Turn Porcupine Quills into Beads

By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published at Mother Earth News
quill beads
Porcupine beads adorn traditional Yurok Tribe jewelry. Photo/Nicole Caldwell
This week an old friend is visiting from his home in Klamath, Calif. A pure-blooded Yurok Indian, Arnie is well-versed in the traditions of his ancestors and knows much about fishing, edible wild plants, and various Native American crafts. While here, he made use of a dead porcupine from the yard, teaching me how to turn the quills into beads that can be incorporated into homemade earrings, necklaces, bracelets, or other arts 'n' crafts projects.

While many of us living a rural lifestyle have horror stories of dogs being quilled by porcupines, these spiky protuberances can also be plucked from roadkill—or, if you've got a brave heart, you can throw a blanket or towel over a living porcupine. The quills will stick to the cloth. Always remove quills carefully! The backward-facing barbs will pierce your skin easily and stay there.

Once you have a collection of quills, turn them into beads by following these simple instructions.

Trim the Quills
Clip each end of every quill with scissors. Take care to ensure the clipped ends land in a trash can so your pet — or your child — doesn't get quilled after your arts and crafts session is over. Cats especially love to eat quills! With both ends cut, the quill should resemble a tube-shaped or bugle bead.

Wash and Dry Your Beads-to-Be
Porcupine quills have a very soft, delicate interior. Make sure you don't do anything that will damage them. After clipping the ends, wash the quills in warm water with a mild, grease-fighting soap. If they are especially dirty, leave them to soak. Then rinse them off and lay them out to dry.

Dye the Beads
Quills soak up color easily, so any dye recipe you'd like to use is sure to work great. If you've never made homemade dye before, here's a simple recipe:
  • One cup blackberries
  • Two cups water to start (add more as needed)
  • One teaspoon lemon
  • Two teaspoons vinegar
Combine ingredients, bring to boil, add quills to solution, and boil for 30 minutes over low heat. Add water as needed. Remove from heat and rinse quills well in cold water. Vinegar is needed to help set the color and the lemon juice works as a natural softener. Some other wild ingredients to try for other color variations include wild plum bark, blueberries, and dandelion greens.

Bead Storage
Keep your beads in a small, lidded container or baggy. If you choose to mix your quills with beads, they work well with seed beads in a wide range of sizes, from a tiny size 15 to a larger size 5.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.