a bit dull, doesn't it? Well the process might be simple, but the results can be very far from dull. Take a look at this superb Georgian tea caddy: all that decoration you see around the painting is paper filigree work, made from tiny rolled strips of paper.
To see how it's done, there's a video here.
A brief history of paper filigree.
Paper filigree work is said by some to date back to ancient Egypt, but most examples in museums date from the medieval period and come from monks and nuns. Paper was a precious, handmade commodity and the copying of ancient manuscripts was one of the tasks of some cloistered religious houses. It is easy to imagine nuns looking for ways to use the precious strips of paper that would be left after pages were cut. The inspiration for paper filigree came from wire and metal filigree: paper could be painted or gilded to look like precious metal. Museums in Europe have numerous examples of icons, reliquaries (containers for relics) and the frames of holy pictures decorated with paper filigree work. Click here to see some beautiful examples.
The effect of industrialization
Industrialization made paper more widely and cheaply available and, as ladies of the leisured class sought occupation and an outlet for their creativity, quilling grew in popularity. It was popular throughout the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras. Paper filigree patterns were published in ladies' periodicals with designs for baskets, screens, panels, game boards, coats of arms, tea caddies, work boxes, cabinets, picture frames and more. The Brontes and Jane Austen referred to it in their works. In Sense and Sensibility, Lady Middleton told Lucy, ‘I am sure it must hurt your eyes to work filigree by candlelight.’ Paper filigree was even taught to young ladies in schools as part of their education.
In 1791, at age 21, Princess Elizabeth, daughter of George III, worked on a box made especially for filigree work by Charles Elliott, a royal furniture maker. It had ebony molding, a lock and key, it was lined inside and out, and came with 15 ounces of filigree paper as well as an ounce of gold paper (obviously, for the Princess, the paper was pre-cut)
Today, paper filigree is experiencing a revival and some beautiful modern designs are being created. How is this for an outline of the New York skyline?
To see the NY skyline quilling in more detail, go here.
If you'd like some instructions for making a quilled card, there's a pretty poinsettia one on this lovely blog. As for me, I like Christmas crafts, but I have less time for it now I'm writing. I've gone for a minimalist approach to Christmas decorations this year and I blogged about it here.
So, let's talk. Have you ever tried paper filigree work? Are you a crafty type or not? And if so, what do you make? Is there a favorite decoration you bring out each year?