Does the term quilling ring a bell? You might have hazy recollections from the 1970s of colorful flower and butterfly designs composed of coiled paper strips. Or perhaps you remember cutting up a sheet of construction paper, rolling the pieces one by one on a pencil or toothpick, and pinching them into various shapes as a school art project. This paper craft fell out of favor for a few decades, but I’m happy to report that there is something of a quiet revolution going on in the quilling world.

The style of quilled designs has changed significantly in the past decade and these developments are tremendously exciting. Thankfully, art isn’t static—how dull that would be! I often see images on Instagram that barely resemble classic quilling that was popular at the end of the last century.

Marriage Certificate by Ann Martin / Calligraphy by Living Letters Studio
Even in the early 2000s, which was when I had my first encounter with paper rolling via a Martha Stewart Living magazine article, almost everyone was creating designs with traditionally shaped coils and scrolls. But in addition to the typical quilled roses and fringed flowers, the feature showcased on-edge lettering and minimalistic scrolls that looked fresh, modern, and instantly captivating.

It was a defining moment in which I decided to learn everything I could about paper quilling by joining online groups and borrowing library books. This led to the discovery that I was more creative than I ever imagined. Now I do commissioned pieces and enjoy teaching others to quill via projects in books and magazines and tutorials on my blog.

Typically, quilling is used in card making, framed art, miniature dimensional figures, and jewelry, but with the advent of sophisticated, flowing designs—often created by graphic designers-turned-paper artists—quilling is now highly sought after by major corporations for use in advertisements.

Also known as paper filigree, quilling has a long history that dates back at least several hundred years.

Ring of Keys by Ann Martin
Wedding Invitation Mat by Ann Martin
It has been said that during the Renaissance, nuns and monks would apply gilded paper coils to religious icons instead of more costly gold and silver metalwork. Remarkably, quilling has changed very little with the passage of time. The most basic supplies – paper and glue – are all that are needed. A simple rolling tool is generally used, but you might choose to quill with your fingers instead. In fact, some quillers prefer finger rolling because the coil will have no noticeable center.
Quilling tools
Quilling strips
Silver Orb Pendant by Ann Martin
Quillers today have nearly limitless choices of colors and types of machine-cut strips, along with many tools and accessories. No longer is paper rolled on the quill of a feather; instead, precision tools, some with ergonomic handles, are available. Of course, one thing that quilling will always require, but cannot be purchased, is patience. That said, once a person has practiced handling narrow strips of paper, it becomes a relaxing, almost meditative activity.

Inexpensive strips in several widths are readily available from online suppliers. Specialty choices include graduated shades, two-tone and two-sided colors, pearlized, vellum, corrugated, and even mirror foil. The type I most enjoy using has a fine metallic gold, silver, or copper edge. The elegant shine has definite wow-power, making it ideal for quilled jewelry.

Traditional, intricate quilling is still being done, and often beautifully so, but a healthy percentage of new adopters, most of whom are young women in their 20s and 30s, practice a form of contemporary line art composed of gently curved strips that are wider than the standard 1/8″ (3mm) width. Time-honored shapes— teardrops, marquises and crescents, for example—play only a very small role in the designs, if they are present at all.

Perhaps the 2016 USPS Love Stamp caught your eye when it was released in January. It features an enchanting paper heart composed of gracefully shaped elements created by UK paper artist, illustrator, and quilling trendsetter Yulia Brodskaya.

Love Stamp by Yulia Brodskaya
Paper Typography by Yulia Brodskaya
Amethyst by Yulia Brodskaya
Textile Market by Yulia Brodskaya
Originally a graphic designer, Yulia describes her style as drawing with paper instead of on it. While her art is not quilling in the traditional sense (although she occasionally includes tightly rolled coils), it serves as an inspiration to quillers of all ages. Yulia frequently does commercial ventures such as magazine illustration and product packaging that feature on-edge lettering, but she also propels the art forward by experimenting with new techniques.

Textile Market, a vivid symphony of colors and patterns along with facial character lines that she creates so skillfully, was inspired by her photographic collection of market stalls.

Currently, Yulia is exploring a new avenue that she calls painting with paper and describes as the combining of folded strips, the way one would mix paints on a palette.

Violin by Sena Runa
Hot Air Balloon by Sena Runa
Just several years ago, Sena Runa was an HR specialist in Turkey who was drawn to quilling after coming across it online. Soon she found her own modern style that incorporates traditional shapes, left her job, and now quills seven days a week, creating ever-so-lovely home décor designs that may include pen-and-ink flourishes. She also does commercial projects such as book covers.

Sena has an enormous following on Instagram with more than 100,000 followers as a result of online features.

Papergraphy by Sabeena Karnik
Tropical ‘O’asis by Sabeena Karnik
Sabeena Karnik in India is another talented paper artist who studied graphic design with an emphasis on typography. An on-edge paper alphabet she created several years ago received a great deal of internet acclaim and led to a career in commercial quilling.

Sabeena frequently designs dimensional lettering projects that she calls papergraphy, as well as illustrative quillwork.

The piece at right is one of three commissioned pieces Sabeena created for the sponsors of the 2016 USA Olympic swimming trials. The jubilant images were used on promotional banners, posters, and calendars.


USA Olympic Swimming Trials 2016 by Sabeena Karnik
Paper Mosaic by Erin Curet
Cherry Blossom by JUDiTH+ROLFE
Succulents by Meloney Celliers
Letter A – Iwona Wright (moon_bloom_)
In just a few short years, American Erin Curet has developed a paper-mosaic style composed of densely placed traditional shapes that are sectioned and outlined with cardstock strips. She leads online quilling sessions in which she demonstrates her unique method, hosts competitions, and has launched an online supply business complete with her own line of quilling strips and tools.

A vast number of quillers in all corners of the world have been working with paper only a handful of years, yet they are bringing new advances to the art. Designers may combine quilling with a tablet-drawn image or place it atop color-shaded backgrounds. Some lean toward forming highly detailed standalone figures.

I hesitate to name even this short list as there are many others who also do exceptional work, but to see additional contemporary designs, Google Cecelia Louie, Natasha Molotkova, Licia Politis and Katherine Usowa. On Instagram, search out judithandrolfe, mainelyquilling, melly_the_elephant, moon_bloom_, paperliberated and quilledbyolia.

I think you’ll come away inspired to try your hand at paper quilling. You just might find it to be one of the most satisfying ventures of your life!


Ann Martin

Ann Martin


Ann Martin is a quilling enthusiast who explores the worlds of creative paper art and paper craft on her blog, All Things Paper. She interviews established artists and features emerging artisans with big ideas. A former hospital nurse, Ann designs quilling projects for books and magazines and creates commissioned quilled jewelry and wedding invitation mats. She is the author of All Things Paper: 20 Unique Projects from Leading Crafters, Artists, and Designers, and Creative Paper Quilling: Wall Art, Jewelry, Cards & More, and is currently working on a modern quilling book for Interweave that will be released in 2017.


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