Quill meet again

Mill­brook wo­man cre­ates beau­ti­ful bas­kets, car­ry­ing on cen­turies-old tra­di­tion

Truro Daily News - - Front Page - BY LYNN CURWIN lynn.curwin@truro­daily.com

An in­tri­cate and cen­turies-old tra­di­tion is be­ing car­ried on by a Mill­brook wo­man who is cre­at­ing very spe­cial crafts.

Hav­ing her ngers pricked by sharp quills doesn’t de­ter Bev Ju­lian from cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful bas­kets in tra­di­tional Mi’kmaq de­signs.

e Mill­brook wo­man has been mak­ing bas­kets with birch bark and por­cu­pine quills for about 30 years.

“It’s very time con­sum­ing, but I nd it re­lax­ing,” she said.

“ ere was a re­vival years ago and six or seven women from this area took a course from a Cape Bre­ton wo­man. My sis­ter-in-law was one of them, and she taught me.”

e rst steps in cre­at­ing the bas­kets are to har­vest the birch bark, done at a cer­tain time of year when it’s eas­i­est.

The quills are gen­er­ally col­lected from road­kill. When none are read­ily avail­able, Ju­lian or­ders them.

“I choose a de­sign, and soak the quills in wa­ter to make them soft,” she ex­plained. “ en you poke a hole; it’s al­most like needle­point. Some peo­ple cover the en­tire top with quills, but I like to have some bark show­ing.”

She stitches around the bor­der with sweet­grass and adds a liner to the in­te­rior.

To get coloured quills, they’re boiled in dye.

She nds many of her de­signs in a book called Mic­mac Quill­work, by Ruth Holmes White­head. It con­tains in­for­ma­tion, and im­ages, on quill­work from 1600 through 1950, and was pub­lished by the Nova Sco­tia Mu­seum in 1982.

“It’s won­der­ful that all of this in­for­ma­tion has been gath­ered,” said Ju­lian.

“A lot of young peo­ple are branch­ing out now, and cre­at­ing their own de­signs.”

Ju­lian also does bead­work, mak­ing neck­laces and ear­rings, and has worked on re­galia.

“An im­por­tant part is the re­la­tion­ship built be­tween gen­er­a­tions,” she said.

“Teach­ing your own chil­dren is nice, but to teach grand­chil­dren is the ic­ing on the cake.”


Bev Ju­lian has been do­ing quill­work for about 30 years. She nds the work re­lax­ing – most of the time. She’s of­ten been poked with quills.


Quills are soaked in wa­ter to make them ex­i­ble be­fore they’re used to cre­ate de­signs on bas­kets.

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