Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Before beadwork, Native Americans used brightly-colored porcupine quills to decorate objects from moccasins to bags to wall hangings. Though the know-how of folding quills to create floral and abstract designs has survived, very little is known about the materials used to color the quills, particularly on the pre-aniline dyes used by communities east of the Mississippi, as historical recipes tend to be more reflective of Plains and Pacific Northwest quillwork traditions. Additionally, Native American artisans have expressed interest in having museum collections analyzed to further their knowledge of traditional materials. To address the literature gap and answer community questions, a dye analysis project has been completed on early quillwork in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian, the McCord Museum, and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. An extensive literature review provides a historical understanding of pre-1856 quillwork dyes; this representation will be compared with the usage patterns suggested by the collections’ analysis. A more complete understanding of Native dye technology, with a particular emphasis on the clarification of assumptions currently made with regards to the use of mordants and mixing of multiple dyestuffs in a single bath, will also be presented.