You Won't Believe How Easy It Is to Make Vortex Coils

If you're a quiller who has admired vortex coils but thinks they're too difficult, this post is for you! I must add a disclaimer to the title... like anything, they are easy once you know how. And so I've rounded up excellent videos and added my own tips. You'll be sure to find a method that works for you. Making this card for our nephew who celebrated his bar mitzvah last weekend (via Zoom, no less) is what prompted the idea for this post.

quilled vortex coil six-pointed star on bar mitzvah card

First, let's go back in history to the making of the very first vortex coil.

Licia Politis (@paper_to_jewellery on Instagram) in Sydney gets the credit. In 2004 she created an amazing Australiana-themed chess set that utilized hundreds of quilled wheat ears.

Licia explains:  

For the board, I made eucalyptus gum leaves and Australian flannel flowers in green and gold, our nation's colours. I had quilled over five hundred wheat ear shapes for the flannel flowers and was playing with some of the leftovers. Voila... I discovered I could completely change the wheat ear shape in just a few steps. 

Consequently, I submitted it to the English Quilling Guild where Jane Jenkins, owner of JJ Quilling Design at the time and a quilling book author, was very excited to see this new shape. She named it the vortex coil. Since then there have been a number of talented quillers who have developed clever variations of the technique, resulting in perfectly shaped vortex coils.

green and gold quilled Australiana chess set

Also: How to Make a Wheat Ear

Licia explains her vortex coil method:

Essentially you flatten a quilled wheat ear from top to bottom:

Hold the wheat ear between your thumb and index finger and compress the layers of the column allowing your fingers to nearly touch, but not quite... don't squash the very first fold at the bottom of the wheat ear. Release the shape and you will have created a vortex coil!

You can then change the shape by gently manipulating the outer edge between your thumb and index finger into a triangle, square, or even a hexagon by pinching points.

colorful quilled fruit bowl

Licia continues:

For the pineapple in Fruitful, a framed piece that I quilled in 2007, three different colours were used in the vortex coils - sage green, forest green, and orange. They were quite rigid due to using more strips. After completing the coils, I domed them slightly by brushing glue on the underside to create dimension and give the impression of rough pineapple skin. It also looked more authentic with hints of colour coming through the coil layers.

Also: More about the chess set and fruit bowl

pair of gilded quilled drop earrings made with marquise vortex coils and tight coils

As for my personal quilled vortex coil adventure, it was these Gilded Drop Earrings that were my first go at making them. However, they are modified vortex coils since they have just two points like marquises (eye shapes) instead of the more typical three-point, triangular vortex coil, but still with a pronounced inner swirl. And now that I'm reminiscing about how much I enjoyed making them, it's high time I think up more quilled vortex jewelry.... maybe a necklace? Wheels are turning...

Before I type up my list of tips gathered while making the bar mitzvah card, I will insert three vortex coil video tutorials that will show you exactly how to make them. Each one is excellent and all three feature unique methods.

It is this video by Agnes in Malaysia (@agnespaperand crafts on Instagram and Etsy shop Agnes Paper and Crafts) that I recommend watching first. Note that a circle template board is needed. If you don't have one, scroll down to watch the second video.

Cecelia Louie in Canada (@paperzen_cecelialouie on Instagram and Etsy shop Paper Zen) shares her method that is quite similar to Agnes's (except it doesn't require a circle template board) and she shows how to turn the resulting triangle into a square, diamond, and circle. She also demonstrates the gluing of a vortex coil onto a background without having the center pop out and uncoil while handling it, a common problem.

quilling strips with tools and vortex coils placed in circle template board

In the photo above, you can see a coil beginning to tornado even before I took it out of the template board due to not rolling the strip evenly.

The third video is by Azlina Abdul in Malaysia (@azlinaabdul and Azlina Abdul on YouTube). She shows how to create tri-colored petals that make up a vortex-style flower by using a flea comb of all things! Fair warning... it is a tedious process, but the beautiful effect is worth the time spent.

Also: How to Quill: 10 Favorite Quilling Videos

And now that you've watched the videos, here are my personal tips:

Don't skimp on strip length... in fact, you might want to glue two strips together, overlapping torn ends slightly (torn ends blend in better than sharp cuts). I recommend a total of 24-30 inches (61-76 cm) for the best look.

A slotted tool works well and is easier on (my) hands than finger rolling. Don't worry about the resulting crimp in the center of the coil as it will be compressed once you squeeze the rolled strip into a marquise before allowing it to loosen.

Take your time to roll the strip/slide it off the tool smoothly because this will help it to expand evenly when it’s allowed to relax a bit before pinching, PLUS, believe it or not, rerolling/reusing a strip tires out the fibers... it’s rare to have a perfectly crisp result the second time.

quilling circle template board with vortex coil in progress

When teasing a gilded paper marquise coil to uncoil within a circle template, I used a large sewing needle with a dull point because stabbing at it with a sharp point usually mars the gilding.

four quilled vortex coils with quilling strips, tool, and circle template
One success, one maybe, two fails; practice makes perfect.

When using metallic edge quilling paper always position the strip on your tool the same way - i.e. with the gilding either facing up or down - before beginning to roll. This will ensure the inner coils swirl in the same direction when comparing one vortex coil shape to the next. If you look closely at the photo below you will see that one of the vortex coils is not like the others...  can you spot it? I made a replacement when I realized my mistake.

six quilled vortex coils arranged in circle with circle template, card, and glue tube

The vortex coil at the center bottom is the 'wrong' one because the inner coils rotate in the opposite direction compared to the other vortex coils even though it is perfectly shaped with no gaps between the center and swirling innermost coils. Overall, the photo also shows me that I need more practice to make the inner coil positioning completely consistent... some are gappier (is that a word?) than others.

I'd planned to letter the front of the card, but hey, life is stressful enough right now without adding more. I let the star shine for itself and wrote a little message of congrats on the inside.

bar mitzvah card inscription

As a friend said when I was wondering aloud as to whether my design looked enough like a six pointed star to be convincing... "The gilded paper helps." Ha - true! That's another reason to add to the list of why I love metallic edge strips - they make anything look better!

gilded vortex coil six-point star on a quilled card

Let me know if you have questions... I'll be happy to answer and you're all welcome to chime in with what works best for you too.

All Things Paper is an Amazon and AWIN (Etsy) affiliate. 

Ann Martin
Ann Martin

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