My Favourite Tool: Cheryl Porter’s porcupine quills

For your reading pleasure, it’s yet another new feature from The Gathering… ‘My Favourite Tool’! In this new and ongoing series, your fellow conservators will tell you a tale about a tool that holds a special place in their hearts. Some old, some new, some large, some small, and some unexpected – but always interesting.

Have you got your own favourite tool? Then do share it with us and the rest of The Gathering’s followers. Just drop us a line with either a finished piece or your preliminary idea, plus a photo or two, and we’ll be happy to share the love.

My favourite tools are porcupine quills  – from Italian porcupines. I found these quills very useful in a number of situations. They form part of my pigment consolidation kit and are especially useful for tamping down particles and pieces of pigment after the consolidant has been applied. Some points are very fine and can tap down even the smallest areas – useful when working with colour over gold leaf and for getting into small spaces abutting raised areas. Other ends are smoother and rounder, and I use them like a small spatula.

I found these quills in friends’ gardens, as the porcupine sheds quills easily – especially when dogs and other nosey animals come too close. I think they’re beautiful – all stripy and each one different.

Cheryl Porter
works as a freelance Collections Care Consultant. She is the director of the Montefiascone Library Conservation Project in Italy, and teaches and gives workshops on recreating the medieval palette as well as consolidation of pigments in manuscripts. She is an advisor to the Coptic Museum and the Alexandrian Library in Egypt.

7 thoughts on “My Favourite Tool: Cheryl Porter’s porcupine quills

  1. What a great idea! I have some of these quills collected in Italy years ago, always thinking they would come in useful one day. Now I will try them as Cheryl suggests. Thank you.


  2. My teachers, Theodore and Anne Kahle, found 6″-8″ porcupine quills essential manipulating paste tissue for page repair. American porcupines, it would seem, won’t do: their quills are only an inch or two long. But another student took a Roots-inspired tour of West Africa and mystified the other people by having the van stop so that she could harvest quills from road-kill porcupines. I got mine at The Bone Room, a local store that specialized in skeletons and fossils (university town; what can I say?).


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