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Cape Sable Historical Society


Accession number: CS 733
Category: Art
Date: before 1950
Materials: bark; wood; quills; dyes; string; root
Measurements: 15 cm L x 14 cm H x 0.3 cm Thick9cm wide at bottom, 7.5cm wide at top
Culture: Mi'kmaq
Narrative: Basket was made by Mi'Kmaq who lived in Barrington Passage. Sometime before 1850.Some quills seem to have been restitched at some time since the basket was originally made. * Natives across Canada made a plethora of items"by folding and sewing together various types of tree barks," including "collecting baskets, serving dishes, eating utensils, and even fans and headbands." Every-day bark items were rarely decorated with quills, as elaborate quill decoration was time consuming. Quills were sewn to bark in a similar way staples perforate paper. Perforations were made with an awl in closely spaced pairs follwoing a pattern that had been previously laid out. The quill itself became the "needle," the pointed barbed end threading itself throught he perforations that had been made in the bark. Quills ere first soaked, then threaded - where they would stiffen in the layered bark as they dried. Once threaded the ends of ther quills were bent inward on the interior of the bark and cobered with an inner liner(paper,for example) to enclose and protect the sharp ends of the quills. Various patters or techniques were used to attach quills to bark- the satin, chevron, outline, running stitch, cover- stitch, fan and lattice patterns were among those most widely used. Prior to the introduction of glass beads to Native societies, porcupine quills were on of the primary methods of embellishment. The use of quills to decorate and accent containers, clothing, and other everyday objects could only be done by certain women who were considered worthy of the art form. These women had to participate in ceremonies or rituals, and then apprentice with another quillworker, promising to follow strict guidlines for the rest of their lives. It is unclear how old quillworking is but according to tradition it was first taught to select women by the Great Spirits. While thses women were responsible for completing the actual embroidery, men were responsible for completing the actual embroidery, men were responsible for obtaining the quills - either through killing the animal or trapping and plucking it. Trapping was rare as the aminal could be roasted and was a regular staple in some groups' diets. The quality and size of the quills depends on which part of the body they come from. The largest and roughest come from the tail of the porcupine, followed by the back. Thin and shorted quills come from the neck when the finest ones come from the underside or belly. *(Information compiled in Appendix A in files)
Description: Birch bark quill box with rounded sides and lid. This quill box is an unusual shape - oval with squared edge. Bottom may be solid wood. Lid is tied down with string, which serves as hinges. There are two linen loops on each side of the lid, perhaps to tie a shoulder strap to. String has replaced original peeled and split spruce root - look at back hinge lacing. The quilled eight point star appears on the front and back of the basket. The 8-pointed star is a significant Mi'kmaq emblem. The porcupine quills have been dyed various colours (red, brown, yellow) and faded blue or green. Inside of box is covered with brown paper to cover ends of the quills, which may have replaced original birch bark.