A time to quill
IN JANE AUSTEN’S ‘Sense and Sensibility’, filigree is mentioned a number of times, especially in a scene where Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele want to avoid spending time with the Middletons by covering a basket in filigree for Lady Middleton’s daughter.
So what is this filigree quoted in a book set between 1792 and 1797?
Filigree, sometimes spelled ‘fillagree’ is a form of papercraft that was a popular pastime among young ladies in the late 18th to early 19th century.
Back then the craft included rolling, pinching and crimping pieces of gold and silver covered paper which was then glued to the surface of a box or basket. It is an innocent and time-consuming process, which is why Miss Steele considers it a perfect ploy to have a private, undisturbed conversation with Miss Dashwood away from the Middletons.
Paper filigree is now widely known as quilling, the art of paper rolling.
Today, the craft of filigreeing has left the hands of gentle ladies of quality in Europe and gone into the hands of ordinary quillers on every continent.
One of those quilling enthusiasts is Lulu Ma, a 33-year-old PhD student from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) who still awaits the results from her PhD research.
Back in 2011, Ma was stressful doing her research in molecular biology and needed to find something to relax herself.
Ma reminisced, “As I was browsing through a bookstore, I came across a card making book. I saw all the circle designs and I liked them very much.”
After doing some research online, Ma started to try making those coiled circles with a technique she later learnt was called quilling.
Since hardly any supplies or suppliers could be found here in Kuching, she ordered her supplies from Peninsular Malaysia and started quilling as a hobby.
“Now I am also selling some of my work and there is no return,” she said, smiling.
“I enjoy the process of rolling the paper. It is a bit therapeutic and it helps to calm yourself down especially when you feel agitated. It is a test of patience as well,” she said.
But first, what would you need to start quilling?
“Basically all you need is a slotted tool. If you don’t want to buy imported paper strips you can just cut it yourself; PVA glue and a pair of tweezers would be nice also,” she stated.
Ma’s personal preference is the needle tool – “It (the end product) looks nicer,” – although she admits that it is a bit difficult to master.
“For a slotted tool, you insert the paper into the slot and just roll the tool. For the needle tool, you can only roll the paper against the tool, but with practice you can make it better,” she said, clarifying that she used the needle tool for all her work. “For beginners I always suggest to use the slotted tool.”
Like every other thing in the world, Ma said quilling needs practice as practice makes perfect.
Quilling requires delicacy because rolling a 3mm wide paper and shaping it into the form you like needs patience.
While giving an impromptu demonstration, Ma explained that “It is about the control of finger tension. You have to be consistent and when you release, you can pinch it into the shape you like.”
The time it takes to finish a quilling piece all depends on the design. A simple design can take her up to two hours.
Ma draws her inspiration from other forms of media art such as paintings, stories, cultures, photos and the works of other quillers.
She also shared that every piece of her work is a result of trial and error.
“Sometimes you have the idea in mind but when you try to materialise it, you end up discarding or modifying it.”
Turning her hobby into a part-time business, Ma registered Paper N Quill Crafts as a business in September 2011 specialising in making greeting cards, tags, bookmarks and handmade journals.
The new mum who just had a baby last September also keeps herself busy by offering quilling classes for all ages in Mandarin, English and Malay.
Don’t let the tiny ribbons of paper or the fact that quilling falls under the ‘hobby’ category fool you: quillers around the world, including Ma, are serious about their craft. They even have quilling guilds around the world such as UK Quilling Guild, North American Quilling Guild and Japan Quilling Guild exist to support and promote the art of quilling.
Just like accountants have AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation and engineers have Engineering Accreditation Council Malaysia (EAC) to accredit them, quillers also have an accreditation scheme to recognise these paper rollers’ quilling techniques.
Ma is a member of the UK Quilling Guild. ”I’m aiming one day to become an accredited quiller.”