Native Americans dyed quills  with the natural materials available in their  area but the specific recipes have been lost over time.  there are vague references to dye plants but no specific "how - to's". We have been experimenting and here are some detailed methods that we have had success with.

In our research we found raw copper ore and urine was used for this color. We found not just any urine will do, it should be pre puberty young boys or pregnant women.  collect a gallon of first voided morning specimens, throw 4 copper scouring pads in a pot with the urine and boil down to 1/4 volume. Put the pads and  urine in a jar and set it in a warm sunny window for a week or so, until the urine turns a dark blue. Then take out the copper pads and add the quills. Leave them in the jar for 2 to 3 days still keeping the solution warm, until the desired color is achieved. Rinse the quills and you're done. by the way, cooking the urine should only be done outside, and that's speaking from experience. We had to evacuate the house once.

                         Method One

                       Method two

    3 tsp alum [aluminum potassium sulfate] to 6 cups water. Add 5 cups of quills and  simmer 40 minutes then add 3/4 tsp cream of tarter and simmer another 20 minutes.  Leave overnight, take out quills and rinse . quills can be allowed to dry for later use. when ready to use, soak quills in water  30 minutes to moisten.


     Was cochineal present during the fur trade? Our search found this reference:
    I nvoice of Sundry Merchandise From the rocky Mountain Outfit 1836, under charge of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick and Co.
      16 doz. lucifer matches
       5@crude borax   28 lb. cochineal
       1 gallon copal varnish
        8 leather lodges
        etc. etc.

                    Cochineal red
      3 tsp cochineal to 4 cups water, let it sit in the water 30 minutes.  Boil the solution a few minutes, add 21/2 cups mordanted quills and simmer 30 to 45 minutes. We used an enamel pot and the water temp was 185 degrees. Soaking the quills in the dye bath overnight resulted in a darker color.

            Bottom Quills were soaked

            Phytolacca Americana
    It has a poisonous taproot, and berries are thought to be poisonous.
    The berries are boiled then squeezed/strained and the juice and mordanted quills simered for several hours then left in the dye bath overnight.  It  is reported to not be very colorfast but I read that 5 minutes simmering in a salt bath after dying helps fastness, or an alum mordant afterbath helps set the color.


    4 Tblsp root beaten into a coarse ground powder placed into a cloth bag and tied closed.  Put into 3 cups water and slowly heat to 180 degrees or to a simmer. When the water turns a light red add premordanted quills and simmer 1 hour. 


            Wolfmoss [Letharia Vulpina

No mordant required.  Tin Pot.
Fill pot with moss, add water and boil about 3 hours, let cool, then put moss in a bag and squeeze out all the liquid. The liquid was thick and green like pea soup. Reheat and add quills.  Simmer several hours  till a nice yellow is obtained.  Rinse and dry.

                Osage Orange

1/4 cup wood shavings in 4 cups water boiled for 1 hour. Pre mordanted quills added and simmered 1 hour.


 36 ounce coffee can filled with stems and leaves. boil in water for 2 hours, remove stems/leaves and simmer the pre mordanted quills for 1 hour. Then we left the quills in this dye bath for 2 days.
                 Goldenrod [Solidago]

Goldenrod blossoms boiled to extract color, strained and premordanted quills added. simmer 2 hours.


          Red Osier Dogwood with Alder

2 handfulls each of inner and outer bark of red dogwood, inner bark of alder. Boil 1 hour then simmer quills in the liquid for 1 or 2 hours and leave in dye bath overnight.

    Bloodroot [Sanguinerious Canadensis]

Fresh root chopped very fine then boiled in 2 cups water for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Pre mordanted quills added and simmered 1 hour then left in dye bath overnight.


       Hopi Black Dye sunflower seeds 

2 cups seeds boiled in 4 cups water for 30 minutes.Strained, quills added and simmered 1 hour and left to soak overnight, then the cook/soak process repeated one more time. We did this experiment without mordant.

                       Kind of a dusty rose

3 cups blackberries
1 tblsp. flour
1 tblsp sugar
2 cups water

The  misture is boiled and strained then pre mordanted quills added and simmered 2 hours then left to soak overnight.

             Women of
             Fur Trade
      Natural Dyes for Porcupine Quills
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