When everything stopped for tea - and quilling

A tea caddy with quilling decoration from around 1790.

A tea caddy with quilling decoration from around 1790. - Credit: Archant

Collectables: Mike Hicks on the art of quilling.

Quilling was an extremely popular pastime during the 17th century, and even into the reign of Queen Anne around 1702. It became a very popular pursuit for genteel young ladies between social events.

It was also carried out professionally and these professional pictures done with rolled paper were deemed to be in direct competition with paintings, particularly portraits.

The art of quilling is carried out with strips of paper that are rolled into shape and glued together to create decorative designs. The paper is also twisted and curled in various ways to create shapes, either in the flat or on a shaped object. The paper strip is first rolled in the fingers or using a tool called a 'quilling needle'; a small rolled piece of paper is then glued at the tip. These are all then added together to form a multi-coloured picture or pattern.

Quilling has a very long history; it has even been suggested that it was practised in ancient Egypt.

It has been said that Italian nuns and monks used quilling to decorate religious book covers. In the 18th century it became extremely popular all over Europe, and ladies of leisure practised the art on a regular basis. The art also spread to America and there are some examples available.

In the antique and collectors business, the most likely 'quilled' thing you will find are tea caddies, which are frequently square or sometimes diamond shape, and beautifully covered with these rolled paper curls. It seems quite amazing that something in as frequent use as a tea caddy can stand up to the rigours of daily use, when made of curled paper, but they did.

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Quilling is seeing a resurgence and there are quillers practising the art all over the world and in every walk of life, not just the upper classes. Today it is considered a 'people's art form' and the beauty of the art continually grows larger. It is suitable for all ages because of the simplicity of the techniques and low cost. These days it decorates wedding invitations, birth announcements, greeting cards and boxes. One of the best-known artists of modern times is Russian artist Yulia Brodskaya.

Basic quilling techniques are relatively easy and there are videos to be found on line. The skill is very useful for children as it teaches them fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination.

Today, although the original colour work of the rolled paper might be a little faded, antique examples will make anything between £500-£2,500, at any time. I would warn you that they are incredibly rare to find in good condition.

For more information on this ancient craft, please contact quillingguild@yahoo.co.uk or write to The Quilling Guild at 9 St Michael's Road, Aigburth, Liverpool L17 7AN.

Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or info@mikehicksantiques.co.uk.