Process Points | Visual Arts

Quilling: A Pandemic Hobby Has Become an Artistic Obsession for Erin Hayes

Erin Hayes at work in her home studio

Many months may have passed since you’ve baked sourdough bread, practiced your French or engaged in any number of the activities taken up to pass the time during pandemic isolation. Not so for Erin Hayes, a Utah County nurse who discovered quilling during the pandemic and has found it a meditative way to express her love of the outdoors.

Quilling, also known as paper filigree, is an art form that dates back to ancient Egypt or China. Or both. Scholars disagree. It involves rolling, shaping, and gluing thin strips of paper to create detailed designs and three-dimensional artwork. These coiled paper pieces are assembled into various patterns, often mimicking the delicacy of lace or the intricacy of ironwork. European nuns and monks used it to adorn religious artifacts, especially when gold and silver gilding became too expensive. In the colonies of the British Empire it was used to decorate cabinets, cribbage boards, and other household items.

Hayes discovered quilling in the early days of the pandemic. “My daughters were trying to do school from home, and we had to cancel our spring camping trip to Arches [National Park]. I was searching online for art kits to keep my kids busy and found an inexpensive quilling kit which I ordered for them. It quickly became apparent they weren’t interested in this particular tedious activity, so I started playing around with the kit.”

The most basic quilling tools include fine tip tweezers and a slot tool, which is used to curl thin strips of paper into coils that can be manipulated by hand into varying shapes. Quilling paper is available in pre-cut packages, 3mm, 5mm and 10mm being the most common sizes; or paper can by cut by hand if a particular size or color is desired. Hayes says she most often uses 3mm pre-cut paper.  

Other quilling tools include a pin board for shaping small items, quilling combs for looping repeating shapes, and crimping tools for texture. “Much of my work is inspired by the landscapes and photos I take of Utah and other places I travel,” Hayes says. “Flowing, curling and organic subjects lend themselves best to my style of quilling. My more organic style does not often require more precise tools such as rulers, quilling coaches or cutting mats, although these are common tools used in quilling.”

“I have often been known to take blurry pictures out the passenger side of the car on road trips,” she says of her process, which begins by scrolling through her camera roll. “I don’t usually sketch out the subject, as placing outlines of straight edge paper usually accomplishes the same thing. I use the slot tool to shape curls, clouds, water, etc, and then use fine tip tweezers to gently dip the paper into a thin layer of tacky glue on a plastic card before placing it on white watercolor paper. I collect hotel key cards and used up gift cards for this purpose.”

As Hayes developed her skills she set up an Instagram account to show off her work and Instagram account NaturalBornQuillerUT, and began entering art markets and doing small custom pieces for friends.  In addition to the quarterly Utah Art Market, she has exhibited at the Utah State Fair (where she has won Best of Show in her category twice), JKR Gallery in Provo and the Moab for the Arts Festival (where she sold out of her collection of Delicate Arch pieces, her favorite subject). This fall she’ll be traveling further afield, to the East Idaho Art Market on Nov. 11.  

What started as an occasional hobby has become something of an obsession. “I generally quill most days of the week,” she says. “One day I’d love to have a dedicated studio space instead of a corner of the living room with headphones on to drown out the TV. When traveling I often take a bin of paper to make shapes down during time for use in later work. Quilling has become my creative outlet and although I had had life get in the way of any firm plans for what comes next, I’ve found opportunities present themselves when I’m ready for them.”

All images courtesy the artist

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