Quill meet again
Millbrook woman creates beautiful baskets, carrying on centuries-old tradition
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.