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Porcupine quillwork repair on an early Upper Missouri shirt


One of the most beautiful - and also the most fragile - forms of decoration in Native American art is porcupine quill embroidery. Here is an example of the repairs on a late 1800's war shirt from the Upper Missouri region.  This style of quillwork is often called 'multiquill plaiting' because many quills are woven together and sewn down in lanes to form long parallel strips. 

Detail of the quillwork panels in the shoulder area of the shirt.  The quills were most likely damaged by insects, who seem to have a preference for only certain colors of early aniline dyes.  In this case, most of the missing quills were the pink ones.

Repair in progress.  Because this style of quillwork requires working with 4  or 5  threads, and sometimes as many as seven quills at the same time, it can be quite complicated and very time consuming.

Repairs complete. The quilled strip now appears much as it did when this shirt was originally made over a hundred years ago.

Another detail image of damage on the plaited arm strips.  Before repairs:

......and after.

It is important to note that one of qualities that sets good conservation work apart from a 'restoration' is that all conservation repairs must be completely reversible and easily identifiable. When working with quillwork, the use of a slightly different color for the replacement quills for identification can be too distracting, so the quills are dyed with an ultraviolet marker dye instead. The repaired area is therefore easily located with the use of a simple black light, but invisible under regular room lighting!




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